Book found in vault puts start of sex wars at 1630

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A 370-year-old book discovered under a pile of documents in a town hall vault could rewrite the history of the women's movement.

Alan Davies, a Wigan council heritage officer, stumbled across the dusty book in the basement at Leigh Town Hall, Greater Manchester, while searching for another item. Mr Davies uncovered the 182-page volume called Woman's Worth and subtitled: "A treatise proveinge by sundrie reasons that woemen do excell men".

In the book, thought to have been written in the 1630s or 1640s, an unnamed woman author set out her beliefs that women were better at everything than men. Mr Davies said it is believed to be one of the earliest-known works on women's rights.

"When I looked at the style of writing and the binding we could date the book to the 17th century," he said. "Most people think of the women's movement emerging around the start of the 20th century with Emily Pankhurst. There was a book written in the late-16th century and one in the 17th century about women's rights, but the authors were men."

Mr Davies passed copies of the book to Professor Kari McBride, an expert on the history of women's rights at Arizona University.

In an e-mail to Mr Davies, Professor McBride said: "What a find. I wish I could hop on a plane right now and visit you to see this little treasure."

In chapter one of the book – called "Eve More Excellent Than Adam" – the author argued that Adam in the Bible was nothing else but clay or red earth. In chapter two, entitled "Eve Less Sinful Than Adam", she wrote: "Women do excell men in virtues and rare endowments of the minde, and I think we shall finde that herein also women doe farre outstrip men." Other chapter titles include "Women Loved Christ More Than Men" and "Women Wiser Than Men".

Yvonne Edge, manager of the Pankhurst Centre in Manchester, which is dedicated to the memory of the suffragette, said: "It is an exciting find in relation to the position of women in that century.

"The first woman whose writings we know about is Mary Wollstonecraft in the late 18th century, who was hailed as the founder of Western feminism.

"Something that pre-dates that is very exciting."