<history of philosophy, biography> a self-taught native of London, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) worked as a schoolteacher and headmistress at a school she established at Newington Green with her sister Eliza. The sisters soon became convinced that the young women they tried to teach had already been effectively enslaved by their social training in subordination to men. In Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787) Wollstonecraft proposed the deliberate extrapolation of Enlightenment ideals to include education for women, whose rational natures are no less capable of intellectual achievement than are those of men. Following a period of service as a governess to Lord Kingsborough in Ireland, Wollstonecraft spent several years observing political and social developments in France, and wrote History and Moral View of the Origins and Progress of the French Revolution (1793). Her A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790) is a spirited defense of the ideals of the Revolution against the conservative objections of Burke. Upon her return to England, she joined a radical group whose membership included Blake, Paine, Fuseli and Wordsworth. Her first child, Fanny, was born in 1795, the daughter of American Gilbert Imlay. After his desertion, she joined the radical activist William Godwin, a long-time friend whom she married in 1797. Wollstonecraft died a few days after the birth of their daughter, Mary, who later married Percy Bysshe Shelley and wrote Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus and other novels. Wollstonecraft's lasting place in the history of philosophy rests upon A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). In this classical feminist text, she appealed to egalitarian social philosophy as the basis for the creation and preservation of equal rights and opportunities for women. The foundation of morality in all human beings, male or female, is their common possession of the faculty of reason, Wollstonecraft argued, and women must claim their equality by accepting its unemotional dictates. Excessive concern for romantic love and physical desirability, she believed, are not the natural conditions of female existence but rather the socially-imposed means by which male domination enslaves them. The posthumously-published Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman develops similar themes. Recommended Reading: Primary sources: Mary Wollstonecraft, Political Writings: A Vindication of the Rights of Men; A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; and An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution, ed. by Janet Todd (Toronto, 1993); Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Penguin, 1993); Mary Wollstonecraft, Maria or the Wrongs of Woman, ill. by Anne K. Mellor (Norton, 1994). Secondary sources: Jane Moore, Mary Wollstonecraft (Mississippi, 1999); Feminist Interpretations of Mary Wollstonecraft, ed. by Maria J. Falco (Penn. State, 1996); Janet Todd, Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life (Columbia, 2000); Gary Kelly, Revolutionary Feminism: The Mind and Career of Mary Wollstonecraft (St. Martin's, 1995); Calvin Craig Miller, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Rights of Women (Morgan Reynolds, 1999). Additional on-line information about Wollstonecraft includes: The comprehensive guide maintained by Harriet Devine Jump. Jennifer Hornsby's article in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Also see: feminism and women in philosophy. The article in the Columbia Encyclopedia at Bartleby.com. The thorough collection of resources at EpistemeLinks.com. An entry in the Penguin Biographical Dictionary of Women. An article in The Macmillan Dictionary of Women's Biography. Literary analysis from Patrice Cucinello. A timeline of Wollstonecraft's life from Bill Uzgalis. Snippets from Wollstonecraft in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Steven Kreis's brief biography. A brief tribute from Philosopher All-Stars. A brief entry in The Macmillan Encyclopedia 2001.
[A Dictionary of Philosophical Terms and Names]
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