Mary Wollstonecraft : Grandmother of Modern, Western Feminism

April 27, 1759 — September 10, 1797

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About Mary Wollstonecraft

 Image from NewStatesMan.com

Image from NewStatesMan.com

Mary Wollstonecraft was an English writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights. Until the late 20th century, Wollstonecraft's life, which encompassed several unconventional personal relationships at the time, received more attention than her writing. Today Wollstonecraft is regarded as one of the founding feminist philosophers, and feminists often cite both her life and her works as important influences.

During her brief career, she wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children's book. Wollstonecraft is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education. She suggests that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason.

After Wollstonecraft's death, her widower published a Memoir (1798) of her life, revealing her unorthodox lifestyle, which inadvertently destroyed her reputation for almost a century. However, with the emergence of the feminist movement at the turn of the twentieth century, Wollstonecraft's advocacy of women's equality and critiques of conventional femininity became increasingly important.

 Image from LibertyFund.com

Image from LibertyFund.com

After two ill-fated affairs, with Henry Fuseli and Gilbert Imlay (by whom she had a daughter, Fanny Imlay), Wollstonecraft married the philosopher William Godwin, one of the forefathers of the anarchist movement. Wollstonecraft died at the age of 38 leaving behind several unfinished manuscripts. She died 11 days after giving birth to her second daughter, Mary Shelley, who would become an accomplished writer and author of Frankenstein.

(Source: Wikipedia.)

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) was a moral and political philosopher whose analysis of the condition of women in modern society retains much of its original radicalism. One of the reasons her pronouncements on the subject remain challenging is that her reflections on the status of the female sex were part of an attempt to come to a comprehensive understanding of human relations within a civilization increasingly governed by acquisitiveness and consumption. Her first publication was on the education of daughters; she went on to write about politics, history and various aspects of philosophy in a number of different genres that included critical reviews, translations, pamphlets, and novels. Best known for her Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), her influence went beyond the substantial contribution to feminism for which she is mostly remembered and extended to shaping the art of travel writing as a literary genre; through her account of her journey through Scandinavia as well as her writings on women and thoughts on the imagination, she had an impact on the Romantic movement.

(Source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)

 Image by Diamond Geezer, CC BY-NC-ND License

Image by Diamond Geezer,
CC BY-NC-ND License

Mary Wollstonecraft was a renowned women’s rights activist who authored A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792, a classic of rationalist feminism that is considered the earliest and most important treatise advocating equality for women. This essay is often seen as the foundation of modern women’s rights movements in the Western world.

Wollstonecraft was born in England during the Enlightenment, an intellectual period that advocated for the use of reason to obtain objective truths. Self-educated, Wollstonecraft used her own accomplishments to demonstrate a woman’s aptitude for independent thought and academic excellence. With her sister Eliza and friend Fanny Blood, Wollstonecraft founded a girls’ school in London in 1784. During its brief life, the school developed a prestigious reputation and served as a starting point for Wollstonecraft’s radical ideas about the necessary equality of female and male education. Wollstonecraft’s beliefs were rooted in the idea that the government was responsible for remedying this inequity.

 Image by Fred Langridge, CC BY-NC License

Image by Fred Langridge,
CC BY-NC License

Also in London, Wollstonecraft began associating with the group, the Rational Dissenters (later known as Unitarians), which included political radicals and proponents of independence movements. After the school closed in 1786, Wollstonecraft published her first book about the importance of educating girls, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, 1786. The book was published near the end of the French Revolution, which failed to bring about the equality of the sexes that Wollstonecraft and other radicals anticipated.

In response to Edmund Burke’s anti-revolutionary work Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790, Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Man, 1790, which laid the groundwork for her 1792 treatise, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. In this treatise, Wollstonecraft argued that the faculties of reason and rationality are present in all human beings and that women must be allowed to contribute equally to society. In its dedicatory letter, Wollstonecraft states, “my main argument is built on this simple principle, that if she be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge and virtue” (Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, xxxv). In order to contribute at the same level as men, Wollstonecraft stated, women must be educated equally to men. If women were not afforded this opportunity, social and intellectual progress would come to a halt.

Wollstonecraft died in 1797 during the birth of her second daughter, Mary, who in 1816, as Mary Shelley, published her own masterpiece, Frankenstein.

(Source: BrooklynMuseum.org.)

From : Wikipedia.org / Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy / BrooklynMuseum.org

Works

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This person has authored 330 documents, with 327,982 words or 1,907,387 characters.

1798
July 30. I have just received two of your letters, dated the 26th and 30th of June; and you must have received several from me, informing you of my detention, and how much I was hurt by your silence. — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — Write to me then, my friend, and write explicitly. I have suffered, God knows, since I left you. Ah! you have never felt this kind of sickness of heart!—My mind however is at present painfully active, and the sympathy I feel almost rises to agony. But this is not a subject o... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
1796
Eleven days of weariness on board a vessel not intended for the accommodation of passengers have so exhausted my spirits, to say nothing of the other causes, with which you are already sufficiently acquainted, that it is with some difficulty I adhere to my determination of giving you my observations, as I travel through new scenes, whilst warmed with the impression they have made on me. The captain, as I mentioned to you, promised to put me on shore at Arendall or Gothenburg in his way to Elsineur, but contrary winds obliged us to pass both places during the night. In the morning, however, after we had lost sight of the entrance of the latter bay, the vessel was becalmed; and the captain, to oblige me, hanging out a signal for a pilot, bo... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
1793
[Hull] June 15 [1795]. I want to know how you have settled with respect to ——. In short, be very particular in your account of all your affairs—let our confidence, my dear, be unbounded.—The last time we were separated, was a separation indeed on your part—Now you have acted more ingenuously, let the most affectionate interchange of sentiments fill up the aching void of disappointment. I almost dread that your plans will prove abortive—yet should the most unlucky turn send you home to us, convinced that a true friend is a treasure, I should not much mind having to struggle with the world again. Accuse me not of pride—yet sometimes, when nature has opened my heart to its author, I have wondered that... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
1798
Earnestly as Maria endeavored to soothe, by reading, the anguish of her wounded mind, her thoughts would often wander from the subject she was led to discuss, and tears of maternal tenderness obscured the reasoning page. She descanted on “the ills which flesh is heir to,” with bitterness, when the recollection of her babe was revived by a tale of fictitious woe, that bore any resemblance to her own; and her imagination was continually employed, to conjure up and embody the various phantoms of misery, which folly and vice had let loose on the world. The loss of her babe was the tender string; against other cruel remembrances she labored to steel her bosom; and even a ray of hope, in the midst of her gloomy reveries, would sometim... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
1788
Mary and Caroline, though the children of wealthy parents were, in their infancy, left entirely to the management of servants, or people equally ignorant. Their mother died suddenly, and their father, who found them very troublesome at home, placed them under the tuition of a woman of tenderness and discernment, a near relation, who was induced to take on herself the important charge through motives of compassion. They were shamefully ignorant, considering that Mary had been fourteen, and Caroline twelve years in the world. If they had been merely ignorant, the task would not have appeared so arduous; but they had caught every prejudice that the vulgar casually instill. In order to eradicate these prejudices, and substitute good habits ... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
ADVERTISEMENT. Mr. Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution first engaged my attention as the transient topic of the day; and reading it more for amusement than information, my indignation was roused by the sophistical arguments, that every moment crossed me, in the questionable shape of natural feelings and common sense. Many pages of the following letter were the effusions of the moment; but, swelling imperceptibly to a considerable size, the idea was suggested ivof publishing a short vindication of the Rights of Men. Not having leisure or patience to follow this desultory writer through all the devious tracks in which his fancy has started fresh game, I have confined my strictures, in a great measure, to the grand principles...
1792
The good effects resulting from attention to private education will ever be very confined, and the parent who really puts his own hand to the plow, will always, in some degree be disappointed, till education becomes a grand national concern. A man cannot retire into a desert with his child, and if he did, he could not bring himself back to childhood, and become the proper friend and play-fellow of an infant or youth. And when children are confined to the society of men and women, they very soon acquire that kind of premature manhood which stops the growth of every vigorous power of mind or body. In order to open their faculties they should be excited to think for themselves; and this can only be done by mixing a number of children together,... (From: Gutenberg.org.)

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An icon of a baby.
April 27, 1759
Birth Day.

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September 10, 1797
Death Day.

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December 19, 2021; 9:59:39 AM (America/Los_Angeles)
Added to https://www.RevoltLib.com.

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January 10, 2022; 1:40:37 PM (America/Los_Angeles)
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