Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797), political writer and novelist, was an outspoken advocate for the rights of women. Brought up in an abusive home, she found loving support in her relationship with English philosopher William Godwin, whom she married. She had two children, the second being a daughter named Mary, who later married the poet Percy Byssche Shelley and wrote Frankenstein. Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790) in support of the French Revolution and in opposition to Burke's critique of it. Her most famous work is A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), from which the present selection is taken.
Wollstonecraft deplores the sycophantic deference women pay to men, and, while conceding male superior physical prowess, calls on society to restructure the educational system to allow women to develop their rational capacities, which is the most salient feature of our common humanity. She opposes the idea of Rousseau that boys and girls should have separate education. On the contrary, our common humanity calls for a common intellectual education. The so-called unique feminine virtues, docility and delicacy of sentiment, are really vices that allow women to be treated as inferior beings.
Sapiro, V. A Vindication of Political Virtue: The Political Theory of Mary Wollstonecraft (University of Chicago Press, 1992).
Tomalin, Claire. The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1974).
Wardle, Ralph. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Critical Biography (University of Nebraska Press, 1951).
Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790).
Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792).
After considering the historic page, and viewing the living world with anxious solicitude, the most melancholy emotions of sorrowful indignation have depressed my spirits, and I have sighed when obliged to confess, that either nature has made a great difference between man and man, or that the civilization which has hitherto taken place in the world has been very partial. I have turned over various books
Reprinted from A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792).