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Mary Wollstonecraft: Mother of Women's Rights
     

Mary Wollstonecraft: Mother of Women's Rights

by Miriam Brody
 

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was the first champion of women's rights in the modern Western world. Wollstonecraft's experience teaching young women in London led her to write her first book, in which she argued for equal education for girls and boys. The moderate success of her autobiographical novel Mary, A Fiction convinced her to start writing full-time.

Overview

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was the first champion of women's rights in the modern Western world. Wollstonecraft's experience teaching young women in London led her to write her first book, in which she argued for equal education for girls and boys. The moderate success of her autobiographical novel Mary, A Fiction convinced her to start writing full-time. Under the tutelage of her publisher and mentor Joseph Johnson, she joined a circle of liberal intellectuals which included poet and artist William Blake, chemist Joseph Priestley, and political thinker William Godwin.

In 1790 Wollstonecraft penned A Vindication of the Rights of Men, an impassioned reply to conservative criticism of the French Revolution and a call for social equality. She developed her ideas further in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which extended the notion of natural rights to include women's rights as well. Going so far as to suggest that women should be allowed to vote, Wollstonecraft's revolutionary ideas garnered her overnight fame—and notoriety. She traveled to Paris, lived through the Reign of Terror, fell in love with an American, and gave birth to her first daughter. Though the love affair ended tragically, resulting in her thwarted suicide attempt, she happily wed William Godwin in 1797. That year she gave birth to her second child (the future author of Frankenstein Mary Shelley). She died a few days later from complications of childbirth.Wollstonecraft's writing inspired leaders of the American woman suffrage movement, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and moved one admirer to call her a "pioneer of modern womanhood."

Oxford Portraits are informative and insightful biographies of people whose lives shaped their times and continue to influence ours. Based on the most recent scholarship, they draw heavily on primary sources, including writings by and about their subjects. Each book is illustrated with a wealth of photographs, documents, memorabilia, framing the personality and achievements of its subject against the backdrop of history.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
A vivid and complex portrait of the "mother of women's rights" emerges from the pages of this sophisticated, well-researched biography. Black-and-white archival photographs and selections from Wollstonecraft's letters, essays and novels enhance the text. Born in England in 1759 to a drunken, spendthrift father and a weak-willed, unsympathetic mother, Mary Wollstonecraft grew into a temperamental, but determined, young woman. Despite being denied a formal education because of her gender, she was an intelligent, original thinker who read widely and associated with many of the leading intellectuals of her day. After supporting her family by working as a governess and then running a school for girls, Wollstonecraft discovered her true calling. She became a writer. Her most famous work, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, is now recognized as the first great essay about feminism. Wollstonecraft had an illegitimate daughter before marrying philosopher and writer, William Godwin, in 1797. She died at age 38 after giving birth to their only child, Mary, wife of poet Percy Shelley and author of Frankenstein. This biography is part of the "Oxford Portraits" series. 2000, Oxford University Press, $22.00. Ages 12 up. Reviewer: Joyce Schwartz
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Brody's colorful and ambitious subject lived at a time when women, like children, were encouraged to be seen, not heard. Wollstonecraft was an outspoken writer, single mother, proponent of equal rights and education for women, and radical nonbeliever in the institutions of marriage and religion. Her life reads like a modern soap opera. After attempting suicide over her former lover's disenchantment, she eventually agreed to marry William Godwin, also an anti-marriage individualist. She died shortly after giving birth to a daughter, Mary. The remainder of the book discusses Wollstonecraft's legacy and the history of women's rights. Containing primary-source material such as letters, excerpts from her books, photographs, and other memorabilia, this volume gives a good description of the life of an 18th-century female whose ideas and lifestyle were truly revolutionary at that time. A good addition to women's history collections.-Pat Bender, The Shipley School, Bryn Mawr, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195119688
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
12/28/2000
Series:
Oxford Portraits Series
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
160
Product dimensions:
9.10(w) x 6.50(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

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