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Mary Wollstonecraft - Success and Women's RightsMary Wollstonecraft - Success and Women's Rights


Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)


English philosopher (pictured right c1797) and pioneer of women’s rights (despite intense male opposition)

She died 10 days after the birth of her daughter, Mary Shelley, the author of the Frankenstein books.


Her most famous book is...

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).


What did she say about women and philosophy?

 Mary Wollstonecraft - Success and Women's Rights

1. Defender of women’s rights

Wollstonecraft (pictured right c1790) believed that


a) women are the equals of men

So women must be given:

  • the same opportunities (particularly a good education).
  • self-respect and their own identity (which will make them better people and partners).

“I do not wish them to have power over men but over themselves”, she said.

 Mary Wollstonecraft - Success and Women's Rights

b) a good marriage is an equal partnership

(in which men must be loving and supportive husbands and fathers).

So she attacked “the divine right of husbands” to be naturally superior and dominant.

Her own husband was the philosopher, William Godwin (pictured right)


2. Supporter of family life

Happy families are:

  • vital to the good of society
  • based on fidelity, duty and equality between men and women (see point 1) 

So Wollstonecraft said:

  • the state should support family life. 
  • family must come before sexual pleasure.
  • friendship is much more important than sex in a successful marriage.

Her violent father showed her how fragile families can be.

To stop him beating her mother, she slept in front of her bedroom door.

 Mary Wollstonecraft - Success and Women's Rights

3. Reason with feelings

Like other philosophers of the Enlightenment, she believed in reason.

In other words, find knowledge through

  • your own thinking and observation, not...
  • prejudice and preconceived ideas. Mary Wollstonecraft - Success and Women's Rights

But feelings, romance and beauty (like in nature) were also important to her, as they were to romantic poets like Percy Shelley (pictured right above), who married her daughter, Mary (pictured right).


4. People not possessions

People’s minds and character are much more important than fashion and physical beauty.


5. Freedom

The best people (including women)

  • must be free to make the most of their ability.
  • are not slaves to others.
  • live and think independently and morally.

“Liberty is the mother of virtue”, she said.


Key quote on freedom

Liberty is the mother of virtue


Key quote on women

I do not wish them to have power over men but over themselves (about women).

Education is the key to equality with men.

From the tyranny of men I firmly believe the greater number of female follies proceed.

Women are not exalted by their inferiority.


Key quote on peace of mind

Nothing contributes so much to tranquillizing the mind as a steady purpose.


Key quote on time management

The beginning is always today.


Key quote on relationships

Virtue can only flourish among equals.


Key quote on ethics

Independence I have long considered the grand blessing of life, the basis of every virtue.


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