Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 –1797)

Mary Wollstonecraft was a British writer, philosopher and feminist.

Table of Contents

Portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft

I. Biography
II. Life's Work
III. Influence
IV. Time Line
V. Bibliography


Mary Wollstonecraft was born on April 27, Spitalfields, London, to Edward John Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Dickson. Her family moved frequently due to the instability of her father's income as a farmer. Mary was the second child of six, often acting as a protector to her sisters and mother. Her father due to his violent drunken rages frequently beat her mother. This is where she got her first hand experience on the helpless status of women. Her brother, who was the first-born, was more highly favored over the rest of the children. Wollstonecraft later attacked the practice of favoring a boy child due to her resentment towards her brother. Mary went to a common day school, but she became friends with a neighboring clergyman, Mr. Clare. It is at his home that she develops intellectually. The Clares become parental figures to Mary, and that is when she becomes introduced to Fanny Blood. Her friendship with Blood is the most important friendship that Mary Wollstonecraft ever holds, and it helped shape her early life.

When Mary was nineteen she left home, and went out to earn her own independence. She became a companion to a wealthy old woman, Mrs. Dawson, in Bath. Mary finds it difficult to get along with the old woman, and is not pleased to stay with her and be her companion. Wollstonecraft gets called back to her home to care for her dying mother. After her mothers' death she does not return to Bath to continue being a companion, she moves in with her friend Fanny Blood. Her views on feminism had already started to form and she had many discussions with Blood about this. Wollstonecraft found that Blood had a more traditional feminine value, and Wollstonecraft did not always agree with Blood's view. But they continued to stay close. Wollstonecraft helped her sister leave and divorce her abusive husband, and sheltered her sister in her own home, and together the Wollstonecraft sisters and Blood established a school for girls at Newington Green. Around this time Fanny Blood, now married, becomes pregnant and sends for Wollstonecraft. Fanny Blood dies in Wollstonecraft's arms, due to complications from a premature birth; Blood's child dies as well. Wollstonecraft returns to the school, but finds that it has suffered from her absence and is made to close it down. She then completes her first book, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, and is given a position as governess to the daughters of Lord and Lady Kingsborough. She moves to Ireland after she accepts the position. This position as governess lasted only ten months, due to the fact that she would not oblige to the whims of the aristocratic household. She moved back to London determined to have an independent career, which was an outlandish notion for an unmarried woman of her age. She came by the help of Joseph Johnson, a publisher of radical texts, and he helped Wollstonecraft find a job and a place to live. There in London she was able to write when it pleased her. Johnson would hold dinner parties, and at those was when she met Thomas Paine and William Godwin. Godwin and Wollstonecraft both were disappointed with each other. Neither one of them seemed to like each other very much. However Johnson became a very good friend to Wollstonecraft, which she later describes him as a sort of father or brother to her. Wollstonecraft continued writing and became quite famous by the time she had written Vindication of the Rights of Men.

Wollstonecraft leaves for France and meets Gilbert Imlay, an American businessman. She becomes romantically attached to him, yet they do not marry. Soon Wollstonecraft becomes pregnant. She gives birth to a baby girl, naming her Fanny perhaps after her closest friend. With the French Revolution underway, and with Britain declaring war on France, puts Wollstonecraft and her child in danger. Imlay registers Wollstonecraft as his wife, though they were not married, so as to protect. Imlay becomes bored with Wollstonecraft and cheats on her with another woman. Wollstonecraft becomes depressed by finding out that he was unfaithful, and attempts suicide. Imlay was able to thwart her first attempt. Imlay abandons her at a hospital and she becomes convinced that he has found a new woman. Wollstonecraft returns to London to try to win back Imlay only to be denied. She attempts suicide by jumping off a bridge, but a stranger saw her jump and was able to rescue her. Eventually Wollstonecraft was able to move on and to return to her literary career. She becomes more acquainted with William Godwin, who she had disliked before, but gradually their courtship grew and soon became a passionate love affair. Soon Wollstonecraft becomes pregnant and they decide to get married so that their child is legitimate. After their marriage they lost many friends for soon the public knew that Wollstonecraft and Imlay were not indeed married. Wollstonecraft gives birth to her second daughter, Mary. Mary Wollstonecraft dies a few days after her giving birth, due to an infection from the delivery.

Life's Work

Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787)
Mary Wollstonecraft's earliest published work. The book gives advice on female conduct, education, etiquette, and moral issues.

Mary, a Fiction (1788)
Mary Wollstonecraft's first novel. Based on her friendship with Fanny Blood.

Original Stories from Real Life (1788)
Mary Wollstonecraft's first children's book, which is also an educational text.

A Vindication of the Rights of Man (1791)
This book was written in response to arguments Edmund Burke made in his books Reflections on the Revolution in France and A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful.
Original Cover of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
Written during the peak of her career, it was one of Mary Wollstonecraft's most well-known works. The major argument of the book is that women should be educated so that they are able to contribute to society. It criticizes the opinions of most educational philosophers of the time period such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who argued women should only be educated for the pleasure of men. Even though the book falls beneath eighteenth century writing standards, her point was well argued.


Mary Wollstonecraft's arguments for women's rights may not have had a direct impact on society during The Enlightenment, but later she becomes praised for her for her most famous book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. During the eighteenth century Mary was more well known for her scandalous affairs with Henry Fuseli, a British painter, and Gilbert Imlay, an American businessman and author, than she was for her work. It wasn't until the twentieth century, that Wollstonecraft was recognized for her work. Wollstonecraft mostly encouraged equal education for both men and women, arguing that it would benefit all aspects of society. Mary Wollstonecraft is considered to have built the foundation for women’s rights movements in the United States.

Time Line

1759: April 27: Mary Wollstonecraft was born.

1774: Mary meets the Mr. Clare who educate her.

1775: Mary met Fanny Blood, whose friendship later inspired her novel Mary, a Fiction.

1778: Mary became a paid companion to Mrs. Dawson a wealthy widow.

1782: April 19: Mary's mother, Elizabeth Wollstonecraft, died. Mary went to live with Fanny Blood.

1784: Mary, her sister, Eliza, and Fanny set up a school in Newington Green.

1785: Fanny Blood dies from complications from childbirth.

1786: The school in Newington Green closed.

1787: Mary published her first book, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters. Traveled to Ireland to become a governess to Lord and Lady Kingsborough.

1788: Published both Mary, a Fiction and Original Stories from Real Life.

1789: July 14: French Revolution begins.

1790: A Vindication of the Rights of Man was published.

1792: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was published. Mary travels to France.

1793: King Louis XVI of France was executed. Mary falls in love with Gilbert Imlay and becomes pregnant.

1794: May 14: Mary gave birth to her daughter, Fanny Imlay. October: Mary attempts suicide.

1797: February: Mary discovered she was pregnant with her second daughter. March: Mary married William Godwin. August 30: Mary gave birth to Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. September 10: Mary Wollstonecraft died due to complications related to childbirth.


  1. Kreis, Steven. "Mary Wollstonecraft." The History Guide: Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History. 13 May 2004. 12 Sep. 2007.
  2. Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Moral and Political Subjects. Everyman's Library, 1929. Modern History Sourcebook. August 1993. Paul Gaber. 12 September 2007 <>.
  3. Stevenson, Keira. "Mary Wollstonecraft." Mary Wollstonecraft (2005): 1-2. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Milne Library. 12 September 2007. <>.
  4. "Wollstonecraft, Mary" Encyclopedia Britannica . 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 13 Sept. 2007 <>.
  5. "Mary Wollstonecraft." 12 Sep. 2007.
  6. Miller, Calvin Craig. Mary Wollstonecraft and the Rights of Women. Morgan Reynolds, Inc., Greensboro, North Carolina, 1999.