1797-09-10

MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT, English author, died (b. 1759); 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. Wollstonecraft 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 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 two complicated and heart-rending affairs with Henry Fuseli and Gilbert Imlay, Wollstonecraft married the philosopher William Godwin, one of the forefathers of the anarchist movement; they had one daughter, Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. Wollstonecraft died at the age of thirty-eight due to complications from childbirth, leaving behind several unfinished manuscripts.

Today Wollstonecraft is considered to be one of the foundational feminist philosophers. Her early advocacy of women’s equality and her critiques of conventional femininity presaged the organized feminist movement. Feminist scholars and activists have often cited both her philosophical ideas and her personal life as important influences on their work.