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Mary Wollstonecraft’s Birthday
An event every year that begins at 12:00 am on day 27 of April, repeating indefinitely
(b. 1759, London, England; d. 1797, London, England)
Mary Wollstonecraft was a renowned women’s rights activist who authored A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792, a classic of rationalist feminism that is considered the earliest and most important treatise advocating equality for women. This essay is often seen as the foundation of modern women’s rights movements in the Western world.
Wollstonecraft was born in England during the Enlightenment, an intellectual period that advocated for the use of reason to obtain objective truths. Self-educated, Wollstonecraft used her own accomplishments to demonstrate a woman’s aptitude for independent thought and academic excellence. With her sister Eliza and friend Fanny Blood, Wollstonecraft founded a girls’ school in London in 1784. During its brief life, the school developed a prestigious reputation and served as a starting point for Wollstonecraft’s radical ideas about the necessary equality of female and male education. Wollstonecraft’s beliefs were rooted in the idea that the government was responsible for remedying this inequity.
Also in London, Wollstonecraft began associating with the group, the Rational Dissenters (later known as Unitarians), which included political radicals and proponents of independence movements. After the school closed in 1786, Wollstonecraft published her first book about the importance of educating girls, Thoughts on the Education of Daughters, 1786. The book was published near the end of the French Revolution, which failed to bring about the equality of the sexes that Wollstonecraft and other radicals anticipated.
In response to Edmund Burke’s anti-revolutionary work Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790, Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Man, 1790, which laid the groundwork for her 1792 treatise, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. In this treatise, Wollstonecraft argued that the faculties of reason and rationality are present in all human beings and that women must be allowed to contribute equally to society. In its dedicatory letter, Wollstonecraft states, “my main argument is built on this simple principle, that if she be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge and virtue” (Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, xxxv). In order to contribute at the same level as men, Wollstonecraft stated, women must be educated equally to men. If women were not afforded this opportunity, social and intellectual progress would come to a halt.
Wollstonecraft died in 1797 during the birth of her second daughter, Mary, who in 1816, as Mary Shelley, published her own masterpiece, Frankenstein.