Mary Wollstonecraft

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Mary Wollstonecraft
painting by John Opie , 1797

Mary Wollstonecraft / ˈwʊlstənkrɑːft / (born April 27, 1759 in Spitalfields , London , † September 10, 1797 in London) was an English writer , translator , philosopher and suffragette of Irish descent. Her best-known work is A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she insisted on the right of women to education in a critical discussion with the philosophers of the Enlightenment.

After her marriage to William Godwin , she was also referred to by the double name Mary Wollstonecraft-Godwin . She is the mother of the writer Mary Shelley (also Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley).

Live and act

Wollstonecraft was born the second of six children to weaver and farmer Edward John Wollstonecraft and his wife Elizabeth Dickson. The family kept moving since Mary Wollstonecraft's earliest childhood. She never stayed in one place for more than six to seven years. So Wollstonecraft's schooling wasn't very good. But all of her life she endeavored to learn; One of the major goals in life was, among other things, equal schooling for girls. At the age of 19 she went to Bath from 1778 to 1779 as the companion of an elderly lady . Then she founded u. a. together with her sisters a private school in London and taught there until 1786.

In December 1785 she rushed to Lisbon to help her best friend Fanny Blood with the birth of her first child. When she returned to London in late January 1786, her sisters had ruined the school. To pay off the debt, Wollstonecraft took a job as governess in Ireland .

In 1787 she was fired. But since she had just published her first novel Mary at the time , she was able to afford her own small apartment in London. Through her publisher Joseph Johnson , she met the Swiss painter and writer Johann Heinrich Füssli in autumn 1790 . He became their first unhappy love since he was already married.

During the French Revolution , she traveled to France in the late autumn of 1792. Through letters of recommendation from her publisher, Wollstonecraft met the editor of Analytical Review Thomas Christie from the writer Helen Maria Williams . Wollstonecraft also soon made the acquaintance of circumnavigator Georg Forster and world citizen Gustav von Schlabrendorf . Via the latter, she made connections with the American writer, politician and business man Joel Barlow , his wife Ruth Barlow and the scientist Wilhelm von Humboldt .

Due to the political circumstances of this time, the women's rights activists Olympe de Gouges , Théroigne de Méricourt and Etta Palm d'Aelders u. a. known, but she did not meet them. However, she was influenced by the British suffragette and historian Catherine Macaulay .

In France, Wollstonecraft also wrote her best-known work, A vindication of the rights of woman , in which she advocates equality between men and women. She dedicated the work to Charles Maurice de Talleyrand , who was a delegate at the French Convention and later Foreign Minister , from whom she hoped to work for women's rights.

In that winter of 1792/1793 Wollstonecraft met the American businessman Gilbert Imlay , with whom she had a relationship from mid-April 1793. On May 14, 1794, Fanny , the daughter of the two, was born in Paris. Imlay registered Wollstonecraft and her daughter as American citizens to protect them a little during these confused times. In the summer of 1794, she went on a three-month trip through Scandinavia under the name of Mrs. Mary Imlay. Her Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark were published in 1796. Since Gilbert Imlay refused to marry Wollstonecraft, she traveled back to London with her daughter in 1795. The separation made her so depressed that she attempted suicide on Putney Bridge on October 10, 1795 .

On April 14, 1796, Wollstonecraft visited the proto- anarchist writer William Godwin , whom she had already met in 1791 at a reception given by her publisher Johnson. On March 29, 1797, Wollstonecraft and Godwin were married at St. Pancras Church, London. On August 30, 1797, their daughter Mary was born, who later became the author of the novel Frankenstein . After their birth, she became seriously ill from a placenta that remained in the uterus and died eleven days later of puerperal fever .


Wollstonecraft found its way into the visual arts of the 20th century. The feminist artist Judy Chicago dedicated one of the 39 place settings at the table to her in her work The Dinner Party .

Works (selection)

  • Defense of human rights . In: Hermann Klenner (Hrsg.): Haufe series of publications on basic legal research . tape 8 . Rudolf Haufe Verlag, Freiburg im Breisgau, Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-448-03296-4 (Original title: A Vindication of the Rights of Men, in a Letter to the Right Honorable Edmund Burke; Occasioned by His Reflections on the Revolution in France [ 1790] . Translated by Jutta Schlösser).
  • Defending women's rights . In: Ursula I. Meyer (Ed.): Philosophinnen . tape 21 . ein-FACH-Verlag, Aachen 2008, ISBN 978-3-928089-48-7 (Original title: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects [1792] . Translated by Petra Altschuh-Riederer).
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman , 1792, reissued: Oxford University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0-19-955546-8 .
  • Thoughts on the Education of Daughters , 1787.
  • The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft. In: Janet Todd (Ed.), NYU Press, London 1989, ISBN 978-0-8147-9228-5 .
  • Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft. In: Janet Todd (Ed.), Penguin Classics, 2004.


  • Sulamith Sparre: Thinking has no gender. Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797), human rights activist. Lich: Edition AV, 2006, ISBN 3-936049-70-X .
  • Elisabeth Gibbels: Mary Wollstonecraft between Feminism and Opportunism, Narr, 2004, ISBN 978-3-8233-6077-3 .
  • Barbara Taylor: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Adriana Craciun (Ed.): A Routledge Literary Sourcebook on Mary Wollstonecraft's “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”. London u. New York: Routledge, 2002, ISBN 0-415-22735-6 , (2001 edition: ISBN 0-415-22736-4 .).
  • Karin Priester: Mary Wollstonecraft, a life for women's rights. Munich: Langen Müller, 2002, ISBN 3-7844-2882-7 .
  • Gisela Bock : Women in European History. Munich: Beck, 2002, ISBN 3-406-46167-0 .
  • Vera Nünning : Wollstonecraft, Mary. In: Metzler Lexicon of English-Speaking Authors . 631 portraits - from the beginning to the present. Edited by Eberhard Kreutzer and Ansgar Nünning, Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2002, pp. 630–632.
  • Janet Todd: Mary Wollstonecraft. A Revolutionary Life. London: Weidenfels & Nicolson, 2000, ISBN 0-297-84299-4 .
  • Ulrike Weckel : : equality under scrutiny. On the contemporary reception of pamphlets by Theodor Gottlieb von Hippel and Mary Wollstonecraft in Germany . In: Virtue, Reason and Feeling. Gender discourses of the Enlightenment and female worlds. Münster: Waxmann, 2000, pp. 209–247.
  • Claire Tomalin: The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. Revised edition, London: Penguin, 1992, ISBN 0-14-016761-7 .
  • Moira Ferguson: Mary Wollstonecraft. Boston: Twayne, 1984, ISBN 0-8057-6867-X .
  • Eleanor Flexner: Mary Wollstonecraft. A biography. New York: Coward, 1972.
  • Ralph M. Wardle: Mary Wollstonecraft, a critical biography. Lincoln, Neb .: Univ. Pr., 1967.
  • Elisabetta Rasy: The shadow of the moon. From the Ital. by Christel Galliani. Munich: Goldmann, 2001, ISBN 3-442-72864-9 (biographical novel).
  • Claire Tomalin: The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft. London 1992.

Web links

Commons : Mary Wollstonecraft  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files
Wikisource: Mary Wollstonecraft  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Kenneth Ross Hunter: John Clarke (1760-1815): Licentiate in Midwifery of the Royal College of Physicians of London and Doctor of Medicine of the University of Frankfurt an der Oder. In: Würzburg medical history reports. Volume 18, 1999, pp. 297-303, here: p. 299.
  2. Brooklyn Museum page on the artwork, accessed April 15, 2014.