Mary Wollstonecraft and the Early Women’s Rights Movement
Who was Mary Wollstonecraft?
Mary Wollstonecraft was a very complex person and to try to completely describe who she was would be impossible. However it’s not impossible to share her life and what she accomplished. Mary was born in 1759 in London; she was the second of six children. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother was a battered house wife. Wollstonecraft tried to protect her mother from her father’s attacks but she was also a victim of her father’s abuse. She had very little formal education and was largely self-taught. When she was nineteen she went out to earn her own living. In 1783, Mary helped her sister escape a miserable marriage and later on the two sisters founded and taught at a school in Newington Green; an experience from which Mary drew to write Thoughts on the Education of Daughters: With Reflections on Female Conduct, in the More Important Duties of Life. Shortly after Mary became the governess in the family of Lord Kingsborough, living most of the time in Ireland. Following her dismissal Wollstonecraft spent several years observing political and social developments in France, and wrote History and Moral View of the Origins and Progress of the French Revolution. In 1790 she wrote Vindication of the Rights of Man, the first response to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France. Mary Wollstonecraft’s most famous work which got her the reputation as a feminist was A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; it was published in 1792. Her first child, Fanny, was born in 1795, the daughter of American Gilbert Imlay. When Imlay deserted her she tried to drown herself. Eventually she recovered and went to live with William Godwin, a longtime friend. She then married Godwin in 1797. Wollstonecraft died a few days after the birth of her second daughter, Mary. Before Wollstonecraft died she had been writing a book called Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman; it was published unfinished in Paris in 1798. Wollstonecraft believed that women's freedom should extend to their sexual lives. In her writings, she compared married life for a woman to prostitution. Mary argued that women had strong sexual desires and that it was degrading and immoral to pretend otherwise.
Mary Wollstonecraft’s View on Women’s Rights
Early on in her life, Mary Wollstonecraft began making great contributions and brought new and not well-received views on women and society. She fully supported that if girls were pushed and encouraged from an early age to develop their minds, it would be seen that they were fair balanced creatures and there was no reason whatsoever for them to not to be given the same opportunities as boys with regard to education and training. She believed education could be the salvation of women, education held the key to achieving a sense of self-respect and anew self-image that would enable women to put their capacities to good use. She insisted women be taught serious subjects like reading, writing, arithmetic, botany, natural history, and moral philosophy. In proposing giving the same education to girls as given to boys, she went a little further and proposed that both girls and boys be taught and educated together. Now this was even more extreme than anything that was proposed before because the mere idea of co-educational schooling was simply looked on as absurd. Many educational thinkers of the time considered co-educational schooling a ridiculous idea. Wollstonecraft called herself “a new genus" a woman who made her own living my writing. At one point in Mary Wollstonecraft’s life she was homeless, without a job, she had nothing to live on and she was in debt to many people. She was 28 years old and had no plans to marry any time soon. She had nothing yet she still refused to learn the techniques where most women in her situation would usually try to make life decent enough for themselves to live. In other words they would...
Bibliography: New York: Coward, McCann, & Geoghegan, Inc. 1972. Shows how Wollstonecraft’s early life had a big impact on the development of her ideas.
Kemerling, Garth. Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797). 1996. (November 13, 2000). This website goes over some of Wollstonecraft’s observations at the school where she taught and it talks about all the books she wrote.
Kreis, Steven. The History Guide: Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History. (May 13, 2004). The website gives a short biography of Mary Wollstonecraft’s life. This website also gives links to Wollstonecraft’s writings.
Feminist Interpretation of Mary Wollstonecraft, ed. By Maria J. Falco (Penn. State, 1995). Talks about Mary Wollstonecraft’s life and accomplishments in detail.
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