In Europe and the United States today, female university students outnumber their male counterparts, but in 1636 that wasn’t so. There was exactly one, and she was also the first: Anna Maria van Schurman, at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
Dr. Anne Larsen of the Hope College French faculty has spent years studying van Schurman and her life and impact, and has written the book “Anna Maria van Schurman, ‘The Star of Utrecht’: The Educational Vision and Reception of a Savante,” published this spring in Routledge’s Women and Gender in the Early Modern World series. She notes that van Schurman, who lived from 1607 to 1678, went on to widespread acclaim as the most learned woman of her age, and was given sobriquets like “The Star of Utrecht,” “The Dutch Minerva” and “The Tenth Muse.” She was also dedicated to seeing that other women could have the same opportunity for education that she received.
“Anna Maria van Schurman challenged the educational establishment to allow women to study all the liberal arts and sciences,” said Larsen, a professor of French who has edited and co-edited multiple books on learned women of the early modern era. “As the first woman ever to attend a university, she was also the first to advocate, boldly, that women should be admitted into universities.”
Larsen notes that van Schurman resisted being labeled as exceptional, but it’s difficult to hear of her accomplishments and think otherwise.
“A brilliant linguist, she mastered some 15 languages. She was the first Dutch woman to seek publication of her correspondence,” Larsen said. “Her letters in several languages—Hebrew, Greek, Latin and French—to the intellectual men and women of her time reveal the breadth of her interests in theology, philosophy, medicine, literature, numismatics, painting, sculpture, embroidery and instrumental music.”
In addition to exploring van Schurman’s life and the context of her times, Larsen analyzes her educational philosophy and the transnational reception of her writings on women’s education, particularly in France.
“Her letters offer fascinating insight into the challenges facing scholarly women in the early modern period when they sought to define themselves as intellectuals, writers and thoughtful contributors to the social good,” she said.
Erica Bastress-Dukehart of Skidmore College has called Larsen’s book “an important monograph for anyone who studies the education of early modern women” and “deeply affecting and meticulously researched.”
“Van Schurman is not as well known as other women writers from this period, thus this work allows us a penetrating look into her life, education, devotions and friendships, all of which shaped her work,” she said.
Larsen’s several other books include four co-edited collections of articles on early modern women writers, and four volumes featuring works by the mother-daughter team Madeleine and Catherine des Roches. She has also published many scholarly articles, book chapters and reviews.
National recognition of her work has included awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, among them two year-long research fellowships and a summer stipend. Among other honors, she received the 2008 “Roland Bainton Prize for Reference Works” from the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference, and the 2007 “Translation or Teaching Edition Award” from the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women. Hope recognized her with a four-year term as the Lavern ’39 and Betty DePree ’41 VanKley Professor of French from 2011 to 2015 and presented her with the Ruth and John Reed Faculty Achievement Award in 2014.
Larsen’s teaching interests include intermediate French language and culture; the myth and reality of Paris; French and Francophone drama; Francophone literature of Algeria, West Africa and the Caribbean; literary theory; early modern French society; and writings by French women intellectuals. She has actively engaged many Hope students in her research through the years.
A member of the Hope faculty since 1984, she is retiring at the end of the current school year. In retirement she intends to pursue scholarly research full-time.
Her current projects include working with colleague Stephen Maiullo of the Hope classics faculty on manuscript letters and poems by van Schurman in Latin and French that have never been translated, and she is also developing a book focused on four scientific women of the 17th century in France. She will also continue to be active at conferences and in professional associations, including as a member of the executive board of the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women.
“Anna Maria van Schurman, ‘The Star of Utrecht’: The Educational Vision and Reception of a Savante” is available for $149.95 and can be ordered through the college’s Hope-Geneva Bookstore. The bookstore is located on the ground level of the DeWitt Center, 141 E. 12th St., and can be called at 800-946-4673 or (616) 395-7833 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. The book is also available in electronic form from the publisher.