"If a woman be educated for dependence; that is, to act according to the will of another fallible being, and submit, right or wrotn, to power, where are we to stop?"--Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft has been called the 'first feminist" and "the mother of feminism".
Mary was born April 27, 1759 into a large, impoverished farm family, and at a young age, she was forced to resort to her own resources for survival. Mary's father was an abusive man who took pleasure in bullying her mother into submission. The family moved around a lot due to bad business ventures on the part of her father. In 1780, Mary's mother passed away.
Mary was 19 years old when she set off on her own and took a rather unsatisfying position as a paid companion to a wealthy merchant's wife. Then, in 1783, Mary came to her sister, Eliza's aid, and helped her to escape from a very unhappy marriage by hiding her from her brutal husband until a legal separation could be arranged. Afterwards, the two sisters, along with a third, established a school for women, but the school failed.
Mary then became a governess in the family of Lord Kingsborough and lived in Ireland. They dismissed her in 1787, and she went to London to pursue a literary career...finding a job as a translator for London publisher, James Johnson, who also published several of Mary's works in his "Analytical Review". Finally, in 1792, Bary achieved public attention when her "Vindication of the Rights of Women" was published. This book became an important work which advocated equality for the sexes...and included the main doctrine for the later women's movement.
In 1792, Mary left England and went to Paris to observe and collect information on the French Revolution. While living there, she met American timber merchant and author, Captain Gilbert Imlay. Mary agreed to become his common-law-wife and in May, 1794, she bore him a daughter, Fanny. Imlay, though, had no plans to stick around and shortly thereafter, deserted her. Distraught over the breakdown of her relationship. Mary attempted suicide by drowning.
Eventually, Mary recovered from her heartache and renewed an old acquaintance with the radical, William Godwin. A few months later, they became lovers, but both continued to live in their own separate apartments in order to focus on their writing careers. In fact, neither party believed in marriage because the law gave rights to a husband while it took them away from the wife. Both were totally opposed to this. But then, Mary became pregnant, and for the child's sake, the two decided to marry...but continued to maintain separate residences. Mary gave birth to another daughter, but sadly, Mary died 11 days later of "childbirth fever". That child, also named Mary, grew to become Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, the author of "Frankenstein".
And so ended the life of a woman who lived far ahead of her time. Mary was a radical who dreamed of bridging the gap between male and female; thus, she undertook the task of helping women to achieve a better life...not only for themselves, but for their children. A variety of issues were dear to her heart--morality, politics, education of women..in addition to their rights and the wrongs done against them. Abuse of women hit close to home, and she saw little legal recourse for the victims of the abuse.
Although , she was scorned in her own day and for generations afterward due to the illegitimacy of her daughter, her free lifestyle, and her unorthodox opinions, Mary Wollstonecraft is truly the mother of modern feminism and her book, "A Vindication of the Rights of Women" is today a feminist classic.