Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was born in Primrose Street, Spitalfields. The house has  disappeared under developments east of Liverpool Street. Subsequent addresses included Epping and Hoxton. Mary’s work and her packed life (she died tragically at just 42) are hugely significant in the history of enlightened thinking.

Mary defied contemporary convention in many ways, not least by the fact that as a woman she wrote on politics and philosophy. Sadly her works were often neglected as interest focussed on her relationships.  One was with the already married artist, Fuseli. Following his rejection she left for France, then in the grips of revolution. Her first child, born out of wedlock, was from a brief relationship there.

Following her final return to London she married William Goodwin, an atheist and freethinker. Their daughter, also Mary, was later to marry the poet and atheist freethinker Percy Shelley. Mary (Shelley) (1797-1851) began writing Frankenstein at 18. It was published two years later under the name Mary Shelley.

Newington Green Primary School, on the site where Mary once taught

Mary Woolstonecraft was a passionate believer  in the rights of women, in education and in rational thinking.  In 1784 she and two of her sisters opened a school for girls in Newington Green. One work that followed is ‘Thoughts on the education of our daughters.’ (1787). While in France she wrote on Thomas Paine’s ‘The Rights of Man’ and on other burning issues of that time. She also wrote a number of novels and worked as a translator.

The work for which she is probably best remembered is Vindication of the Rights of  Women,’ (1792), one of the earliest discourses on feminist philosophy, and one which resonates to this day.

‘Rights of Women’ early American edition (1792)

Mary Woolstonecroft died of Septicaemia on 10 September 1797, a few days after giving birth to Mary (Shelley).