A Serious Proposal to the Ladies is a 1694 book by English writer Mary Astell which outlines Astell’s plan for an all-female college where women would receive a religious and secular education on par with that of their male counterparts. Astell’s revolutionary advocacy of equal educational opportunities for women, as well as her belief that women are the intellectual equals of men, has earned her the title of one of the world’s first feminist writers and, according to some, the title of “first English feminist.”
A Serious Proposal to the Ladies received a fair amount of backlash and criticism for the views expressed throughout. Some condemned the influence Catholicism seemed to have on Astell’s plan and the institutions described in the text. Others, however, simply rejected Astell’s feminist views and the idea of offering equal educational opportunities to women. Writers such as Jonathan Swift and Richard Steele seemed to reject both aspects. In a publication known as Tatler, Swift and Steele wrote essays attacking A Serious Proposal. These essays mocked Astell’s views and the nunnery-style institution she proposed to serve as a college for women.
However, while many rejected Astell’s work, A Serious Proposal enjoyed a high degree of popularity and praise among female readers and wide-enough circulation to establish Astell as an influential figure in modern English society. Although none of her other works received the same amount of attention as A Serious Proposal, Astell continued to write essays and published letters for several years. In 1697, an accompanying piece to A Serious Proposal to the Ladies was published, titled A Serious Proposal, Part II.