Mary Wollstonecraft was an accomplished writer and intellectual who discussed theories and ideals of equality between the sexes through her work. Mary is most famous for her book; A Vindication of the Rights of Women; with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects. Her work was revolutionary for her time and historically groundbreaking in its ideals.
Born in 1759 in Spitalfields, London, Mary was the second oldest of six from an Anglo-Irish background. From childhood, Mary lived in a family where the injustices of life were visible daily in her household. Growing up, Mary’s father was a tyrant who frequently beat her mother. Her father also inherited a great deal of money, and determined to give up his trade as a handkerchief weaver. The family moved constantly as he tried to achieve his goal as a farmer. Mary received little education, which was not unusual for her gender and position.
Mary’s career began with the three most common jobs attained by women in the period, a lady’s companion, a school teacher, and governess. A prominent figure in Mary’s early life was her best friend, Fanny Blood. Mary credits Fanny with opening her mind. Fanny helped Mary through the struggle of her home life and economic difficulties. In 1778, Mary worked as a ladies companion in Bath, but soon returned to tend to her dying mother. Soon after her mother’s death, Mary moved in with the poverty-stricken Blood family. In 1783, Mary left them to help her sister through her abusive marriage. Although it is not quite known what prompted Mary, she convinced her sister to abandon her child and the two went into hiding from her sister’s husband. The child is said to of then died by the following August.
The two sisters and Fanny Blood then opened a school in Newington Green. The experiences were the context for Wollstonecraft’s book, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters: With Reflections on Female Conduct, in the More Important Duties of Life (1787). After the school’s downfall and the death of Fanny Blood, Mary struggled to cope.
With support from friends, Mary moved to Ireland where she worked as a governess for the Lord Kingsborough family. In 1878, she moved to London where she became the translator and literary consultant for Joseph Johnson, who published radical texts. Through her work with him she was able to meet and befriend many famous and revolutionary writers of her time. It was with her time working with Johnson, where she was even able to criticize and write reviews, where Mary wrote and published her most famous book the Vindication on the Rights of Women (1792). Focusing on equality of the sexes, Wollstonecraft’s book defined doctrines of the later women’s movement, made her both famous and infamous in her own time. Her work would be read for centuries after.
In 1792, Wollstonecraft set off for Paris, where she met Captain Gilbert Imlay, whom she, by common law, married very soon after. By 1794, she bore a daughter, whom she named Fanny. On a visit to Scandinavia with Imlay, Mary tried to kill herself by jumping of a bridge after her husband deserted her.
After recovering her courage, Mary moved in with William Godwin, whom she’d first met through Johnson in 1791. The two were both opposed to the idea of marriage as they saw it as autocratic. But when Mary became pregnant they agreed to be wed. On September 10, 1797, Mary gave birth to her daughter, but died through complications of childbirth. The daughter was name Mary, and she too became a literary genius of her time.
Mary paved the way for a new and radical form of thinking, one that was not embraced until almost a century later. It was not until the 20th century that he work was fully celebrated though. She ideas of equal rights and independence were ones that although shunned and ostracized her from some perspectives, also helped lay for the feminist activism that lay ahead. What Mary is most famous for is not necessarily her feminist ventures but remembered for shaping the art of travel writing as a literary genre, as well as contributing to the Romantic movement. Wollstonecraft used her personal experiences voiced through her writing to help express her strong help opinions and theories of the time. Because of her revolutionary vision, Wollstonecraft and her work are inspiring.