This volume is dedicated to you, because I believe in the principles it enunciates, and hope that many of your sex may get them lodged in their minds; and the conclusions to which they lead carried out in their lives. While feeling a warm interest in your honour, I have endeavoured to avoid all indiscriminate eulogiums on the eminent women here portrayed. The object of biography is to teach by example; and although perfection is claimed for none of the models here presented, yet each is worthy of being enshrined in your hearts.
Whilst I should be sorry to see woman exchanging her home for the market-place, and her nursery for the arena, I am anxious that she should not be robbed of some of the purest joys of life; and that society, which so much needs her help, should not be defrauded of her service. The housewife is woman’s proudest name. Honourable is her distaff, and equally honourable her careful management and thrift. But while discharging these duties with propriety—while taking nothing from her family—she ought to give fair attention to the many grievous wrongs which at present shackle her independence and limit her usefulness. Woman is something more than a mere housekeeper or nurse. Let her be trained as a thinking being. By aiming at being only domestic, she will cease to be truly domestic.
In my selection of examples, I have necessarily been under the control of circumstances. Not a few women, eminent in many respects, have been excluded from this collection, because, in consequence of some sad defects, they could not be held up as models of true womanhood. Several fairly entitled to places among “Model Women” would have been here, but, happily, they are still living; and for various reasons I determined to confine myself to the dead. My intention has been to include only a few of the actors and thinkers who have attained extensive celebrity; and the difficulty of fixing upon these I have found so great, that I am prepared to have the judiciousness of my choice frequently questioned. But I trust a sufficient number of lives are here recorded to kindle in your breasts aspirations after those excellences which adorn human existence.
The end of writing memoirs should be the exhibition of truth in all its loveliness, and virtue with all her charms. This object I have not lost sight of for one moment in writing these pages; but directly or indirectly have framed every sentence in accordance with it.
Imperfections you will doubtless detect in this volume; of some I am sufficiently aware; but am less anxious to obtain your applause, or to bespeak your candour, than to win your sympathy in my subject; and I feel confident that whether you acquiesce in few or many of my views, you will at least honour the motive which prompted me to make them known.