William Thompson

William Thompson and Anna Doyle Wheeler

William Thompson (1775-1833)

William Thompson is one of the great pioneers of the Social Sciences.  Born in Cork, where he lived for his entire life, William Thompson emerged as one of the most influential thinkers of his age.  He championed the cause of social equality and was sharply critical of the immiseration and exploitation of the poor.  His book An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth (1824) became a seminal study of social inequality.  William Thompson is also celebrated for his championship of women’s rights.  With his companion, Anna Doyle Wheeler, he authored The Appeal of One Half of the Human Race: Women against the Pretensions of the Other (1825).  It was the first major statement on women’s right to political equality written in the English language.  William Thompson was also committed to the co-operative ideal, which he advocated in Practical Directions for the Establishment of Communities (1830).  He passionately believed in the right to an education for every citizen.  Dooley (1996) notes that Thompson saw himself primarily as a philosopher of 'true social science', understood as the science and art of creating happiness.  His efforts to understand why human happiness is so unevenly distributed are followed with promises of remedies which he believed would give more widespread equality within communitiies of shared power:

"How far, and in what directions this new science and art of creating bliss, this genuine Social Science will unfold itself, we know no more than we do what will be the future course of Mechanics or Chemistry.  The road to these great results is pointed out to you.  The means of entering on that road are before you and in your power.  Therefore, my friends of the Industrious Classes, become, as you may be, the fabricators of your own destiny."  (Dooley : 1996, xvii)

His practical commitment to adult education has proven to be inspirational in the development of social studies departments in universities across the world.  The Department of Applied Social Studies at UCC has adopted William Thompson as an intellectual model.  His ideas and ideals live on in our teaching, research, commitment to social justice, our practice of widening participation and promoting access, and, most of all, our hope in humanity and its capacity to build a better world.

Anna Doyle (1785-1848/50)

Anna Doyle was born in County Tipperary in 1785.  At the age of fifteen she married Francis Massy-Wheeler and moved to Limerick.  The couple had two daughters. Following twelve years of a generally unhappy marriage, Anna left her husband and fled to the island of Guernsey.  Subsequent to the death of her husband, she moved to London and began active collaboration with William Thompson as well as Robert Owen and Jeremy Bentham.

In Thompson’s ‘The Appeal of One Half of the Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other’, the formidable pro-feminist text, he acknowledges the enormous contribution made by Mrs. Wheeler in an introductory letter to her.  Emphasising that the ‘Appeal’ was the product of collaborative work undertaken by both Thompson and Mrs. Wheeler, he notes that ‘A few only therefore of the following pages are the exclusive produce of your mind and pen, and written with your own hand.  The remainder are our joint property, I being your interpreter and the scribe of your sentiments.’  (Dooley: 1997, 47)

Following the publication of the ‘Appeal’ Wheeler continued to be an active feminist.  In 1829 she delivered a public lecture on ‘Rights of Women’ in a chapel near Finsbury Square in London.  She published ‘Rights of Women’ in 1830 in the British Co-operator.  As a result of her commitment to advancing the rights of women, Anna Doyle Wheeler became known under the pseudonym of ‘Vlasta’, a legendary sixteenth-century Swedish woman who headed an army of women in warfare against their oppression by men.


Further Reading: 

Thompson, W. (1825) Appeal, Edited with ‘Introduction’ by Dolores Dooley (1997), Cork University Press.

Dooley, D. (1996) Equality in Community. Cork University Press.

School of Applied Social Studies

Staidéar Sóisialta Feidhmeach

William Thompson House, Donovan's Road, Cork, Ireland.