Mary Wollstonecraft : Grandmother of Modern, Western Feminism

April 27, 1759 — September 10, 1797

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About Mary Wollstonecraft

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.

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.)

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.

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
Thursday Night. I have been wishing the time away, my kind love, unable to rest till I knew that my penitential letter had reached your hand—and this afternoon, when your tender epistle of Tuesday gave such exquisite pleasure to your poor sick girl, her heart smote her to think that you were still to receive another cold one.—Burn it also, my ——; yet do not forget that even those letters were full of love; and I shall ever recollect, that you did not wait to be mollified by my penitence, before you took me again to your heart. I have been unwell, and would not, now I am recovering, take a journey, because I have been seriously alarmed and angry with myself, dreading continually the fatal consequence of my folly.&md... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
1796
Gothenburg is a clean airy town, and, having been built by the Dutch, has canals running through each street; and in some of them there are rows of trees that would render it very pleasant were it not for the pavement, which is intolerably bad. There are several rich commercial houses—Scotch, French, and Swedish; but the Scotch, I believe, have been the most successful. The commerce and commission business with France since the war has been very lucrative, and enriched the merchants I am afraid at the expense of the other inhabitants, by raising the price of the necessaries of life. As all the men of consequence—I mean men of the largest fortune—are merchants, their principal enjoyment is a relaxation from business at t... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
1793
[Tonsberg] August 9 [1795]. Five of your letters have been sent after me from ——. One, dated the 14th of July, was written in a style which I may have merited, but did not expect from you. However this is not a time to reply to it, except to assure you that you shall not be tormented with any more complaints. I am disgusted with myself for having so long importuned you with my affection.—— My child is very well. We shall soon meet, to part no more, I hope—I mean, I and my girl.—I shall wait with some degree of anxiety till I am informed how your affairs terminate. Yours sincerely Mary. (From: Gutenberg.org.)
1798
BY THE EDITOR * * i.e., Godwin [Publisher’s note]. VERY FEW hints exist respecting the plan of the remainder of the work. I find only two detached sentences, and some scattered heads for the continuation of the story. I transcribe the whole. I. “Darnford’s letters were affectionate; but circumstances occasioned delays, and the miscarriage of some letters rendered the reception of wished-for answers doubtful: his return was necessary to calm Maria’s mind.” II. “As Darnford had informed her that his business was settled, his delaying to return seemed extraordinary; but love to excess, excludes fear or suspicion.” The scattered heads for the continuation of the story, are as follow. * * To un... (From: Gutenberg.org.)
1788
As soon as the cloth was removed, Mrs. Mason concluded the narration; and the girls forgot their fruit whilst they were listening to the sequel. Anna endured this treatment some years, and had an opportunity of acquiring a knowledge of the world and her own heart. She visited her mother’s father, and would have remained with him; but she determined not to lessen the small pittance which he had anxiously saved out of a scanty income for two other grand-children. She thought continually of her situation, and found, on examining her understanding, that the fashionable circle in which she moved, could not at any rate have afforded her much satisfaction, or even amusement; though the neglect and contempt that she met with rendered her v... (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)
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January 10, 2022; 1:40:37 PM (America/Los_Angeles)
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