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Darwin Correspondence Project

Caroline Kennard

Caroline Augusta Kennard (née Smith) was born in 1827 in New Hampshire. In 1846, she married Martin Perry Kennard (also known as Marten P. Kennard), with whom she had five children. Martin Kennard maintained a successful business as a jeweler at Bigelow Brothers & Kennard in Boston and served as an Assistant Treasurer of the Sub-Treasury of the United States in Boston, appointed by Presidents Hayes and Grant (1879-1887) and later by President Harrison (1891-1895). The Kennard family resided in Brookline, Massachusetts, which in the late nineteenth century was known for its country estates of wealthy Boston merchants.

In many ways, Kennard’s public life was closely tied to the social world of elite educated, Boston women during the late nineteenth century. She was a member of a host of women’s groups focused on reforming education, improving the status of women in society, and promoting issues related to the woman’s movement. Along with prominent Bostonians like Julia Ward Howe, Caroline M. Severance, Edna D. Cheney, Lucy Stone, Lucy Goddard, Elizabeth P. Peabody, and Dr. Marie E. Zakrenska, Kennard was a member of the New England Woman’s Club, the first woman’s club in the United States. During Kennard’s membership tenure in the 1880s and 1890s, she was active on the board of directors and served as a vice-president in 1893-94. She also participated in a number of annual meetings for the Association of the Advancement of Women. In 1896, for instance, Kennard read a paper at the 24th Annual Association for the Advancement of Women meeting entitled “Housekeeping a profession” which argued that housekeeping should be measured in economic terms like any other profession. Along with other prominent Bostonian women, Kennard also joined the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union and participated actively as an officer in the 1880s and 1890s.

Kennard published articles and gave addresses on important issues related to social reform and on prominent American women activists and poets. For instance, Kennard’s contemporaries in Woman’s World commented on her article “Progress in the Employment of Police Matrons,” in which Kennard made a case for why police departments ought to hire female police agents. In 1895, Kennard was one of the first members of the Brookline Education Society, which was founded in 1895 by Mrs. Joshua Crane, Dr. Walter Channing, and many other prominent Brookline, Massachusetts citizens to encourage moral and spiritual development in children at home and in school. At the organizational meeting on May 8, 1895, Kennard presented a paper on a topic related to the importance of nature study in childhood education. Interested in exemplary American women, in 1888, she published a biographical account of Dorothea L. Dix’s life and work. This account was based on a collection of letters (which is now housed in Houghton Library at Harvard University) from Dix’s contemporaries, including Jane Alexander, A.L. Barnett, James Freeman Clarke, John Murray Forbes, Robert Bennet Forbes, Horatio Appleton Lamb, Mary S. Langley, William Henry Lyon, Andrew Preston Peabody, Samuel Edmund Sewall, and Edward Stearns. And in 1897 Kennard gave an extensive review of The Works of Anne Bradstreet, in Prose and in Verse, edited by John Harvard Ellis (1867) for the Governor Thomas Dudley Family Association.

Kennard’s interest in science stemmed from her social commitments to the women's movement, her interests in nature study as a tool for educational reform, as well as her place in a tightly knit network of the Bostonian elite. Kennard was one of a handful of American women who carried on correspondence with the British gentleman-naturalist Charles Darwin. On 26 December 1881, Caroline Kennard wrote to Darwin to ask about his position regarding the inferiority of women. Darwin replied on 9 January 1882, referencing his positions in Descent of man (1872), writing that women had superior moral qualities but inferior intellectual qualities when compared to men. Darwin noted that given the observations of equality among the sexes in native cultures, there might be a possibility that women could indeed be “bread winners,” but suggested that this would cause harm to the domestic sphere. On 28 January 1882, Kennard wrote back to Darwin, countering his argument with her own: namely, that women are indeed “bread winners” and have the same capabilities as men, but are not given the same environment or educational opportunities as men to develop their intellect. Kennard’s scientific activities were not limited to debates about sexual selection in humans. In 1892, for instance, she donated fruit from her own Ricus elastica plant (rubber tree) to the Boston Society of Natural History. Confirming Kennard’s commitment to science, in 1907, Kennard’s sister Martha T. Fiske Collard of New York donated $5,000 to Radcliffe College to establish a scholarship in memory of her sister. The Caroline A. Kennard Scholarship in Science was awarded to one Radcliffe student interested in pursuing her studies in science per year.