Ruth Perry & Mary Astell: pioneering feminist’s library unearthed at Cambridge University

The librarian at the Old Library of Magdalene College, Cambridge, Catherine Sutherland, in searching for the provence of some of the old books held there, saw that a number of them had been owned by Mary Astell, as evidenced by her name written in the flyleaf or a written acknowledgment of who had given it to her. She then turned to Ruth Perry’s definitive biography of Astell and read there that George Ballard’s near-contemporary researches on Mary Astell had ascertained that she left her library to Magdalene College—a fact that Ballard had in his notes but left out of his published book of biographical sketches of writing women. Presumably he checked the library in Magdalen College, Oxford and never found the library. But Ballard’s information was correct as it turns out, only it was not to Magdalen College Oxford but Magdalen College Cambridge that Astell left her library.

Perry, who knew the handwriting of Astell well having discovered a number of manuscripts written by Astell in the course of her research for her 1986 biography, has examined the handwriting of the marginalia in a number of these volumes and authenticated some as being by Astell and dismissed other scrawls as not being by Astell. She is thrilled by the find because it adds so much to what we know about this significant intellectual figure.

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