I was lucky enough to be involved at a Library Day at the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle upon Tyne yesterday. Thanks to the good offices of the President Paul Gailiunas and the Librarian Kay Easson I was able to get access to the archives. Paul showed me the recently discovered recommendation book, which covers the period 1794-1801. Prior to looking at this book, I had thought that women were only allowed in the society from 1799, and then only as reading members, but it shows that after a query by one of the members, John Clennell (see below), the committee revealed that women had always been allowed, although none had ever joined, possibly because, the exchange with Clennell implies, they had never been very enthusiastic.
Clennell from the time he joins c. 1798 is an eager recommender of books, including Mary Hays’s Appeal to the Men of Great Britain on Behalf of Women (1798) and Maria Edgeworth’s Practical Education
One imagines, then, that his query to the committee about their intention of bringing in a new category of membership stemmed from a desire to have women more fully involved. As we can see from the photograph below,
he seems to have got wind of the discussion at the monthly meeting of December 1798 of a new category of ‘reading members’ and asked what was being proposed with regard to the admission of women. They reply from the committee written in below his query claims that that women had always been allowed as members, but this new category allows for their ‘delicacy’. The implication being, I think, from the committee’s point of view that they don’t need to be involved in the rough and tumble of the monthly meetings.
Clennell follows up by asking the committee to advertise the new category in the papers, but the committee doesn’t think this necessary. The upshot seems to be that the committee, unlike him, are not really that keen to have women in the place.
When Clennell set up the Hackney Subscription Library and Literary Institution in 1815 women seem to have been heavily involved.