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After Jusepe de Ribera, Santa Teresa de Jesús (Saint Teresa of Jesus, 17th century).[n 1] Teresa of Ávila was a foundress (etymology 1, sense 1) of the Discalced Carmelites, a Roman Catholic monastic order, together with John of the Cross as co-founder in the 16th century.

Etymology 1[edit]

From Middle English founderess, founderesse, foundress (female founder or builder of a city; female founder or benefactor of a religious house; (figuratively) female inventor or originator; (figuratively) a source) [and other forms];[1] from founder, foundere, foundour (founder or builder of a building, city, country, etc.; builder or endower of a church, college, monastery, etc.; benefactor or patron of such an institution; charter member of a guild; first head of a religious organization; inventor, originator; (figuratively) earliest of a class of people; (figuratively) a source)[2] + -esse (suffix forming female forms of words).[3] Foundour is derived from Anglo-Norman fundur, Old French fondeor, fondeur (creator, instigator, founder) (modern French fondeur), from Latin fundātor (founder) (rare), from fundō (to make by smelting, found) (ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰewd- (to pour)) + -tor (suffix forming masculine agent nouns). The English word is analysable as founder +‎ -ess (suffix forming female forms of words).[4]


foundress (plural foundresses)

  1. (dated) A female founder (one who founds or establishes).
    • 1569, Richard Grafton, “Henry the Seuenth”, in A Chronicle at Large, and Meere History of the Affayres of Englande, [], London: [] Henry Denham, [], for Richarde Tottle and Humffrey Toye, →OCLC; republished in Grafton’s Chronicle; or, History of England. [], volume II, London: [] [George Woodfall] for J[oseph] Johnson;  [], 1809, →OCLC, page 192:
      But whether he departed without the French kings consent or disassent, he deceiued in his expectacion, and in maner in dispaire, retourned againe to the Lady Margaret his first foolish foundresse.
    • 1586, William Warner, “The Fourth Booke. Chapter XX.”, in Albions England. A Continued Historie of the Same Kingdome, from the Originals of the First Inhabitants thereof: [], 5th edition, London: [] Edm[und] Bollifant for George Potter, [], published 1602, →OCLC, page 94:
      Forgetfull of himſelfe, his bearth, his Country, friends, and all, / And onely minding (vvhom he miſt) the Foundreſſe of his thrall.
    • 1590, Edmund Spenser, “Book I, Canto X”, in The Faerie Queene. [], London: [] [John Wolfe] for William Ponsonbie, →OCLC, stanza 44, page 147:
      He humbly louted in meeke lovvlineſſe, / And ſeemely vvelcome for her did prepare: / For of their order ſhe vvas Patroneſſe, / Albe Chariſſa vvere their chiefeſt foundereſſe.
    • 1689, [Pierre] Jurieu, “An Article of Controversie. Reflections on a Writing Newly Sent to the Churches of France. A Continuation of the Matter Concerning the Unity of the Church.”, in [anonymous], transl., The Pastoral Letters of the Incomparable Jurieu, Directed to the Protestants in France Groaning under the Babylonish Tyranny, Translated: [], London: [] T. Fabian, []; and J. Hindmarsh [], →OCLC, page 144:
      This VVoman conceiving there vvas not already Sects enough amongſt Chriſtians, had it in her Head to make another. And moreover, Perſons of her Sex having not been accuſtomed to be Foundreſſes of Religions, ſhe thought that hers vvould make her conſiderable in the VVorld by the ſingularity of its Original.
    • c. 1691 (date written), John Dryden, “Eleonora: A Panegyrical Poem, Dedicated to the Memory of the Late Countess of Abingdon”, in The Miscellaneous Works of John Dryden, [], volume II, London: [] J[acob] and R[ichard] Tonson, [], published 1760, →OCLC, page 233:
      For zeal like her's her ſervants vvere too ſlovv; / She vvas the firſt, vvhere need requir'd, to go; / Herſelf the foundreſs and attendant too.
    • 1766, “PEMBROKE, (Mary Sidney, countess of)”, in Biographium Fæmineum. The Female Worthies: Or, Memoirs of the Most Illustrious Ladies, of All Ages and Nations, [], volume II, London: [] S. Crowder, [], →OCLC, page 191:
      [I]f he had been acquainted vvith the names of the many foundreſſes and benefactreſſes in our tvvo univerſities, he vvould not have advanced ſo great an untruth.
    • 1859, H[arriet] M[ary] Carey, Matilda of Normandy. A Poetical Tribute to the Imperial Academy of Caen, London: Saunders & Otley, [], →OCLC, page 70:
      [I]n death repose, / For her, the founderess of the shrine, / That holocaust to wrath divine, / Not only error to atone, / But grateful homage for a throne!— []
    • 1873 June, “The French Press. I. First Period. The French Press, from Its Foundation to the Death of Mazarin.”, in The Cornhill Magazine, volume XXVII, number 162, London: Smith, Elder & Co., [], →OCLC, section IV, page 726:
      She [Anne Geneviève de Bourbon] was one of the early founderesses of those literary gatherings which attained such renown in the Hôtel de Rambouillet, and lavished her bounties freely among a crew of poetasters, whom she naïvely thought sublime.
    • 1897, [George William Erskine Russell], “Children”, in Collections & Recollections [], London: Smith, Elder, & Co., [], published 1898, →OCLC, page 431:
      Miss Sellon, the foundress of English sisterhoods, adopted and brought up in her convent at Devonport a little Irish waif who had been made an orphan by the outbreak of cholera in 1849.
    • 1902, Charles Johnston, “The Saints and Scholars. a.d. 493–750.”, in Ireland Historic and Picturesque, Philadelphia, Pa.: Henry T. Coates & Co., →OCLC, page 210:
      Saint Brigid is one of the great figures in the epoch immediately succeeding the first coming of the Word. She was the foundress of a school of religious teaching for women at Kildare, or Killdara, "The Church of the Oak-woods," whose name still records her work.
    • 1904, John H[enry] Stapleton, “Christian Science”, in Moral Briefs. A Concise, Reasoned and Popular Exposition of Catholic Morals, New York, N.Y., Cincinnati, Oh.: Benziger Brothers, [], →OCLC, page 125:
      The method of healing of Jesus Christ and that of the foundress of Christian Science [Mary Baker Eddy] are not one and the same method, although called by the name of faith they appear at first sight to the unwary to be identical.
    • 1939 May 4, James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, London: Faber and Faber Limited, →OCLC; republished London: Faber & Faber Limited, 1960, →OCLC, part II, page 244:
      Where is our highly honourworthy salutable spouse-founderess?
    • 1991, Minoru Kiyota, “Japan’s New Religions (1945–65): Secularization or Spiritualization?”, in Leslie S. Kawamura, editor, The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhism (SR Supplements; 10), Waterloo, Ont.: [F]or the Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion by Wilfrid Laurier University Press, →ISBN, page 203:
      Their doctrines are eclectic and simple and, unlike the ministers of established schools, the founders (or more frequently the founderesses) make claim to unusual spiritual power in divination, sorcery, and faith healing.
    • 2009, Diarmaid MacCulloch, “A Church for All People? (1100–1300)”, in A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, Allen Lane, Penguin Books, →ISBN, part IV (The Unpredictable Rise of Rome (300–1300), page 404:
      Francis [of Assisi]'s own unlovely tunic, and that of his female colleague Clare, foundress of parallel communities for women, are lovingly preserved and displayed by the nuns of St Clare in Assisi, so amid the stateliness and beauty of Clare's thirteenth-century basilica, there is a perpetual reminder of what it means to live like the destitute.
  2. (zoology, specifically) A female animal which establishes a colony.
    • 1987, Michael J. Wade, Felix J. Breden, “Kin Selection in Complex Groups: Mating Structure, Migration Structure, and the Evolution of Social Behaviors”, in B. Diane Chepko-Sade, Zuleyma Tang Halpin, editors, Mammalian Dispersal Patterns: The Effect of Social Structure on Population Genetics, Chicago, Ill., London: University of Chicago Press, →ISBN, part V (Mathematical Models of Population Structure), page 281:
      [T]he comparison of multiple inseminations and multiple foundress associations showed that the number of foundresses, a component of migration structure, affects the potential for social evolution more strongly than the number of inseminations per foundress, a component of the mating structure.
    • 1991, Peter-Frank Röseler, “Reproductive Competition during Colony Establishment”, in Kenneth G. Ross, Robert W. Matthews, editors, The Social Biology of Wasps, Ithaca, N.Y., London: Comstock Publishing Associates, Cornell University Press, →ISBN, figure 9.4 caption, page 329:
      When two [European paper wasp] foundresses meet at the nest site after hibernation, the foundress with the higher corpus allatum activity usually becomes dominant.
    • 2021, Michael Taborsky, Michael A. Cant, Jan Komdeur, “Conflict”, in The Evolution of Social Behaviour, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire: Cambridge University Press, →DOI, →ISBN, page 131, column 1:
      Like many vertebrate cooperative breeders, foundress associations of paper wasps are composed of individuals of varying relatedness (typically full sisters, cousins, and unrelated individuals; []), [] However there is also very clear helping behaviour: subordinate foundresses hunt for caterpillars and other insect food to provision the offspring of the dominant female.
Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology 2[edit]

From founder (one who founds or casts metals) +‎ -ess (suffix forming female forms of words).[5] Founder is derived from Middle French fondeur (owner of a foundry; ironworker in charge of smelting, founder) (modern French fondeur), from Latin fundātor (founder) (rare): see further at etymology 1.


foundress (plural foundresses)

  1. (metallurgy, obsolete, rare) A female founder (one who founds or casts metals).
    • c. 1635–1636 (date written), Iohn Ford [i.e., John Ford], The Fancies, Chast and Noble: [], London: [] E[lizabeth] P[urslowe] for Henry Seile, [], published 1638, →OCLC, Act III, page 35:
      The great bell of my heart is crack'd, and never / Can ring in tune againe, till't be nevv caſt / By one only skilfull Foundreſſe.


  1. ^ From the collection of the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain.


  1. ^ fǒunderess(e, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ fǒundǒur, -ur, n.(1)”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  3. ^ -esse, suf.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  4. ^ foundress, n.1”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2022; “foundress, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  5. ^ foundress, n.2”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2021.

Further reading[edit]