Mary Wollstonecraft - Writer and Feminist: 1759 1797
Mary Wollstonecraft was an eighteenth-century British writer, philosopher, and feminist. During her brief career, she wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children's book. When she was born in 1759, her family was prosperous, but her father was an over-optimistic businessman and a domestic brute. In 1784 Mary and her sisters tried to earn their living by setting up a school. When the school failed, Mary then became a governess in Ireland. She later returned to England, aiming to support herself by her writing.
In 1790 she wrote a pamphlet A Vindication of the Rights of Men, in response to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) which was a defence of constitutional monarchy, aristocracy, and the Church of England. In her book she attacked aristocracy and advocated republicanism.
However she is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education. She argues that women ought to have an education commensurate with their position in society and then proceeds to redefine that position, claiming that women are essential to the nation because they educate its children and because they could be "companions" to their husbands rather than mere wives.She suggests that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason.
Among the general public and specifically among feminists, Wollstonecraft's life has received much more attention than her writing because of her unconventional and often tumultuous personal relationships. After Wollstonecraft's death, William Godwin published a Memoir (1798) of her life, revealing her unorthodox lifestyle, which inadvertently destroyed her reputation for a century. However, with the emergence of the feminist movement at the turn of the twentieth century, Wollstonecraft's advocacy of women's equality and critiques of conventional femininity became increasingly important. Today Wollstonecraft is regarded as one of the founding feminist philosophers, and feminists often cite both her life and work as important influences.
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