I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves. Mary Wollstonecraft
She wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), setting out her case for equal rights for women, based on their equal power of reason. In it, she proposed that girls and boys be educated together at state expense, and that women should have representation in Parliament. This was 100 years before the suffragettes.
She has had a critical influence on our lives today: any woman who has the vote, and can read and write, has Mary Wollstonecraft to thank.
Mary Wollstonecraft was born in London into a family sliding down the social scale. She received only scanty schooling at a time when formal education was only available to the wealthy. Education was not viewed as a right - something that we take for granted today.
Mary Wollstonecraft’s father was a violent man. The trauma of living with domestic violence made her acutely aware of injustice. The abuse of power between adults and children and across class and culture remains a problem today.
Education, Business and Radical Thinking
Mary Wollstonecraft wrote extensively on the significance of education and learning. At 25, she established a girls’ boarding school in Newington Green London and within sight of the City of London. This allowed her to rent a house in a community where she mixed with the intellectual radicals of the day. She debated with Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Joseph Priestley, and John and Abigail Adams (the second President and First Lady of the US). They were all drawn to Newington Green by Dr Richard Price, Minister at the local Unitarian Church.
Newington Green is where Mary Wollstonecraft began her writing career, starting with reviews, translations and books for children, before writing her internationally-acclaimed work on what we now call human rights. Her travel writing was also a direct influence on the early Romantic writers.
She had two significant relationships. The first was with American adventurer and spy Gilbert Imlay, whose infidelity drove her twice to attempt suicide. She bore his daughter while living in France under the Terror. The second was with anarchist and atheist William Godwin. The couple married at St Pancras Old Church a few months before she gave birth to her second daughter; Wollstonecraft died unexpectedly of complications a few days later. The baby grew up to become Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.
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