Women's History Resource Site

King's College History Department


Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, is one of the earliest feminists in Western Civilization. When she was nineteen, she and her sister founded and taught in a school, an experience which led her to write Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, in which she asserted her view that the young girls she taught had been "enslaved" by men through their social training.  Joining the radical thinkers of her day, she published A Vindication of the Rights of Men in 1790. This was, in essence, a defense of the democratic ideals which had developed in society as a result of the Revolution--both French and American. 

By far Wollstonecraft's most famous work, through which she gained her then unsavory reputation as a feminist, was A Vindication of the Rights of Women. This controversial work argued for the need for more civil rights for women, a cause which Wollstonecraft believed could only be furthered by permitting women  better education .She asserted that a woman was capable of any intellectual feat that a man was--provided that her early training did not brainwash her into deference to man. 

Wollstonecraft believed that women's freedom should extend to their sexual lives. In her writings, she compared married life for a woman to prostitution. She pursued her own sexual freedom through an affair, and bore an illegitimate child.  Later, she fell in love with William Godwin, the father of her second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Tragically, Mary died from complications while delivering her child.

During her lifetime, Wollstonecraft raised arguments in support of women's rights that would figure prominently in the women's rights movements of the following two centuries. Her work in pursuit of equality for women led to her being dubbed the founder of the British women's rights movement.


Annotated Bibliography

Bittner, Terrie. Mary Wollstonecraft Mother of England's Feminist Movement. 1999. <www.feminista.com/v3n6/bittner.html> (November 13, 2000).
This site explains Wollstonecraft's convictions in light of the observations she made of girls' behavior while working in the girls' school. Bittner explains Wollstonecraft's determination to promote effective female education through her Thoughts on the Education of Daughters. The site also recounts many facts of Wollstoncraft's life which no doubt urged her cause: she had seen her father batter her mother, and had had to rescue her sister from an abusive husband. The text analyzes her beliefs next to her personal experiences, and so provides a realistic perspective on the woman.

Cucinello, Patrice. Mary Wollstonecraft. [no date given.] <www.english.upenn.edu/~esimpson/Teaching/Romantics/patrice.html> (November 13, 2000).
This site asserts that the education of women lay at the cornerstone of all Wollstonecraft's works, the necessary societal reform which she stressed above all others. Cucinello mentions that, in her arguments urging  female independence from men, Wollstonecraft often worked to convince her readers that marriage was the ultimate insult to their personhood, as it entailed the woman surrendering all control over her person and possessions to her husband. The text offers an important window into the mindset of Wollstonecraft. 

Flexner, Eleanor. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Biography. New York: Coward, McCann, & Geoghegan, Inc. 1972.
"Mary Wollstonecraft: A Biography" would be useful to those seeking information about both Mary's life and her most famous works. This book contains not only bibliographic information, but also letters that were previously uncited in other books about Wollstonecraft. Mary Wollstonecraft's life as one of the first advocates of women's liberation is chronicled in a well written, engaging manner.

George, Margaret. One Woman's Situation. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1970.
Except for a passive and negative history, Margaret George maintains that women do not have a history; however, women do have a pre-history in which Mary Wollstonecraft's achievements are an important pre-historic document. This is the basis for George's biography of Wollstonecraft, in which she focuses on Mary's position as one of the earliest feminists.

Ingpen, Roger. Preface. The Love Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft to Gilbert Imlay. By Wollstonecraft. Folcroft: Folcroft Library Editions, 1974.
In this book, Roger Ingpen has gathered what he calls "the most passionate love letters in our literature," the letters of Mary Wollstonecraft to Gilbert Imlay. Ingpen begins the book with a brief biography contained in the preface. The biography is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather simply an introduction to Wollstonecraft. This book would be useful for anyone researching the love affair of Wollstonecraft and Imlay. It also illustrates Mary's unconventional existence, and the actions for which many of her time would have condemned her.

Kemerling, Garth. Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 - 1797). 1996. <www.philosophypages.com/ph/woll.htm> (November 13, 2000).
This site reiterates some of Wollstonecraft's observations at the school where she taught. It also mentions her book, History and Moral View of the Origins and Progress of the French Revolution, written as a result of her interest in revolutionary politics. Kemerling states that this interest was connected to the democratic ideals inherent in the Revolution, which also factored in women's rights. Wollstonecraft's political leanings are examined in some detail. 

Sunstein, Emily. A Different Face. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1975.
Sunstein's biography of Mary Wollstonecraft focuses on her search for personal independence, and how it contributed to the larger feminist movement. The author writes a comprehensive biography in which she follows the trials and triumphs of Mary Wollstonecraft's life. Sunstein then asks, "what kind of life should a woman ask for?"

Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974.
Claire Tomalin looks at the life of Mary Wollstonecraft with emphasis on her reputation both before and after her death. She explores the influence and relationship between Mary's life and that of other feminists, such as Jane Austen and Helen Maria Williams.

O'Quinn, Daniel. "Trembling: Wollstonecraft, Godwin, and the resistance to literature." EHL 64 (1997) : 761-88.
This scholarly article would be beneficial for those studying resistance to literature. The goal of the article is to "tease out how the resistance to novels participates in a formulation of community and class consolidation."

Smith, Amy Elizabeth. "Roles for readers in Mary Wollstonecraft's A vindication of the rights of women." Studies in English Literature 32 (1992) : 555-70.
The focus of this article is the debate by scholars over the primary audience intended by Mary Wollstonecraft in "The Vindication of the Rights of Women." One side of the debate justifies this as intended for a female audience. Because women were unaccustomed to rational discourse, this might have been why Wollstonecraft wrote in such an informal manner for her intended female audience.


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URL: http://departments.kings.edu/womens_history/marieantio.html
 Original written by Aleisha Cheatle, 1998
Revised by Dawn Drumin, 2000 November
Last Revision: 2000 November 17

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