Mary Wollstonecraft - Success and Women's Rights
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
Her most famous book is...
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792).
What did she say about women and philosophy?
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.
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
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.
3. Reason with feelings
Like other philosophers of the Enlightenment, she believed in
In other words, find knowledge through
- your own thinking and observation, not...
- prejudice and preconceived ideas.
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
4. People not possessions
People’s minds and character are much more important
than fashion and physical beauty.
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
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
Nothing contributes so much to tranquillizing the mind as a steady purpose.
Key quote on time
The beginning is always today.
Key quote on
Virtue can only flourish among equals.
Key quote on
Independence I have long considered the grand blessing of life, the basis of every virtue.