Mary Wollstonecraft Essay

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Author of the first known argument in English for universal, secular, government-financed coeducation of rich and poor together, Mary Wollstonecraft is more famous as a philosophical “mother” of feminism who castigates both conservative Edmund Burke’s and liberal Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s misogyny as illogical and immoral. A prolific early modern cultural critic and theorist of education, she critiques both sexes’ monarchist miseducation in A Vindication of the Rights of Men and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; narrates moral teaching in response to the property system’s hidden curriculum in Original Stories From Real Life, illustrated by William Blake; and charts autobiographically a single mother’s outward and inward journey of self-education in Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.

Indebted to Catherine Macaulay’s less-developed proposal of coeducation and to her own teaching experiences as eldest daughter, schoolmistress, governess, and public educator-in-print, Wollstonecraft’s coeducational thought experiment in the second Vindication formulates critical approaches and concerns that remain in broad outlines those of an English-speaking feminist tradition of coeducational thought.

Many biographers have retold Wollstonecraft’s unusually well-documented, self-educative life, including her early passionate partnership with Fanny Blood; her learning from several mentors; and her late, joyfully egalitarian, mutually educative marriage to political philosopher William Godwin, who admired her educational wisdom and shared her principled resistance against marriage as well as childhood memories of domestic violence. Wollstonecraft died upon birth of their daughter, Frankenstein’s author, Mary Shelley, whose work reflects study of her mother’s educational writings.


  1. Durant, W. C. (Ed.). (1972). Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft, written by William Godwin. New York: Gordon Press. Laird, S. (in press). Mary Wollstonecraft. In R. Bailey (Ed.), Biographical encyclopedia of educational thought (Vol. 20). London: Continuum.
  2. Martin, J. R. (1985). Wollstonecraft’s daughters. In Reclaiming a conversation: The ideal of the educated woman (pp. 70–102). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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