«A Mind of No Common Order»
Constance de Salm uses a variety of genres to address issues of particular importance to women, such as equal access to educational opportunities, the cost to women’s health of reproduction, and lack of economic resources for single and widowed women. She displays a surprising modernity in her awareness of the difficulty of resolving relationship, career, and motherhood problems that continue to plague women in the twenty-first century and points to a future in which women will have access to educational and employment opportunities.
In 1936 Joseph F. Jackson asked the question, ‘Does Louise Colet deserve a full- length study?,’ and answered in the affirmative.1 The same question can be asked of Constance de Salm. Despite the excellent work by Geneviève Fraisse, Elizabeth Colwill, Huguette Krief, and Christine Planté, I have argued that another study is justified, not just because of her ‘feminism,’ but because of the not insignificant part she played in the literary, scientific, social, and political history of the period. Historians such as Carol Berkin and Mary Beard before her have argued convincingly that the lives and achievements of women are not just part of a women’s history, but that they are integrated into the history of their times.2 A biography of Constance de Salm, therefore, makes a contri- bution, not just to ‘herstory,’ but to the history of the period in which she lived.3 I began this study because of my interest in Constance de Salm’s eulogy of Lalande.4 With little knowledge of astronomy, and aware of her limitations, she tackled a difficult subject with trepidation, determined effort and consummate skill. By so doing, I have argued, she played a significant role in the history of women’s involvement with science in the early years of the nineteenth cen- tury. This is particularly true if we consider her association with renowned sci- entists who were members of her salon such as Humboldt, Jussieu and Candolle. At a time when the line between scientific and humanistic studies was...
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