Spitalfields, London.
Spitalfields, London.
Born on Primrose Street, Spitalfields, London on April 27, 1759, Mary Wollstonecraft was the second of six children born to Edward John Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Dixon. Her father was abusive and was a tyrant in the house, especially in his treatment towards his wife, this relationship between her parents coloured her own opinions on marriage which is seen in her later writings and publications. Her father mismanaged the family's inheritance that was left to them by their grandfather. He continually moved the family around England and Wales in a number of failed attempts to start a prosperous family farm. Her eldest brother was the only one to receive a formal education. During these early years, she befriended a young girl named Fanny Blood, with whom she remained friends until Fanny’s death in 1785.


Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft


Her formal education during her childhood was sporadic at best, but this was not unusual for a person of her class and gender. She was, however, informally taught by a retired clergyman and his wife, with whom she befriended. Through this relation, she acquired an understanding of the Bible and a number of ancient texts and was well versed in the works of both Shakespeare and Milton. Being a woman coming from a poverty-stricken family with few connections, she entered the workforce in the most common positions for a woman of her status; a lady’s companion, a teacher, and a governess.

During these early years, a number of familial crises occurred. Her mother fell ill and died when Mary was 18. Soon after, one of her sisters contacted Mary in an attempt to help her leave an abusive and unhappy marriage. Mary helped to hide her sister until a legal separation could be drawn up and enacted. The two sisters along with Fanny Blood helped to establish a school together in Newington Green, and the experiences that Wollstonecraft had during her time there helped to shape her future opinions on education and conduct. One of her earliest fruitful jobs was as a translator and advisor to a man named Joseph Johnson. During her time working with Johnson, she wrote a number of critiques and became a regular contributor to his newspaper.







The majority of the writings that Wollstonecraft produced during her early years
John Locke
John Locke
were writings that concerned themselves with teaching and education; pedagogical writings. Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787) is one of such works that she published during this time. This was her first published pamphlet, and it addressed itself with how women should be educated in order to make them better mothers and citizens. In this work, she argued that women should be taught to display morality, rationality, and good character as opposed to striving for the unreal and superficial traits that society would have women develop in their place. During this period, the profound influence John Locke had upon her and her writings is seen clearly. A number of his arguments and ideas from Some Thought Concerning education are plainly seen throughout her writings. John Locke's influence is again later seen in a number of her later works such as A Vindication of the Rights of Women. His belief that people are born with certain innate rights becomes the foundation for a number of her arguments within the work.






William Godwin c. 1802
William Godwin c. 1802


Gilbert Imlay
Gilbert Imlay
Wollstonecraft had two unsuccessful affairs during her life, one with Henry Fuseli and the other with Gilbert Imlay. Her affair with the latter resulted in the birth of an illegitimate daughter named Fanny Imlay. Mary met Imlay, an American timber merchant, in France about one month before the execution of Louis XVI. There she fell deeply in love with him, but he had no interest in pursuing a serious relationship. Eventually, he began to grow distant and she gave up on her relationship with him and attempted to commit suicide twice as a result of this abandonment. Eventually, Wollstonecraft recovered fully and regained her confidence and returned permanently to England in 1797. During this year, Wollstonecraft met and married an English philosopher named William Godwin. Godwin was one of the first advocates for utilitarianism and modern anarchism. He faced a lot of social backlash for marrying Wollstonecraft who was creating a lot of resentment within the male community with her advocation of female rights and the scandal of her illegitimate child. Godwin is famous in his own right for writing two novels called An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, and Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams. Godwin and Wollstonecraft had one daughter named Mary who was born on August 30, 1797.





Edmund Burke
Edmund Burke

Wollstonecraft wrote two vindications in her life; A Vindication of the Rights of Men and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. The first Vindication was written in 1790 as a rebuttal to a paper written by Edmund Burke called Reflections and the Revolution In France (1790). This paper defended the concept of a constitutional monarchy, the aristocracy, and the Anglican Church, effectively attacking the French Revolution and its ideals. This was the same man who however had also defended the American Revolution and its legitimacy. He romanticizes the past, believing it to have better morals time than their present. This document infuriated Wollstonecraft in part by his hypocritical nature of his arguments, but also through the fact that he assaulted a close friend of hers; Richard Price. In her Vindication of the Rights of Men, Wollstonecraft spares no bitterness, outlining the infantile and archaic nature of his arguments. She again demonstrates a Lockean view in this paper as she advocates for the natural equality of all mankind based on the fact that every person is born with certain inalienable rights. Within this document, she also argues for the formation of a Republic saying that people of every class should have the right to the same opportunities and that monarchs should be held to the same standards and laws as the rest of society. This was her first true political paper that was published that helped to define her as an author.



Her second vindication, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,
was written in 1792 and was an independent paper outlining the importance of women and their role in society. This paper is often considered to be the first feminist work and helped to lay the foundation for future feminists in the 19th and 20th centuries. This political work was written during the height of the French Revolution which fought to bring equality and rights to all men. Wollstonecraft took the ideals of the French Revolution and applied them to women, advocating for representation for 50% of the population.

In this vindication, she argues that women should be allowed to pursue jobs in politics and medicine. She outlines a number of the double standards that exist within society, such as the fact that women are shamed for having sex out of wedlock, and she suggests that men should face the same social repercussions if they perform the same action. Her works shame society for holding women to an unreachable standard, “which robs the whole sex of its dignity”.(A Vindication and Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft) She writes that women are in fact too sentimental, but that is a construct that society has bred into them in an attempt to placate them.



A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Within A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft talks extensively about the importance of education for both the sexes, saying that it is important that they develop their reason and their ability to think critically while they are young. She advocates that girls should have the right to be given an education that is equivalent to that of boys, for they are the ones who provide children with their first and primary education. She also talks about the fact that educating women will allow them to become fully human. She believes that it is our reason that defines us as people and in order for our reason to develop we need an education. Wollstonecraft encourages women to begin to speak their minds and their opinions as they should have the right to be heard.






Mary Wollstonecraft c. 1790
Mary Wollstonecraft c. 1790


Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley
In 1797, Mary Wollstonecraft died 11 days after giving birth to her daughter due to an infected placenta. He daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, went on to contribute to the Romantic Era and is better known as Mary Shelley, the woman who wrote the renowned novel, Frankenstein. Often referred to as the "mother of feminism", Mary Wollstonecraft's greatest legacy is the impact that she had upon future feminists and suffragettes, most notably Susan B. Anthony. Through her political works, she laid a foundation for their arguments advocating for equality and representation. She first published these arguments concerning these same topics in 1792, and it took 136 years for the rest of society to catch up to her and give women recognition under the law.
Even during more recent years, the fight to gain equality has been resisted. Consistently men found ways to discourage the movement and undermine its legitimacy, such as through the usage of political cartoons. Mary Wollstonecraft was a woman living in a man's world fighting to gain the same rights men believed they were entitled to having. She refused to endure the inadequate standards to which women were expected to accept willingly, and challenged society, daring them to try and do better.

An anti-suffragette cartoon from the 1800s. Suffragettes and feminists have experienced social backlash for as long as their movement has existed, demonstrated by this degrading cartoon.
An anti-suffragette cartoon from the 1800s. Suffragettes and feminists have experienced social backlash for as long as their movement has existed, demonstrated by this degrading cartoon.


Born on Primrose Street, Spitalfields, London, on April 27, 1759, Mary Wollstonecraft was the second of seven children born to Edward John Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Dixon. Her father was abusive and a known tyrant of the house, particularly in his treatment towards his wife, this relationship between her parents coloured her own opinions on marriage which is seen in her later writings and publications. During these early years, she befriended a young girl named Fanny Blood, with whom she remained friends until Fanny’s death in 1785. At the age of 18, her mother died and she left her home and went off to earn her own living.
Her second vindication, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, was written in 1792 and was an independent paper outlining the importance of women and their role in society. This paper is often considered to be the first feminist work and helped to lay the foundation for future feminists in the 19th and 20th centuries. In this vindication, she argues that women should allowed to pursue jobs in politics and medicine. She outlines a number of the double standards that exist within society, such as the fact that women are shamed for having sex out of wedlock, and she suggests that men should face the same social repercussions if they perform the same action. Her works shame society for holding women to an unreachable standard, “which robs the whole sex of its dignity”.(A Vindication and Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft)

Within A Vindication of the Rights of Woman talks extensively about the importance of education for both the sexes, saying that it is important that they develop their reason and their ability to think critically while they are young. She advocates that girls should have the right to be given an education that is equivalent to that of boys, for they are the ones who provide children with their first and primary education. She talks about the fact that educating women will allow them to become fully “human”, for it is our reason that defines us as people, and in order for our reason to develop we need an education.



She refused to endure the inadequate standards to which women were expected to accept willingly, and challenged society, daring them to try and do better.