Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft

Born: 1759. Died: 1797.

Ideas

- Unwilling submission to any person, institution, or custom is limiting, degrading, and destructive.

- Reason, infallible and God-given, should control all human thought and action.

- Women must have the freedom to cultivate reason, the key to self-improvement and social change.

- Environment and education shape character and morality.

- Education is the right of all humankind and the vehicle through which women can gain independence and equality.

- Humankind is evolving socially toward perfectability.

Biography

An early Anglo-Irish feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft is most famous for Vindication of the Rights of Women, which advocated legal equality for women. Wollstonecraft ridiculed prevailing notions that women were incapable of self-sufficiency, noting that most women were uneducated and confined to the household and therefore unable to develop talents.

Wollstonecraft and her sister established a school for women in the 1780s and she went on to serve as governess in the family of Lord Kingsborough before settling in London to pursue a career as a writer and editor. In 1788 she became translator and literary advisor to Joseph Johnson, a publisher of radical texts. That association brought her into contact with leading intellectuals in London. Her Vindication of the Rights of Man responded to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France, which Wollstonecraft took to be Burke's betrayal of his previous defense of the American Revolution.

Although initially an admirer of the French Revolution, Wollstonecraft wrote An Historical and Moral View of the Origins and Progress of the French Revolution: and the Effect it has Produced in Europe, a treatise highly critical of the violence into which France had descended.

Although she considered marriage a form of tyranny, she wed William Godwin in 1797 due to her pregnancy. Wollstonecraft died weeks after the birth of her daughter.

Major Works of Mary Wollstonecraft

- A Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution, 1794
- A Vindication of the Rights of Men, 1790
- A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792
- Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, 1796
- Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman, 1798
- Mary, A Fiction, 1788
- Original Stories from Real Life, 1788
- Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, 1787

Quotes from Mary Wollstonecraft

- "Nothing, I am sure, calls forth the faculties so much as the being obliged to struggle with the world." (from "Thoughts on the Education of Daughters", 1787)

- "Age demands respect; youth, love." (from "A Vindication of the Rights of Men", 1790)

- "The birthright of man ... is such a degree of liberty, civil and religious, as is compatible with the liberty of every other individual with whom he is united in a social compact." (from "A Vindication of the Rights of Men", 1790)

- "The demon of property has even been at hand to encroach on the sacred rights of men, and to fence round with awful pomp laws that war with justice." (from "A Vindication of the Rights of Men", 1790)

- "Common sense[:] ... a quick perception of common truths." (from "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman", 1792)

- "Despotism ... kills virtue and genius in the bud." (from "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman", 1792)

- "It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world!" (from "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman", 1792)

- "How can a rational being be ennobled by anything that is not obtained by its own exertions?" (from "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman", 1792)

- "Justice ... will not be a powerful spring of action unless it extend[s] to the whole creation." (from "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman", 1792)

- "[No one can] act wisely from imitation because in every circumstance of life there is a kind of individuality, which requires an exertion of judgment to modify general rules." (from "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman", 1792)

- "Schools, as they are now regulated, are the hotbeds of vice and folly, and the knowledge of human nature, supposed to be attained there, merely cunning selfishness." (from "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman", 1792)

- "Society can only be happy and free in proportion as it is virtuous." (from "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman", 1792)

- "Weakness may excite tenderness and gratify die arrogant pride of man; but the lordly caresses of a protector will not gratify a noble mind that pants for and deserves to be respected." (from "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman", 1792)

- "Women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of men; and should they be beautiful, everything else is needless, for at least twenty years of their lives." (from "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman", 1792)

- "It is the preservation of the species, not of individuals, which appears to be the design of Deity throughout the whole of nature." (from a letter, 1796)

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