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 1. I labor in vain to calm my mind—my soul has been overwhelmed by sorrow and disappointment. Every thing fatigues me—this is a life that cannot last long. It is you who must determine with respect to futurity—and, when you have, I will act accordingly—I mean, we must either resolve to live together, or part for ever, I cannot bear these continual struggles—But I wish you to examine carefully your own heart and mind; and, if you perceive the least chance of being happier without me than with me, or if your inclination leans capriciously to that side, do not dissemble; but tell me frankly that you will never see me more. I will then adopt the plan I mentioned to you—for we must either live together, ... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
1796
I left Tonsberg yesterday, the 22nd of August. It is only twelve or thirteen English miles to Moss, through a country less wild than any tract I had hitherto passed over in Norway. It was often beautiful, but seldom afforded those grand views which fill rather than soothe the mind. We glided along the meadows and through the woods, with sunbeams playing around us; and, though no castles adorned the prospects, a greater number of comfortable farms met my eyes during this ride than I have ever seen, in the same space, even in the most cultivated part of England; and the very appearance of the cottages of the laborers sprinkled amid them excluded all those gloomy ideas inspired by the contemplation of poverty. The hay was still bringing in... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
1793
[Sweden] July 3 [1795]. There was a gloominess diffused through your last letter, the impression of which still rests on my mind—though, recollecting how quickly you throw off the forcible feelings of the moment, I flatter myself it has long since given place to your usual cheerfulness. Believe me (and my eyes fill with tears of tenderness as I assure you) there is nothing I would not endure in the way of privation, rather than disturb your tranquility.—If I am fated to be unhappy, I will labor to hide my sorrows in my own bosom; and you shall always find me a faithful, affectionate friend. I grow more and more attached to my little girl—and I cherish this affection without fear, because it must be a long time before it... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
1798
Active as love was in the heart of Maria, the story she had just heard made her thoughts take a wider range. The opening buds of hope closed, as if they had put forth too early, and the the happiest day of her life was overcast by the most melancholy reflections. Thinking of Jemima’s peculiar fate and her own, she was led to consider the oppressed state of women, and to lament that she had given birth to a daughter. Sleep fled from her eyelids, while she dwelt on the wretchedness of unprotected infancy, till sympathy with Jemima changed to agony, when it seemed probable that her own babe might even now be in the very state she so forcibly described. Maria thought, and thought again. Jemima’s humanity had rather been benumbed th... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
1788
The day before Mrs. Mason was to leave her pupils, she took a hand of each, and pressing them tenderly in her own, tears started into her eyes—I tremble for you, my dear girls, for you must now practice by yourselves some of the virtues which I have been endeavoring to inculcate; and I shall anxiously wait for the summer, to see what progress you have made by yourselves. We have conversed on several very important subjects; pray do not forget the conclusions I have drawn. I now, as my last present, give you a book, in which I have written the subjects that we have discussed. Recur frequently to it, for the stories illustrating the instruction it contains, you will not feel in such a great degree the want of my personal advice. Som... (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
Educated in the enervating style recommended by the writers on whom I have been animadverting; and not having a chance, from their subordinate state in society, to recover their lost ground, is it surprising that women every where appear a defect in nature? Is it surprising, when we consider what a determinate effect an early association of ideas has on the character, that they neglect their understandings, and turn all their attention to their persons? The great advantages which naturally result from storing the mind with knowledge, are obvious from the following considerations. The association of our ideas is either habitual or instantaneous; and the latter mode seems rather to depend on the original temperature of the mind than on the w... (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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