'A wife's a lot better than a dog': Charles Darwin's letters reveal he was a bit of a dinosaur when it came to women
In 1838, Darwin said a future wife would be an 'object to be loved & played with — better than a dog anyhow'
However, Cambridge researcher Philippa Hardman has found evidence that his attitudes towards women later changed
In 1872 he wrote to Mary Treat urging her to make sure her work on butterflies was taken seriously and published in a scientific journal
Later wrote to Lydia Becker, secretary of the National Society of Women's Suffrage, with papers discussed at a science forum
He once wrote that a future wife would be an 'object to be loved and played with - better than a dog anyhow.'
But researchers studying letters written by evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin have discovered that his attitudes towards women later changed.
Philippa Hardman, a research associate at Cambridge University, found that Darwin went out of his way to back women's scientific work and often wrote to campaigners for women's rights.
Dr Hardman told The Times: 'Darwin was no feminist.
'But our research has shown that his views on gender were a lot more complex than has been acknowledged.
'As a published scientist, Darwin usually reflected and reinforced middle-class, Victorian gender ideology, which saw women as domestic creatures who should look after children and the home.
'In his letters, though, we encounter a world of private thoughts and actions, which defied those ideals.'
Early letters written by Darwin would certainly raise eyebrows in modern day society.
When contemplating whether to marry in 1838, Darwin noted that one advantage to doing so was that a wife would be an 'object to be loved & played with — better than a dog anyhow'.
Later in his famous work The Descent of Man, published in 1871, the scientist attacked John Stuart Mill's discourse in The Subjection of Women by writing: 'Woman seems to differ from man in her mental disposition, chiefly in her greater tenderness and less selfishness.'
However, only one year later, he wrote to naturalist Mary Treat urging her to make sure her work on butterflies was taken seriously in the science world.
In one letter, he advised her to get the work published 'in some well known scientific Journal'.
Dr Hardman's, whose work is called the Darwin Correspondence Project, also told the newspaper that Darwin's archive includes supportive letters to women who campaigned for gender equality.
Darwin held correspondence with women who went beyond traditional gender roles, writing warmly to Florence Dixie, a traveller, writer and hunter who called for votes for women.
She also published a novel - categorised as 'fantasy' at the time, in which men and women lived as equals.
Another of Darwin's exchanges is a letter to Lydia Becker, secretary of the National Society of Women's Suffrage.
In the correspondence, Darwin makes clear that he did not endorse her views. However, he did send her scientific papers that were discussed at the Manchester Ladies' Literary Society - a forum to discuss science for women.
Dr Hardman said that Darwin may have kept his real views on gender quiet because he felt his work was controversial enough.