Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97)

Mary Wollstonecraft was born in 1759. She is sometimes called the Mother of Feminism. Her body of work largely is concerned with Women’s rights. In her 1791-92 book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, now considered a classic of feminist history and feminist theory, Wollstonecraft argued primarily for the rights of woman to be educated. Through education would come emancipation.

Mary Wollstonecraft was a participant in and observer of a significant range of social changes. Firstly, was the Enlightenment thought which regarded institutions as out-dated, and in need of review, along with changes in educational theory and domestic structure. Reason was of primary importance to the Enlightenment philosophers, a company to which Mary Wollstonecraft belongs.

Wollstonecraft wasn’t taken seriously by many people during her time because her ideas were so unique. Mary was a moral and political theorist as well as a women’s rights activist. She was a true French Revolution child, a new age of reason and benevolence. She wanted women to achieve a better life, not only for themselves but for their children and husbands too and to bring together what people already had and ‘ultimate perfection’. She argued that women’s education was “strictly training them to be incapable and frivolous” so they could only be wives and mothers, but she wanted to secure happiness for women and men so they could be looked at as equals. She wanted women to take a stand and fight for their educational rights, not to be weak and depend on men for their identity.

As aforementioned, she is sometimes called the Mother of Feminism. Her body of work is largely concerned with women’s rights. In her 1791-92 book, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft argued primarily for the rights of woman to be educated. Through education would come emancipation. A keen and vital concern with education, especially the education of girls and women, runs throughout Mary Wollstonecraft’s writing and remains a dominant theme to the abrupt end of her career. The title of her first book, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, speaks for itself. Her single most important work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, begins as a plea for the equal education of women and includes an ambitious and farsighted proposal for a national school’s system. More directly, Wollstonecraft produced a book for children in the innovative, progressive mode of the day, edited an innovative reader specifically designed for the use of girls. Education was critically important to Wollstonecraft both as a liberal reformer and as a radical theorist and proponent of women’s rights.

Wollstonecraft accepts the definition of her time that women’s sphere is the home, but she does not isolate the home from public life as many others did and as many still do. For her, the public life and domestic life are not separate, but connected. The home is important to Wollstonecraft because it forms a foundation for the social life, the public life. The state, the public life, enhances and serves both individuals and the family. Men have duties in the family, too, and women have duties to the state.