The dissertation is oft-quoted, presumably because it seems to offer a scientific substantiation for its rejection of women’s admission to the major academic disciplines. In his Latin treatise De eruditis Germaniae mulieribus (On the Learned Women of Germany), Christoph Christian Händel is favourably disposed towards female students from the nobility.
The writings thus prove to be somewhat monotonous and uninspired reading.They are, nevertheless, our main source of information about the perspective on ‘learned women’, and without them we would not know where to begin searching for intellectual females.And we can only presume that the same could be said of Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Finland.And that there were women in the Nordic region who considered themselves members of the European ‘club’ of cultured women. The word was originally applied to the section in an ancient Greek private residence that was reserved for women, had a number of domestic functions and, according to some sources, was possibly used as separate living quarters.The genre is particularly well represented in Denmark.
This small collection of Swedish biographies, and the quite numerous Danish and Norwegian biographies included in the Danish gynaecea, makes for a picture of active artistic and intellectual circles of women in these Nordic countries during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
By looking up a famous woman’s name, the reader is introduced to her family via a few laudatory adjectives, her husband, or husbands, if there were any, occasionally her children – particularly if they became well-known as adults – and her own intellectual achievements. The writer of the gynaeceum only had a name and perhaps the title of a single poem she had written.
Judging from the information we have today, when we take a closer look at the stories of the women named, no great effort was made to find out more than what was immediately evident.
Gynaecea can be tracked down across Europe; individual works have to be sourced in the national bibliographies of each country, and it is a rare stroke of luck to find them listed as their own exclusive category.
From the period between 16 we have no fewer than eleven German gynaecea, six written in Latin and five in German. It was written in Latin by Martin von Baldhoven, and bears the title Catalogus doctarum virginum et foeminarum (Catalogue of Learned Maidens and Women).
This work is one of the early, and possibly even the earliest, “gynaeceum” we have.