by Betty Barnes
Mary Wollstonecraft was an early English feminist who shocked the
public by her unorthodox behavior as
well as by her unorthodox ideas concerning woman's place.
Mary was born in London April
27,1759. Her father was a drunkard
and Mary had a miserable childhood.
After working as a companion and then
as a seamstress for a few years,
Mary and her sister Eliza opened a
school. The school lasted only two
years, failing in 1785. Mary then
became a governess, but was fired a
year later because the children's
mother felt they loved Mary too much.
Settling in London, Mary became
a literary hack for a publisher,
reading manuscripts , writing for
magazines, and translating from French
and German. She obtained the job
through her literary talents, already
evident in two easays,"Wrongs of Women" and "Thoughts on the Education
of Daughters,'' as well as a novel,
In 1790, partly as a result of
her acquaintance with Thomas Paine,
Mary published A Vindication of the
Rights of Men. Two years later she
published A Vindication of the Rights
of Women. This latter work is considered her best. In it she attacked
the philosophy that woman was formed
to please man and could govern him
by apparent submission and actual
cunning:. This, Mary said, "is the
philosophy of lasciviousness." She
argued that wonen should be educated
equally with men and that women "must
only bow to the authority of reason,
instead of being the modest slaves
of opinion." Modest though her requests were (free schools; education
of women), they caused an uproar.
Ignoring public opinion, Mary
went to Paris in December,1792, to
view the French Revolution firsthand.
There she met Gilbert Imlay, an American. Mary 'disapproved of marriage
and the two lived together for a few
years. Mary helped Imlay in his affairs, even traveling to Norway for
him. In 1794, Mary had a daughter.
Imlay and Mary separated in 1795.
April 27, 1759-
September 10, 1797
In 1796, back in London, Mary
met William Godwin, an English writer. They decided to marry when
Mary was three months pregnant, only
for the sake of the child. This
child was to be Mary Godwin Shelley,
author of Frankenstein.
On September 10, 1797, ten
days after the birth of this second
daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft died
at the age of 38. She would have
been bitter indeed if she had known
that future literary reference works
would list her under "Godwin" rather
than her real name.
has been the chief hindrance in the rapid advance of
the woman's rights movement to its present status,
and it is still a stupendous obstacle to be overcome.
This world taught woman nothing skillful and then
said her work was valueless. It permitted her no opinions and said she did not know how to think. It forbade
her to speak in public, and said the sex had no orators. It denied her the schools, and said the sex had
no genius. It robbed her of every vestige of responsibility, and then called her weak. It taught her that
every pleasure must come as a favor from men, and
when to gain it she decked herself in paint and fine
feathers, as she had been taught to do, it called her
vain. -Carrie Chapman Catt, 1902