Mary Wollstonecraft
1759-1797
Feminism, Philosophy of Education,
Social & Political Philosophy 



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Chronology

1759 On April 27 Mary Wollstonecraft was born to Elizabeth Dickson and Edward John Wollstonecraft. She was the second child, a brother Edward having been born a few years earlier. Four additional children would follow.

Her grandfather was well to do - having established one of the early mills in England. But Mary's father quit his job at the mill as soon as he received his inheritance and lived the life of the 'gentleman' drinking and gambling the money away. Slowly the family began a descent through the economic scale.

Mary took on the role of 'dutiful daughter' often attempting to protect her mother and brothers and sisters from the wrath of her father, who became combative after drinking too much.

1770 The family moved to Beverly. Here Mary Wollstonecraft became friends with Jane Arden. John Arden, Jane's father was a well known teacher and philosopher of the day and he took some interest in Mary's intellectual growth.

1774 The Wollstonecraft family moved again, now to Huxton. Here Mary became acquainted with and appears to have worked for the Clare's who had the well stocked library of retired clergy and who also introduced Mary to Fanny Blood, who was to become 'her dearest friend' until her untimely death in childbirth.  The Clares encouraged and helped with introductions as Mary Wollstonecraft set out to become independent - working as a companion, governess and later as founder of a day school.

1783 Mary helped her sister Eliza escape an oppressive and brutal marriage. This was an illegal action and the two had to 'hide out' until a legal separation could be worked out. Then with the help of the Clares and other Dissenters at Newington Green, Mary established a school at Newington Green, employed her sister and others. The school eventually failed financially.

1785 She began writing at the suggestion of John Hewett.

1786 Thoughts on the Education of Daughters: with Reflections on Female conduct in the More Important Duties of Life was published by Joseph Johnson, who happened to be Hewett's publisher. This began a long association with Johnson. He taught Mary a great deal about writing, offering sound and careful criticism of her work. She soon became a prolific reviewer of books and did translations of foreign works into English.

1787 Her Original Stories from Real Life: with Conversations, Calculated to Regulate the Affections and form the Mind to Truth and Goodness was published.

1788 Is when she began doing book reviews for Johnson & Christie's journal, The Analytical Review.

1789 her translation of Necker's De L'Importance des Opinions Religieuses was published and this was followed by a translation of Young Grandison and she compiled a collection of poetry and prose, Female Reader.

1790 her translation of Salzman's Elements of Morality was published as well as A vindication of the Rights of Men, a work penned in haste and great heat after Edmund Burke published Reflections on the Revolution in which he argued that only aristocracy's should vote and rule. Wollstonecraft's impassioned defense of universal suffrage was an immediate best seller both in England and the Americas.

1792 She published another best seller, A vindication of the Rights of Woman -- this done in response to Talleyrand's apparent willingness to adopt Rousseau's educational plan which advocated separate and unequal education for girls and boys.

In that same year, she set out for Paris. There, she collected materials for An Historical and Moral View of the Origins and Progress of the French Revolution: and the effect it has Produced in Europe (vol I, 1794) and like Olympe de Gouges , was critical of the Reign of Terror. It was there that she met Mary met Captain Gilbert Imlay, an American timber-merchant and author of The Western Territory of North America. She agreed to become Imlay's common law wife and in May 1794, she gave birth to a daughter whom she named, Fanny. In November 1795, after a four months' visit to Scandinavia as his "wife," he deserted her. Mary tried to kill herself by drowning but did not succeed.

1794 Historical and Moral View of the Origins and Profess of the French Revolution was published.

1797 She published in the Monthly Review an article "On Poetry and Our Relish of the Beauties of Nature."

In addition to these works Mary Wollstonecraft composed at least two other works which were unpublished in her lifetime, Cave of Fancy and Maria or the Wrongs of Women

Wollstonecraft married the political philosopher Godwin. They lived in proximate but separate apartments - coming together for dinner each evening.

1797 She died of puerperal fever after giving birth to a daughter, Mary Godwin. Wollstonecraft's death was attributed to the failure to remove all the 'after birth'. She was working on a child's reader at the time.  That child, Mary Godwin, would grow up to marry the famed poet Percy Bysse Shelley. Mary Godwin Shelley became famous for her authorship of Frankenstein.

Although it is clear that Mary Wollstonecraft advocated the education and democratic rights for women. However, she did include gender roles in her educational plans - with girls and boys becoming prepared for different sorts of careers. And it must also be noted that she was first and foremost a democrat, advocating universal suffrage as opposed to political power only for the landed aristocracy. It was her democratic leanings, that ALL human being should be enfranchised that under girded her advocacy of the rights of women.

Bibliography: 

Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark

Maria or the Wrongs of Woman

Mary Wollstonecraft: Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Mary Wollstonecraft is one of more than 100 women featured in A History of Women Philosophers photo album, and is one of more than 40 women featured in

Busted!! A Pictorial History of Women Philosophers, Volume 2.

This page was last updated 12/14/14.

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