Who is this correspondent? Charlotte Papé

Charlotte Pape letter, DAR 174: 27

Who is this correspondent?


She wrote to Charles Darwin on 16 July 1875


Charlotte was literate and articulate; her use of English was idiomatic. She may not have been young in 1875: she wrote that ‘of course, like all women, I have had no scientific training, and know nothing except from random reading; neither could I attain any now’. She referred to friends and family, but made no specific reference to husband or children.


She had read works by Francis Galton and Darwin, and was unhappy with the opinion that female intellect was inferior to male:


The point which naturally has the greatest interest for me, about which I am most anxious to find out something certain, is, how far heredity is limited by sex in the human race, especially whether mental qualities are at all limited by it. I am well aware that your own, I think, provisional view is, that even mental qualities are thus limited; I myself know so comparatively many striking instances to the contrary, among my friends and my own family, that it seems highly improbable to me.


She wished to collect data to test her idea, and sought Darwin’s opinion on a table she had designed; but this enclosure is missing. For more on Darwin’s correspondence concerning gender, particularly with other women, see our Darwin and Gender content.


She wrote from Lark Hill House, Edgeley, Stockport, Cheshire, the home of John Hope Clarke, cotton broker and agent (1826-1905), his wife Mary Cheetham Clarke née Owen (1831/2-84), and their surviving children, four sons and two daughters. The parents were living there with their eldest son in both the 1871 and 1881 censuses; in 1871 the younger children were at the seaside in Lytham with their governess, Eliza Ann Younghusband (1850-1924). John Hope Clark and Mary Cheetham Owen had married on 19 February 1851 at St Thomas’s church, Ardwick, Lancashire.


There is nothing in the letter to tell us whether Charlotte is on a visit to Lark Hill House, or was perhaps employed there; but she presumably expected to stay long enough to receive a reply.


She was the same Charlotte Papé who wrote on 9 June 1879 from 12 Nordstrasse, Leipzig, to Helen Taylor, a tireless worker for women’s suffrage and step-daughter of the philosopher John Stuart Mill, who was himself an advocate of women’s rights. In the letter Papé, who described herself as a great admirer of J. S. Mill, explained that she wished to write an article to be published in a German women’s journal about Mill on the anniversary of his death (he died 7 May 1873). The letter is in the Women’s Library archive collection at the London School of Economics (Mill-Taylor/8/26 ff. 56-7).


The editors of a German reference work (Stephan Meder et al., eds. 2010. Die Rechtsstellung der Frau um 1900: Eine kommentierte Quellensammlung. Köln, Weimar, Wien: Böhlau Verlag, pp. 668–74) reckoned that the writer of the two letters mentioned above was the same person as Charlotte Pape, who delivered a lecture in Gotha in 1875; it was published as ‘Die Rechte der Mutter über ihre Kinder’ in a journal called Neue Bahnen (1876, 9-12). This was the mouthpiece of the Allgemeine deutsche Frauenverein, founded by Louise Otto after the first women’s conference in Leipzig in 1865.


So who was our letter writer? Where did she live, how old was she, who were her friends and family? Surely a woman with the audacity to seek advice from Charles Darwin does not deserve to be completely invisible!

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