Speaking up first

Whether it is education for girls or women’s suffragette, my ideas continue to shape the world

March 04, 2021 11:08 am | Updated 11:08 am IST

Mary Wollstonecraft as painted by artist John Opie.

Mary Wollstonecraft as painted by artist John Opie.

I am: Mary Wollstonecraft. Writer, educator, a radical thinker; a ‘feminist’, though the word wasn’t known in my time!

The beginning: I was born on April 27, 1759, in Spitalfields, London.

Early lessons: My father lost the family fortune due to bad investments. Though I lacked a formal education, I read widely, was curious and questioned everything. I also taught myself French, German and Dutch.

A few things I did first: I was determined to be independent. At 25, with my sisters and a friend, I set up a girls’ boarding school. After it failed, I worked as a governess. I decided to support myself as a writer, and began writing for the Analytical Review . It was unusual then for a woman to be a writer, and so I was the ‘First of A New Genus!’

Friends who mattered: Fanny Blood, a dear friend of my youth; Jane Arden, an educator; her father John, a philosopher; Richard Price, a minister known for his ‘dissenting’ views; and Joseph Johnson, my publisher.

My first book:Thoughts on the Education of Daughters , appeared in 1787. Books had long titles those days! This is an early self-help book. I believed that women being primary caregivers as mothers and teachers needed to be educated. The cause of education always remained important to me.

I also wrote:Original Stories from Real Life (1788), my only work of children’s literature, and Vindication of the Rights of Men written in 1790, about the French Revolution of 1789. I spoke up for the hard-working, suffering middle class who led the revolution. I wrote novels too — Mary: A Fiction and Maria: the Wrongs of Women .

My Most Famous Work:Vindication of the Rights of Women . Published in 1792, it is read even today. I insisted again that education is important for a woman and that the school curriculum had to change to suit a woman’s place in society. I also argued that, besides civil and political rights, women needed elected representatives of their own. It would be another 100 years and more before this became possible!

Something interesting: I wrote a travel book-cum-memoir in 1796, Letters Written in Sweden, Norway and Denmark . I travelled to these countries with my infant daughter, Fanny, to recover a lost treasure ship! My daughter, Mary Shelley, wrote one of the first science-fiction books. Frankenstein , or Prometheus Unbound features a scientist who creates a humanoid who, not finding acceptance among human beings, becomes truly monstrous.

Some things I said: “It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world!” “Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience.”

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