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Darwin Correspondence Project

To C. A. Kennard   9 January 1882

Down, | Beckenham, Kent. | (Railway Station | Orpington. S.E.R.)

Jan. 9th. 1882

Dear Madam

The question to which you refer is a very difficult one.1 I have discussed it briefly in my “Descent of Man”. I certainly think that women though generally superior to men to moral qualities are inferior intellectually; & there seems to me to be a great difficulty from the laws of inheritance, (if I understand these laws rightly) in their becoming the intellectual equals of man.2 On the other hand there is some reason to believe that aboriginally (& to the present day in the case of Savages) men & women were equal in this respect, & this wd. greatly favour their recovering this equality. But to do this, as I believe, women must become as regular “bread-winners” as are men;3 & we may suspect that the early education of our children, not to mention the happiness of our homes, would in this case greatly suffer.

I have written this letter without any care of style, as it is intended solely for your private use.—

Dear Madam | Yours faithfully | Ch. Darwin


Kennard had asked CD whether he agreed with the view that women were intellectually inferior to men; see Correspondence vol. 29, letter from C. A. Kennard, 26 December 1881.
On the comparative mental and moral powers of women and men, see Descent 2: 316–29. By ‘laws of inheritance’, CD means his theory that certain traits emerge only on maturity in a particular sex and are often transmitted only, or in a higher degree, to offspring of the same sex, and that males and females mature at different rates. He argued that among ancestral humans and savages, males had evolved superior strength, courage, and energy, as well as higher powers of reason, invention, and imagination, as a result of their battle with other males during maturity for the possession of females; and that in civilised societies, these powers were reinforced by continued rivalry between men, and their role as providers for the family. The moral superiority of women, he argued, was rooted in maternal instincts. CD’s views in Descent had been cited by a writer who believed in the intellectual inferiority of women (see Correspondence vol. 29, letter from C. A. Kennard, 26 December 1881 and nn. 1 and 2).
In Descent 2: 326, 329, CD remarked that among savage and barbarous peoples, women worked ‘at least as hard as men’, and that in order for a civilized woman to reach same standard as a man, ‘she ought, when nearly adult, to be trained to energy and perseverance, and to have her reason and imagination exercised to the highest point; then she would probably transmit these qualities to her adult daughters’.


Descent: The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. By Charles Darwin. 2 vols. London: John Murray. 1871.


Thinks that "women though generally superior to men [in] moral qualities are inferior intellectually". Believes that men and women may have been aboriginally equal in this respect but that to regain equality women would have to "become as regular ""bread-winners"" as are men". Suspects the education of children and "the happiness of our homes" would greatly suffer in that case.

Letter details

Letter no.
Charles Robert Darwin
Caroline Augusta Smith/Caroline Augusta Kennard
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 185: 29
Physical description
ALS 3pp

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 13607,” accessed on 21 June 2024,