Who Was Mary Wollstonecraft?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

Mary Wollstonecraft, an 18th century British philosopher and writer, was born on 27 April 1759. She is especially well known for her feminist viewpoints and tracts. However, she did pen books and essays a wide variety of topics including travel narratives, treatises, history, and manners. She also wrote novels and a book for children. Without a doubt, her most famous text is A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which was published in 1792. In this text, Wollstonecraft argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but only appear so because of their inferior social status and the fact that they received less education than men.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

Wollstonecraft is known for both her texts and her lifestyle, which was very unconventional for a woman of her era. Only after having two affairs, one with Henry Fuseli and the other with Gilbert Imlay, did Wollstonecraft marry. With her husband, William Godwin, she had one daughter, Mary Shelley. Shelley is arguably more famous than her infamous mother for her novel, Frankenstein. Mary Wollstonecraft passed away at the early age of thirty-eight. Her death, which occurred on 10 September 1797, was due to complications of childbirth.

Upon her untimely death, Wollstonecraft left behind a number of unfinished manuscripts. Her husband posthumously published her memoir the year after her death. This memoir detailed much information about her lifestyle which was both unorthodox and completely unacceptable during her era. In fact, it was this memoir that badly tarnished Wollstonecraft’s reputation. She did not regain respect until about the turn of the 20th century, during the beginnings of the feminist movement. Despite being scoffed at for nearly a century for her deeds in her personal life, Wollstonecraft gained a new readership and following with the feminist movement. She is now credited with being one of the founders of feminist philosophy.

The following is a list of works by the author, published both during her life and posthumously. In addition to the texts listed below, Mary Wollstonecraft also translated a number of books during her short but prolific career.

  • Thoughts on the Education of Daughters: With Reflections on Female Conduct, in the More Important Duties of Life
  • Mary: A Fiction Original Stories from Real Life: With Conversations Calculated to Regulate the Affections and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness.
  • The Female Reader: Or, Miscellaneous Pieces, in Prose and Verse; selected from the best writers, and disposed under proper heads; for the improvement of young women
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Men, in a Letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke.London
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman with Strictures on Moral and Political Subjects
  • An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution; and the Effect It Has produced in Europe
  • Letters Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark The Wrongs of Woman, or Maria. Posthumous Works of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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