Mary Wollstonecraft

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Mary Wollstonecraft was an eighteenth century writer, philosopher and women’s right activist and a very active advocate of equality of sexes.

Wollstonecraft was born on 27 April 1759 in London in a family dominated by her abusive father. She was never formally educated but her writings show that she was quite well versed in bible and the writings of Shakespeare and Milton. In 1781, her mother died after which Mary went to live with a friend Fanny. The turning point of her life was when she attended her sister Elisa who was going through a failed marriage because of her abusive husband. In 1784, Mary took her sister away and a legal divorce was arranged.

February 1784 was the beginning of many of Wollstonecraft ’s endeavors when she established her first school with the help of her sister Elisa and friend Fanny. They established their first school at Newington Green where she started on her first set of works “Thoughts on the Education of Daughters”. Her school soon became unstable and failed to provide her with income after which it collapsed.  She later became the governess to the daughter of Lord Kingsborough and spent most of her time in Ireland. In 1787, she was dismissed from work after which she settled in George Street, London.

In 1788, Joseph Johnson provided her with an intellectual job as a translator and literary advisor. This acquainted her with most of London’s intellectual circles. Mary Wollstonecraft soon became a regular contributor of articles and radical writings to Johnson’s analytical review. She made up for her lack of education by spending a lot of her time reading and reviewing and most of translating work gave her extensive knowledge of the works of Kant and Leibniz.

In 1792, Wollstonecraft  published her famous work “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” in which she stressed that women’s lives under tyranny of domestic brutes frustrated them  and  made them violent towards their children and servants, it also advocated women’s rights to education and their equality to men in this regard. After publication of her first work she started on her second work “Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman”, in this she wrote about the strong sexual desires of women and how it was wrong to suppress them. She wasn’t able to complete this book, which was published unfinished in 1798 after her death.

She went to Paris and at a friend’s house met Capt. Gilbert Imlay whom she married in La Havre in May 1794 and bore him a daughter, Fanny. In 1795, Imlay deserted Mary and left her emotionally unstable. After some time she stabilized herself and went to Somers town to live with William Godwin. She later married Godwin because of her pregnancy. In September 1797, Mary gave birth to a second daughter after which her health declined and she died.

Mary was both famous and infamous for her radical thoughts and activity against the oppression of women. She was known most commonly for her feminist theories but her political and moral thoughts gained fame only decades after her death. She was arguably one of the most influential writers and women rights activists of the eighteenth century.

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