Often referred to as the 'Mother of Feminism' or the 'First Feminist', Mary Wollstonecraft was British writer and philosopher. She argued that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and suggested a social order which is founded on reason. She wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book and a children's book during an extremely brief career. 'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman' is considered to be her magnum opus which brought her a lot of fame. In this book, she relentlessly advocated women's' rightarguing that women are not naturally inferior to men which they appear due to lack of education. Though she died early, at the age of 38, she left a lasting impression. Today Wollstonecraft is considered to be one of the first feminist philosophers, and feminists often cite both her life and work as important influences.
Life And Origin Of Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft was born on 27 April 1759, in Spitalfields, London. She was the second of the seven children of Edward John Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Dixon. Though initially well-to-do, her family eventually suffered financial instability due to her father's extravagance. Her father was a violent person and would often beat his wife in drunken rage. Wollstonecraft would often sit at the door of her mother's bedroom to protect her. Throughout her life, she played a maternal role for both of her sisters, Everina and Eliza. The two friendships whichplayed a significant role in her life were with Jane Arden in Beverley and Fanny Blood in Hoxton. Mary moved out of home in 1778, accepting the job as a lady's companion, but had to come back soon to nurse her ailing mother. After her mother's death, Wollstonecraft moved in with the Bloods.
Financial crisis made her visions of living with Blood in female utopia collapse. To earn a living together with Fanny Blood and Eliza, Mary Wollstonecraft opened a school in Islington. However, the school faced a tough time in the absence of Mary, when she went to attend to Fanny Blood in 1785. Blood's death left her shattered and she closed the school and wrote her first work, a pamphlet entitled 'Thoughts on the Education of Daughters'. She accepted the work of a governess, to the daughters of Lord Viscount Kingsborough. In 1788 she wrote her first book - 'Mary, A Fiction', a children's book - 'Original Stories from Real Life' and even translated Jacques Necker's 'On the Importance of Religious Opinions'.
After getting a start, Mary devoted herself completely to writing. She was perhaps the first feminist and hence is known as the 'Mother of Feminism'. While in London Wollstonecraft fell in love and pursued a relationship with the artist Henry Fuseli, even though he was already married. She even organized a platonic living arrangement with Fuseli and his wife, but Fuseli's wife was dismayed, and Fuseli had to part with Wollstonecraft. To escape the humiliation of Fuseli's rejection, Wollstonecraft traveled to France, participated in the revolutionary events that she had just celebrated in her recent and most significant work 'Vindication of the Rights of Men'. A classic on feminist thoughts, the book qualifies as an exceptional piece and is a must read for people who want to know about the origin and history of feminism. Wollstonecraft sought an educational reform, which would allow co-education, so that both men and women could enjoy the benefits of education together. She also recommended that large estates be divided into small farms and criticized slavery, practiced during that time.
Though Mary Wollstonecraft shined professionally, her personal life was distressful. Wollstonecraft fell in love with Gilbert Imlay, whom she married. She gave birth to a daughter in 1794 and named her Fanny after her dearest friend. However, Imlay's infidelity was soon discovered by her. She also attempted suicide, but was saved as destiny had some other plans. Her friendship with William Godwin soon turned into a love affair eventually resulting in marriage. This was strong, but short-lived love affair, as Mary died after giving birth to her second child.
On 30 August 1797, Mary died while giving birth to her second daughter. Happiness and distress came together for William Goodwin; he became a father, but lost his dear wife. During labor, her placenta broke apart and became infected. After several days of agony, she died of Septicaemia, on 10 September 1797. Mary was laid to rest at Old Saint Pancras Churchyard.