Top female sources

The updated version of these pages is in preparation and scheduled to be updated over 2020. A preliminary note and charts for this page are provided below. Please also see pages on Fe/male sources on our Archived site, as well as the 18th-century Leverhulme study on the current EOED site.

Preliminary note

As appears from Top sources and from other pages on the EOED website (e.g. in our 18th-century Leverhulme study), female writers of all types of text – literary, scientific, philosophical, epistolary, journalistic, relating to the arts, to domestic and household matters, and so on – tend to be sparsely represented in OED in both its unrevised and revised versions. This is despite the rise in publication by women writers from the 18th century onwards, as well as the attention now being paid by OED3 to female-authored texts as potential quotation sources. The latter is described in OED3’s account of its reading programme: ‘In addition to the ‘traditional’ canon of literary works, today’s Reading Programme covers women’s writing and non-literary texts which have been published in recent times’.1

Charts 24-26 provide some information on female-authored quotations in OED at various stages in its history. This is not straightforward to interpret and a commentary will be provided in due course. The most quoted female author in OED1(2) was the novelist George Eliot, whose total (just over 3,000 quotations) is much lower than that of comparable male contemporaries. And in today’s revised OED, as of June 2019, only 28 female authors are quoted in sufficient quantities to be included in the OED Online list of 1,000 most quoted authors and works. Most of them are prose writers, in contrast to the OED’s preference for poets for many of its most quoted male sources.

Some of the OED2 quotations – including ones for earlier writers such as Jane Austen – were added to the OED by Burchfield in the Second Supplement. See discussion at Men and women compared and, for Austen, Brewer 2015a.

Chart 24: Top female-authored sources in OED2

Chart 25: OED Online changes to OED2’s top female-authored sources as of June 2019

Chart 26: Female authors in OED Online’s list of top cited authors and works, December 2010 compared with June 2019

Note on Chart 26: numbers in brackets after authors’ names refer to their ranking in OED Online’s December 2010 list of most quoted sources (George Eliot’s rank is 85). Rankings have in many cases shifted since then.

Last updated on 24 July 2020

Footnotes

  1. ‘The Reading Programme’, OED Online (https://public.oed.com/history/reading-programme/ [accessed July 2019].