“We endeavoured with some tools our servants had, to carry some pieces of it with us,” Caroline Powys wrote of her visit to Stonehenge in 1759. “Tho’ our party were chiefly female,” she remarked, “we had no more curiosity than the learn'd gentlemen of the Royal Society.” Carolyn was not alone in challenging the gendered demarcation of scientific observation. From the second half of the century, British women travelers carefully packed minerals in cases, filled bags with botanical specimens, and roamed the shores in search of shells and seaweed. This article proposes that British women of the late eighteenth century used the empirical approach promoted by their polite scientific education to turn their leisured travels into knowledge-finding pursuits. The specimens and observations that they brought home played an overlooked role in allowing them to shape themselves as authoritative observers within the larger scientific knowledge-building enterprise that drew from the diffusion of Enlightenment classificatory systems, overseas exploration, and trade. This article brings to light four understudied eighteenth-century female empiricists: the mistress of Hardwick House, Whitchurch, Oxfordshire, Caroline Lybbe Powys (1738–1817); the first woman to publish a Grand Tour account, Lady Anna Miller (1741–81) of Batheaston, Somerset; the unmarried daughter of the rector of Thornton in Craven, Yorkshire, Dorothy Richardson (1748–1819); and the Whig political salon hostess, Lady Elizabeth Holland (1732–95). Each woman is of interest in her own right, but together, as I will argue, their scientific contributions add significantly to the ongoing investigation of the role that women played in developing Enlightenment science.

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