Mary Wollstonecraft

Ideas

– Unwilling submission to any person, institution, or custom is limiting, degrading, and destructive.

– Reason, infallible and God-given, should control all human thought and action.

– Women must have the freedom to cultivate reason, the key to self-improvement and social change.

– Environment and education shape character and morality.

– Education is the right of all humankind and the vehicle through which women can gain independence and equality.

– Humankind is evolving socially toward perfectability.

Biography

An early Anglo-Irish feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft is most famous for Vindication of the Rights of Women, which advocated legal equality for women. Wollstonecraft ridiculed prevailing notions that women were incapable of self-sufficiency, noting that most women were uneducated and confined to the household and therefore unable to develop talents.

Wollstonecraft and her sister established a school for women in the 1780s and she went on to serve as governess in the family of Lord Kingsborough before settling in London to pursue a career as a writer and editor. In 1788 she became translator and literary advisor to Joseph Johnson, a publisher of radical texts. That association brought her into contact with leading intellectuals in London. Her Vindication of the Rights of Man responded to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, which Wollstonecraft took to be Burke’s betrayal of his previous defense of the American Revolution.

Although initially an admirer of the French Revolution, Wollstonecraft wrote An Historical and Moral View of the Origins and Progress of the French Revolution: and the Effect it has Produced in Europe, a treatise highly critical of the violence into which France had descended.

Although she considered marriage a form of tyranny, she wed William Godwin in 1797 due to her pregnancy. Wollstonecraft died weeks after the birth of her daughter.

Major Works of Mary Wollstonecraft

– Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787)
– Mary, A Fiction (1788)
– Original Stories from Real Life (1788)
– A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790)
– A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)
– A Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution (1794)
– Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796)
– Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman (1798)

2 thoughts on “Mary Wollstonecraft

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