mary wollstonecraft

Hello everyone, my name is Claudia González Torres and today I’m going to talk about Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the first feminist philosopher in history. 

Is most famous for writing the book titled “Vindication of the rights of women”, and being besties with Voltaire, who was a French writer, historian, philosopher and lawyer, and figures as one of the main representatives of the Enlightenment, a period that emphasized the power of human reason and science to the detriment of religion.

Mary was born on April 27th, 1759, in London to an abusive drunk father and a submissive cold mother. Her father spent his somewhat sizable fortune on a series of unsuccessful ventures in farming.

When her mother died, in 1780, Mary left home and her abusive father behind. She convinced her sister Eliza to leave her abusive husband and join her and her best adult friend Fanny Blood, and living the independent life.

They open a school for girls, which forwarded their mission of female empowerment and provided a modest income. They were on like this for 5 years, but then, in 1785 Fanny got married, got pregnant and died. Consequently, the school closed from financial hardship.

Mary was heartbroken, so, to get away from it all, she moved to Ireland to work as a governess. But, surprised surprised, she hated domestic work. She decided that she must dedicate her life to authorship. So, in 1787 she moved back to London, working as a translator and advisor for Joseph Johnson, a publisher of radical texts. From her experience as a teacher Mary wrote Thoughts on the education of daughters. Shortly after she published her most famous work “a Vindication of the rights of women” in 1792.

This book argued for women to be educated, at this stage in history the only education that most women receive was domestic, meaning that they were educated on how to fulfil their tasks as wives and mothers, but beyond what happened in the sphere of their home life women typically receive no education.

The book pushed against many commonly held notions of female-hood. She basically argued that women were kept at home and weren’t given enough to occupy their mind and so they took it out on their children and their servants, becoming them in domestic tyrants. That could all be changed if they were given the same educational opportunities as men. Treated as rational beings and given the chance to develop their own character.

The ideas in her book were truly revolutionary at the time and caused tremendous controversy.

Wollstonecraft also wrote Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman, which asserted that women had strong sexual desires and that it was degrading and immoral to pretend otherwise.

After writing the book she moved to Paris to write in the French Revolution. And in 1793 Mary met the handsome and charming American Captain Gilbert Imlay, and she fell for him. Got pregnant shortly after with her first child who she named Fanny after her dear friend.

While nursing her firstborn, Wollstonecraft wrote a conservative critique of the French Revolution in An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution. She also wrote a deeply personal travel narrative, Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, which became her most popular book in the 1790s. After their travels to Scandinavia, Imlay left her and Mary reacted not well.

She attempted to commit suicide twice. First, with “Laudanum” which was like an opium morphine thing, and then, by throwing herself into the Thames.

Mary recovered, finding new hope in a relationship with the reserved and kind William Godwin. Mary got pregnant and despite both of them not really believing in marriage, they got married anyway. And with Godwin, Mary didn’t find it so bad. In fact, she said “a husband is a convenient part of the furniture of the house, unless you be a clumsy fixture”.

On August 30th, 1797, Mary gave birth to a girl who’s she also named Mary, Mary Godwin, but you probably know her better by her married name, Mary Shelley; author of the novel Frankenstein. Mary Wollstonecraft would die 10 days after giving birth. Her last words were that Godwin was the kindest best man in the world.

The life and legacy of Mary Wollstonecraft has been the subject of several biographies, beginning with her husband’s Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. For many years, the scandalous aspects of her life (such as her two children born out of wedlock) were more noted than her works. The beginning of the 20-century brought renewed interest in her writings. And in 2011, her image was projected onto the Palace of Westminster to raise support for a permanent statue of the author.