History of an Activist: Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley

In the eighteenth century, Mary Wollstonecraft almost certainly raised eyebrows with her writing on the rights of women. Her work greatly inspired the feminist movement at the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1792, Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. This was a bold move, especially in her time- the book argued that women are not actually inferior to men, contrary to what society led people to believe at the time. According to Wollstonecraft, women only appear to be inferior to men because they lack education. A parallel to this argument is seen in Wollstonecraft’s daughter’s work of Frankenstein, in the character of Elizabeth Lavenza.

Mary Wollstonecraft is considered to be one of the early feminist philosphers of the eighthteenth century. As she studied, she found that many of her problems stemmed from the current social situation- what we nowadays call the patriarchy. She saw that “priveleged and educated men systematically denied education and autonomy to women” (BBC History). With this knowledge, her confidence in her intellectual abilities grew, and she was able to publish A Vindication of the Rights of Men anonymously in 1790, and then A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792.

In my eyes, I look at Mary Wollstonecraft as a very daring feminist and an activist. In her time, women were even more

oppressed than they were in the early twentieth century. It was not even a matter of whether or not women could vote- women were frequently considered property and good only for getting married and having children. After it was discovered that her works were actually written by a woman, they were widely ignored in academic circles. I look at her as radical and daring for her time- in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she dares to address female sexual desire, and how it was something that needed to be “controlled” within society.

Mary Wollstonecraft was a great influence to her daughter, Mary Shelley, who (as previously mentioned) went on to write Frankenstein.


 BBC History: Professor Janet Todd



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