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Elizabeth Elstob

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Title: Elizabeth Elstob  
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Subject: Elstob, George Ballard (biographer), Mary Astell, Founders of English schools and colleges, Governesses
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Elizabeth Elstob

Elizabeth Elstob by Burnet Reading.

Elizabeth Elstob (1683–1756), the "Saxon Nymph", was born and brought up in the Quayside area of Newcastle upon Tyne, and, like Mary Astell of Newcastle, is nowadays regarded as one of the first English feminists. She was proficient in eight languages and became a pioneer in Anglo-Saxon studies, an unprecedented achievement for a woman in the period.

In London she translated Madeleine de Scudéry's Essay upon Glory in 1708 and an English-Saxon Homily on the Nativity of St Gregory in 1709. Both works are dedicated to Queen Anne, who is praised in feminist prefaces.

From 1702, Elstob was part of the circle of intelligent women around Mary Astell, who helped to find subscribers for her Rudiments of Grammar for the English-Saxon Tongue (1715), the first such work written in English. The preface, An Apology for the Study of Northern Antiquities, took issue with the formidable Jonathan Swift and seems to have caused him to amend his views.

Elstob's brother William (1673–1715) was sent to Eton and Cambridge and entered the church. Like his sister, he was a scholar and edited Roger Ascham's Letters in 1703. Elizabeth lived with him at Oxford from 1696, and in London from 1702.

After her brother's death she became dependent on her friends and retired to Evesham in Worcestershire, where she set up a school. After a hard struggle she obtained so many pupils that she had "scarcely time to eat." She was still in difficulties, as her scholars only paid a groat a week, She was introduced to the Duchess of Portland, daughter and was made governess to the duchess's children in the autumn of 1738, and remained in the same service until her death, 3 June 1756. In her last years she lived "surrounded by the congenial elements of dirt and her books".

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