Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft and The Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman - #TheWomanAlchemist Monthly Feature

Laura Mariani

The PeopleAlchemist Edit: #theWomanAlchemist #Feature #womanofthemonth - Mary Wollstonecraft

Hello and welcome to another #TheWomanAlchemist monthly feature. From now on, I'm going to use this monthly feature to pay tribute to women writers and their contributions, starting with Mary Wollstonecraft. Mary Wollstonecraft was an English writer born in London on April 27, 1759. She was born during the Enlightenment period, which advocated the use of reason to obtain objective truths. Wollstonecraft was self-educated. She used her accomplishments to demonstrate a woman's talent for independent thought and academic excellence and her radical ideas about the necessary equality of female and male education.


  • Brought up by an abusive father who spent his fortune on a series of unsuccessful ventures and following her mother's death in 1780, Wollstonecraft selected to earn her livelihood.
  • In 1784, she founded a school in Newington Green with her sister Eliza and her friend Fanny.
  • After her friend Fanny died in 1785, she took a position as governess in Ireland. However, she quickly realised domestic work did not suit her.
  • In 1786 Wollstonecraft published her first book about the importance of educating girls, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters. But unfortunately, the book failed to bring about the anticipated equality of the sexes.
  • After returning to London, she became a translator and an adviser to Joseph Johnson.
    • He was a noted publisher of radical texts like Analytical Review, to which she became a regular contributor.
  • In 1792, while travelling in France, she met Captain Gilbert Imlay and soon became pregnant.
  • In 1790 Wollstonecraft wrote her two most popular books:
    • A Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution, a critique of the French Revolution; and
    • Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, a deeply personal travel narrative.
  • Following their travels in Scandinavia, Imlay left her.
  • She then met William Godwin, the founder of philosophical anarchism. They were eventually married.


In 1790 she wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Man. This was following and responding to Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmond Burke. This book was a preamble to her most famous work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, in 1792. The ideas in this book were truly revolutionary at the time. They caused tremendous controversy. Why? Firstly, Wollstonecraft purported that reason and rationality are present in both men and women. Secondly, therefore, women must be allowed to contribute to society. And finally, be educated. If they were not given this opportunity, social and intellectual progress would halt. She abhorred the notion that women are helpless household adornments. Instead, she said, society breeds "gentle domestic brutes". A confined existence makes women frustrated. Because it transforms them into tyrants over their children. Educational reform is key. And giving women the same educational opportunities as men.

"My main argument is built on this simple principle, that if she is not prepared by education to become man's companion, she will stop the progress of knowledge and virtue"-

(Wollstonecraft's dedication letter, The Vindication of the Rights of Woman).


Wollstonecraft died in 1797 following the birth of her second daughter, Mary. In 1816, Mary (Shelley) went and published the masterpiece Frankenstein. I've chosen Wollstonecraft because she was a great writer and a pioneer of women's rights and female education. However, it pains me that 200 years after her 1792 polemic book, we are still arguing about equal pay, body image, female aspiration, and authorised social constructions of 'femininity' and 'masculinity'. I salute you, Mary, for paving the way, thank you and Happy birthday (27 April). Previous #TheWomanAlchemist features:
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