Mary Wollstonecraft: Works, Achievements & Influence

Instructor: Debbie Notari
Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the earliest feminist writers, was definitely a forerunner of women's rights. Although Mary died very young, she left a legacy in her writings that impacted women for generations.

Brief Biography

Mary Wollstonecraft was born in 1759 to a poor family. Her father never seemed to be able to provide for his family. In fact, he was abusive, especially toward Mary's mother. Even at a young age, Mary tried to protect her mother from his abuse. Mary decided that marriage was a bad institution based on her experiences, and this idea impacted her entire life. She published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792. This work contradicted the pervading opinions that women were generally helpless.

After being abandoned by an American author and merchant, Captain Gilbert Imlay, with whom she lived for a short time in Scandinavia after meeting him in France, Mary, a new mother, tried to drown herself. Later, she lived with William Godwin, a philosopher, who also hated the institution of marriage. However, when Mary became pregnant, she asked William to marry her. Sadly, she died in childbirth in 1797 at the age of 38. Her daughter was the famous Mary Shelley, wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley.


It was in 1788 that Mary began working with Joseph Johnson, a leader in liberal intellectual circles in London and a publisher. He put out a periodical, the Analytical Review, for which Mary wrote articles. She also advised and helped Johnson. Johnson published Mary's work Thoughts on the Education of Daughters.

Johnson would have 'Tuesday Dinners' where radical thinkers would gather, such as William Wordsworth, William Blake, and her future husband William Godwin. Mary was both influenced by and an influence on these men. To refute Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, she published A Vindication of the Rights of Man, defending the French Revolution. Two years later, in 1792, Mary published her most famous work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Later, after viewing the French Revolution for herself, she published Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

This book was Mary's most influential work. It was in this text that she expressed her feministic, and decidedly modern, views on the roles of women in society. She covered such topics as sexuality, the strength of women, how women are viewed wrongly in society, and how women should act toward others. Some people loved her book, but to others, her ideas were scandalous. However, her book was influential for generations and paved the way for women's rights movements yet to come.

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