Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Dorothy Moore Dury (1613–1664)

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Dorothy Moore Dury (1613-1664)

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Dorothy Moore Dury was an Anglo-Irish writer and educational reformer who was interested in the education of women, alchemy, and medicine. She is said to be a contributor to and member of the Hartlib circle, who worked amongst others such as her second husband John Dury and Katherine Boyle (Lady Ranelagh) to end the sectarian divisiveness among Protestants and towards reforming education.[1]


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Dorothy was said to be born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1613. Her father was Sir John King, an Anglo-Irish administrator and politician who held a seat in the Irish House of Commons. Her mother was Catherina Drury, the daughter of Robert Drury of Laughlin and Elizabeth Carew. Dorothy had eight siblings, including the poet Edward King, whose early death is attributed as having inspired John Milton to write the poem “Lycidas”.  Her other siblings included politician Sir Robert King, and Mary and Margaret King who were said to be amongst the most educated women in Ireland at the time. While Dorothy later described her own education as merely singing and dancing compared to her brother’s education at Cambridge, her sisters are implied to have been allowed to attend lessons with their brothers. Despite her own description, Dorothy is said to have been able to read both Latin and Greek as well as being fluent in French and later Hebrew. She once later visited France, and it is said that she was the first educated woman there since Lady Jane Grey.

Dorothy married young to Arthur Moore, the fifth son of Garret Moore, said to be the first viscount Moore of Drogheda. Not much is known about their marriage or Arthur Moore other than that he owned thousands of acres of land in Ireland and was known to enjoy his drink. They had two sons together, Charles and John Moore before Arthur passed away on the 9th of April 1635. Dorothy, now widowed, left with only her two sons and her husbands land moved to England where she stayed with in the house of Gerard and Katherine Boate. She would eventually sell some of the land she owned to Katherine Boate.

Around August 1642 she consulted John Dury (who was said to be a friend of John Milton) about the education of her sons, beginning a correspondence between the two. In one of their letters Mr. Dury asked her to stay in London while he searched for a school for her sons, and to send any more letters via Samuel Hartlib. This is believed to have marked the first meeting between Dorothy and Hartlib, with whom she held correspondence with into the 1660s.[2]

She later married John Dury in 1645 and had two children. A son born in 1649 who unfortunately died in infancy and a daughter Dora-Katherina born in 1654[2]. In 1658, Moore Dury is said to have fallen ill. During this time she tried to exercise the influence she had as a part of the Hartlib Circle to help Samuel Hartlib who had also fallen ill. However, despite her correspondences to Lady Ranelagh and the Earl of Anglesey she was unable to get the assistance he needed. Hartlib died five months later in 1662, and because of his death, the letters he had been circulating on behalf of the group also ceased.[2] Dorothy is believed to have passed away in June 1664 from illness.

Works & Career

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While many of Dorothy’s letters were later published online as a part of the Hartlib Papers collections, she also had written several papers on education and religious matters. The 1640s are said to be her most active writing period, including a treatise by the request of Lady Ranelagh on the education of girls.[2] Dorothy also wrote several letters to Ranelagh discussing her ideas on the education given to young women, and how she believed that women could also contribute to the common good and work in the Lord’s name just as well as men.[3]

Dorothy believed that teaching young women would help bring together her concerns, including those of social and financial nature. Teaching would allow her to provide for herself and sons while also having the chance to equip young women with the knowledge and piety needed to contribute to the common good. She contacted Andre Rivet to gain specialist advice on how women could serve the Christian public. She believed that in gaining a theologian’s insight and approval soon opportunities for work might appear. However, despite repeat correspondence they were unable to agree, and she was unable to find the patronage or advice she needed to start a career in teaching young women.[3]

Dorothy continued to have financial difficulties, and her marriage to John Dury only intensified this problem. Dorothy attempted to search for employment and eventually came to the decision in 1649 to open a shop that would sell medicines. She sought advice from Benjamin Worsley to learn about distillation, however Worsley was unwilling to help her learn as he believed that women should only use their medicinal knowledge to help care for family and not to sell their medicines to the public.[4]


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  1. Jenkins, Ellen. “The Letters of Dorothy Moore, 1612-64: The Friendships, Marriage, and Intellectual Life of a Seventeenth-Century Woman.” Seventeenth - Century News, vol. 63, no. 3/4, 2015, pp. 221-223. https://www.proquest.com/docview/222292633
  2. a b c d Barry, C.M. “Dorothy Moore: Building Networks in the Republic of Letters.” Irish Philosophy, 21 Jan. 2016, https://www.irishphilosophy.com/2016/01/21/dorothy-moore-network/
  3. a b Maxwell, Felicity. “Calling for Collaboration: Women and Public Service in Dorothy Moore's Transnational Protestant Correspondence.” Literature Compass, vol. 14, no. 4, April 2017, pp. 1-17. Ezproxy, doi:10.1111/lic3.12386.
  4. Bourke, Evan. ““I would not have taken her for his sister”: financial hardship and women’s reputations in the Hartlib circle (1641-1661)” Taylor Francis Online, 12 June 2019, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0268117X.2021.1896377