Female Benefit Club 1798-1799

Unfortunately Priscilla’s journal for 1797 is lost but many of the entries for 1798 and 1799 are concerned with her philanthropic activities. She started a laying-in charity for expectant mothers, a soup kitchen and spinning for the poor.

The charity that would excite her the most was a Female Benefit Club. While she was visiting her son Edward in Romford in 1798 she ‘drew up a plan’ but feared that ‘I shall not be able to overcome the obstacles that arise against the establishment of a Female Club in this town at this time ‘.

But she did achieve her objective and established the Female Benefit Club in Tottenham. Members contributed amounts depending on their age receiving a pension at 70. It also provided small loans to be repaid monthly and a savings scheme for children.

Her efforts in this area have earned her recognition as a founder of the first English savings banks.

Published in: on September 28, 2009 at 3:40 am  Leave a Comment  

A journey

Even though Priscilla would come to write about many of the world’s places she did not venture far from her Tottenham home. Yet what was the catalyst for most popular book Juvenile Travellers?

Priscilla’s journal offers no assistance in answering this question but in 1798 John Gurney (the husband of Priscilla’s late sister Catherine and father of Elizabeth Fry) took his seven daughters on a journey to Wales and the South of England.

Published in: on September 28, 2009 at 3:19 am  Leave a Comment  

Adam Smith

There is an interesting connection between Priscilla’s interest and knowledge of the work of Adam Smith and her grandson Edward Gibbon. As noted below she began her book Reflections on the Present Condition of the Female Sex quoting Adam Smith.

Between 1835 and 1839 Edwerd Gibbon Wakefield prepared a new edition of the Wealth of Nations with his own commentaries published in four volumes.

Published in: on September 28, 2009 at 3:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Priscilla and economic thought

Priscilla’s Reflections  has not receieved the same attention as other women writers of the time. But she has attracted the interest of Robert Dimand who hold the Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence, Department of Economics, Brock University, St Catherines, Ontario, Canada.

He includes a chapter titled ‘An Eighteenth-Century English Feminist Responseto Political Economy: Priscilla Wakefield’s  Refelections (1798)’ in the book The Status of Women in Classical Economic Thought ed. Robert Dimand and Chris Nyland, Cheltenham: Edward Elger, 2003.

Published in: on September 20, 2009 at 5:08 am  Leave a Comment  


On 7 November 1798 Priscilla wrote in her journal, ‘my spirit for writing a little damped by hearing that the “British Critic” has treated my “Reflections” with slight if not with contempt, suggesting it refers only to Female Education.’

Published in: on September 20, 2009 at 4:51 am  Leave a Comment  


In 1798 Priscilla published her only book for an adult audience Reflections on the Present Condition of the Female Sex; with Suggestions for its Improvement. This book has been overshadowed by other more radical women authors of the time like Mary Wollstoncraft and Hannah More. What encouraged Priscilla to write this book and discouraged her from further adult book is unknown.

She begins the book with the words, ‘It is asserted by Doctor Adam Smith, that every individual is a burden, upon the society to which he belongs, who does not contribute his share of productive labour for the good of the whole.’ She contends that by implication, women cannot free themselves from the claim of the public for their proportion of usefulness.

Central to Reflections are two recurring themes in Priscilla’s writing; improving the education of girls and replacing the ‘indolent indulgence and trifling pursuits’ of young women with challenging duties, studies and employments.

‘The result of this improper treatment has been a neglect of their mental powers, which women really possess, but know not how to exercise ; they have been content to barter the dignity of reason, for the imaginary privilege of an empire , of the existence of which they can entertain no reasonable hope beyond the duration of youth and beauty.’ Reflections, p. 7.

Published in: on September 12, 2009 at 5:15 am  Leave a Comment