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Mary Vindicated: The Life & Politics of Mary Wollstonecraft, Feminist & Intellectual
“But what a weak barrier is truth when it stands in the way of an hypothesis!”
— Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Mary Wollstonecraft was a radical writer and thinker of the 18th century, who not only published her revolutionary thoughts on the need for women to be educated and treated as fellow humans with their male counterparts, but lived out many of her theoretical ideas about what constituted equality in the household. Her political focus on women and their rights was unusual at the time; she was writing during the Enlightenment, a time when ideas about class and rational thought were undergoing a massive revolution, and yet the effect of this on gender roles had remained largely otherwise unexamined.
After her death at the age of 38, Mary’s widower William Godwin published a book as a “memoir” which was intended to cement his wife’s historical legacy, but also detailed her troubled mental health (including suicide attempts), financial woes and unconventional lifestyle. The resulting scandal meant that her words were all but drowned out for nearly a century, Godwin’s book providing all the mud that critics required to denigrate not only Wollstonecraft herself, but the concepts of gender equality and female education which she had advocated throughout her lifetime. The importance of her work and her ideas were finally re-established at the turn of the early 20th century as a cornerstone to the feminist movement, and then thoroughly reclaimed by feminist scholars from the 1970’s onward.