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Unveiling the Hidden Founding Mothers of Sociology

Within the realm of sociology, there exists a contentious debate surrounding the recognition of the founding mothers of the discipline, highlighting a potential bias towards sexism and patriarchal hegemony. While sociology’s early development primarily focused on industrialization, modernity, and conservative reactions to the Enlightenment period, it is often criticized for its neglect of the contributions made by women in shaping the field.

Jane Addams (1860-1935), Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1862-1931), Marianne Webber (1870-1954)Anna Julia Cooper (1858-1931)Ida Wells-Barnet (1862-1931), and Beatrice Potter Webb (1858-1943) were among the pioneering feminist sociologists who dedicated their major works to social reforms aimed at improving the lives of women. Their significant contributions revolved around recognizing women’s experiences as equally important to men, advocating for women’s upliftment, emphasizing the purpose of sociological thinking, and urging reforms to address inequality.

Yet, the discipline of sociology often fails to acknowledge these trailblazing women who were instrumental in its early development. For example, Harriet Martineau, whose publication “Illustration of Political Economy” (1832-34) predated the works of Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, is often overlooked as a potential founder of sociology. Martineau played a vital role in translating Comte’s positivism into English, a text that is widely studied today. Similarly, Harriet Taylor Mills and Gertrud Simmel, the wives of John Stuart Mill and Georg Simmel respectively, worked alongside their husbands, either independently or collaboratively, in shaping the field of sociology, yet their contributions remain largely unrecognized.

Even Marianne Webber, the wife of Max Weber, published eleven books on sociology in her own right, which unfortunately were never translated into English, while her husband’s biography received wider recognition. Furthermore, activists and social reformers like Beatrice Potter Webb have often been overlooked despite their significant contributions to the discipline.

Critics argue that the institutionalization of sexism within higher education and the influence of male sociological figures perpetuated a male-dominated discipline, sidelining the voices of female sociologists over the course of a century. Additionally, conservative religious backgrounds of influential sociologists such as Talcott Parsons, Comte, and Weber may have influenced their reluctance to embrace the contributions of female sociologists.

However, it is essential to recognize that some feminists, like Dorothy Smith and others, may have struggled to gain widespread recognition due to the perception that their works were not as comprehensive or revolutionary as dominant sociological theories. These feminist sociologists often incorporated ideas from prevailing theories such as functionalism, conflict theory, symbolic interactionism, phenomenology, and ethnomethodology. The various strands of feminism, including liberal feminism, conservative feminism, conventional feminism, modernization feminism, radical feminism, and socialist feminism, emerged by drawing upon both consensus and conflict models of epistemological theorizing.

In the midst of these debates, we must not forget the groundbreaking contributions of Mary Wollstonecraft (1751-1797), who passionately challenged Enlightenment scholars like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the subjects of equality, liberty, and justice. As the first female philosopher in the liberal tradition, Wollstonecraft exposed the fallacies in the works of these scholars and argued that societal expectations had conditioned women to be creatures of emotion rather than reason. Building upon Wollstonecraft’s ideas, John Stuart Mill and his wife Harriet Taylor Mill advocated for women’s rights to property ownership, education, suffrage, and professional opportunities.

When contemporary feminists such as Kanowitz, Mitchell, Eisenstein, Kelly, Okin, Alstott, and Cudd entered the scene, they emphasized the importance of laws that grant women equal rights, opposing any legislation that would impose fewer rights upon women than men. These feminists called for the creation of laws that exempt women from certain duties and address the imbalances favoring husbands over wives in marriage. Their primary goal was to promote laws that prohibit all forms of discrimination against women.

In conclusion, the discipline of sociology has been criticized for its conservative and patriarchal foundations, often neglecting the contributions of female sociologists. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that the works of these women, though sometimes overlooked, were significant in shaping sociology. The discipline must strive for equality, ensuring that the valuable insights and perspectives of female sociologists are duly recognized and integrated into mainstream sociology.

Hassan Idris

Hassan Idris is from Kogi state Nigeria, a writer, poet, essayist, a graduate of Sociology and Anthropology from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria-Nigeria. He’s a member of the Creative writer’s Club, A. B. U Zaria, Creative Club Gombe State University, Northern writer’s Summit, Risingyouth, and Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation. His works have appeared on Dailyfocus,Peoples Daily Newspaper, Daily Trust Newspaper, Wadata TV, Nigeria, Teemika Media, Yodelehub, The Abusites, Campus Info, All, Opera news, League Of Writers Magazine, Parrot Africaprimenews, Opinionnigeria, Libretto magazine and Applied Worldwide (USA). He’s a guest writer/Contributor for Applied Worldwide (USA), Chairman, Benue Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation branch and an editor with Wadata TV, Nigeria. He received an Award from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria-Nigeria as the best researcher in 2017, and he’s the third place winner of Appliedworldwide’s student essay competition in the U.S in 2020 and 2021. He was hosted by the Legislator representing Makurdi North, Hon. Thomas Kwagh-Kudi Terfa in his office, Benue State House Of Assembly in 2020 for making his constituency proud. He’s a reviewer and his review of the book, Behind The Moon was featured in He happens to be the first reviewer of the book, Pruning The Youngstar written by a Kenyan Author. He’s the author of Armageddon of Love (poetry collection) featured in The Abusites,, Opera news, etc.