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Darwin Correspondence Project

From C. A. Kennard   28 January 1882

Brookline Mass. U.S.A

Jan. 28—1882—

Mr. Darwin

Dear Sir,

I thank you for your very kind reply to my letter of inquiry as to your opinion of the comparative intellectual abilities of the sexes—1

I believe you are supported in your ideas of the greater moral qualities of woman— Before quite deciding as to her condition intellectually will you excuse me if I remind you that recent results from efforts for her higher education, in your own country and in this, are very flattering and encouraging: and are opening for women avenues for individual improvement and for the general enlightenment of her sex—and therefore, of necessity (according to the laws of heredity) for the advancement of the human race intellectually. Her enlightened intellect, united with her wholesome moral nature, can then with the aid of man (for in nature the male & female must work in sympathy together, you have taught us—)—ordain, in a manner hitherto unthought of or practised upon, for the propagation of the best and the survival of the fittest in the human species.

The laws of heredity have been closely watched in the lower animals, and tendencies toward improvement encouraged and toward deterioration guarded against; while in marriages and the begetting of offspring, the perpetuation of the best physical, intellectual and moral tendencies in the human race have been mostly unheeded and neglected—

In reply to your argument that “women must become as regular “bread-winners” as are men”; have they not been and are they not largely, bread-winners; though unrecognized generally as such?2

Partners in business—share money profits and why should not partners in marriage—where the wife, by her labor and economy does her full part toward husbanding for the future? In the unceasing demand upon the head of a household, for executive ability, fixedness of purpose, and courage of execution, are not women possessed of the same kind of qualities which would grow with the using into as apparent & grand results as are accorded to men of business, government officials, & army officers and statesmen who all expect compensation for services rendered?

And why be anxious for the “education of our children” and “the happiness of our homes”, if women become bread winners? when in this country five sixths of the educators are women and acknowledged ‘breadwinners’, beside improving the condition of their homes and adding happiness thereto—

Which of the partners in a family is the breadwinner where the husband works a certain number of hours in the week and brings home a pittance of his earnings (the rest going for drinks & supply of pipe) to his wife; who, early & late, with no end of self sacrifice in scrimping for her loved ones, toils to make each penny tell for the best economy and besides, to these pennies she may add by labor outside or taken in?

Dr. Walker, once president of Harvard College3 said that, of the young men who had been by personal effort, assisted through that college, three fourths had been, by efforts of women. And we know it has been the custom for Mothers & sisters to help their sons & brothers, by every possible effort, to an education (Whoever heard of a brother assisting a sister through college while he druged & toiled?

One young woman I know who receives pay for nursing the sick and gives the half of it to a brother who is learning to engrave. Is she less a bread-winner than he—or less than the other brother who, though younger than herself, by aid of the Father & herself received an education which she longed for and that enabled him to rank with our most prominent clergymen?

The family must be righteously maintained  Let the ‘environment’ of women be similar to that of men and with his opportunities, before she be fairly judged, intellectually his inferior, please.—

Excuse this great liberty and I am your obliged | Caroline A Kennard


See letter to C. A. Kennard, 9 January 1882 and n. 3. On American women’s responses to evolutionary theory and CD’s theory of sexual selection, see Hamlin 2014.


Hamlin, Kimberly. 2014. Darwin, science, and women’s rights in Gilded Age America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Argues that women are as regular "bread-winners" as men, though generally unrecognised as such, and that they possess the same qualities as men but lack the educational opportunities. Before women can be judged intellectually inferior to men they must share the same environment and opportunities. With "enlightened intellect, united with her wholesome moral nature" woman could help with the "propagation of the best and the survival of the fittest in the human species".

Letter details

Letter no.
Caroline Augusta Smith/Caroline Augusta Kennard
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Brookline, Mass.
Source of text
DAR 185: 31
Physical description
ACCS 4pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13650,” accessed on 19 July 2024,