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The Book “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” by Mary Wollstonecraft


Mary Wollstonecraft, an 18th-century British author and philosopher, was among the first people who openly drew the public’s attention to women’s rights in society. Her fundamental work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, explores several important topics, and education is one of them. The situation in this regard may have changed over the past two centuries, but the ideas discussed by Wollstonecraft remain relevant, as the issue of educational disparities persists to some degree until today. The purpose of this paper is to examine Mary Wollstonecraft’s standpoint on the role of education in women’s development and compare it with the modern views of contemporary theorists.

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A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft’s Background and Personality

Mary Wollstonecraft became the pioneer of the progressive thinking of her time, discussing the ideas, which would remain relevant for several centuries onward. Her life and work were heavily influenced by the age of Enlightenment, which is why issues related to equal, fair education were an area of intense interest for her. Wollstonecraft described her own education as mediocre, admitting that it lacked depth and complexity (Wollstonecraft 9). She came from a simple family, which was not a common characteristic of philosophers of that time. In addition, Biographical information suggests that Mary lacked proper family training, as her father was a despot (Wollstonecraft 2). In addition, he actively spent the family fortune, which is why they were forced to move around London frequently. However, Mary cared for her mother and only left their house upon the latter’s death. While she did not receive quality schooling herself, Wollstonecraft’s resilience allowed her to attain considerable success in her studies and become an educated person of the 18th century. Accordingly, she had direct experience, underlining the importance of proper knowledge in a young woman’s life.

Wollstonecraft was a kind person, and she pursued humane ideas throughout her life. Mary and a group of her friends established a school in Newington Green in 1784, which served two major purposes (Wollstonecraft 3). The school allowed Wollstonecraft and her friends to make a living while spreading the benevolent ideas of the importance of education. Overall, Mary’s early life was a challenging period due to family issues and poverty, and she departed from the Newington Green School following the death of her friend. Having spent several years abroad, Wollstonecraft returned to London and noticed that her absence had had a poor impact on the school.

These challenges shaped Mary’s character in adulthood and determined the future course of her work. Wollstonecraft searched for her place in life, and she was frustrated by the limited amount of options a young woman at the time would have (Wollstonecraft 4). Simultaneously she developed a literary talent and soon attracted the attention of a London publisher named Joseph Johnson. In the next three years, she was able to work on her writing skills, learning to express her ideas eloquently. Having mastered French and German, she became a translator as well, extending her knowledge beyond the national borders. Mary saw literature as a promising avenue, following which she would be able to share her feeling and views with the world. This period of Wollstonecraft’s life was heavily influenced by Johnson, who had liberal views and allowed Mary to realize her potential at his publishing house. Her work as an author, reviewer, and translator had Mary acquainted with the writings of progressive thinkers of the time, including the ideas behind the French Revolution. Naturally, since these opinions corresponded with Wollstonecraft’s personal stance, she sought inspiration in such works.

Mary’s adulthood was surrounded by a range of interesting personalities, many of whom she met during her time with Joseph Johnson. During their reception, Wollstonecraft met several prominent philosophers of the 18th century, Thomas Paine and William Godwin, with whom she would eventually be married. Nevertheless, Mary’s personal life was not always happy, taking her around several places in Europe. Wollstonecraft spent some time in post-revolution France with an American citizen named Gilbert Imlay. The couple was not officially married, but they had a daughter together who was named Fanny after Wollstonecraft’s deceased friend. Soon, political tensions grew between France and Great Britain, and she had to flee the country. In the meantime, Imlay no longer had strong feelings for her, and the couple soon separated. Afterward, Mary suffered from severe depression, even considering suicide, but she did not do it.

Having returned to London, Wollstonecraft attempted to restore the previous order in her life. She continued writing, using literature to express overwhelming ideas, and resumed contact with some of her previous acquaintances. This included William Godwin, who is known as the author of Political Justice (Wollstonecraft 6). The two authors used to meet at Joseph Johnson’s receptions, but, initially, their relationship lacked rapport. In fact, they reported mutual disappointment, as Wollstonecraft did not hesitate to criticize people she disagreed with. Nevertheless, their acquaintance shortly transformed into a passionate relationship, and Wollstonecraft soon gave birth to another child, also named Mary. In fact, the second daughter would eventually follow her mother’s literary role model but in the direction of fiction. She will be known as Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. Mere days after the girl was born, Wollstonecraft died in her bed. She lived an uneven life with positive and negative moments, but she managed to leave a profound impact on society’s development. Wollstonecraft’s experience with life’s challenges and disparities inspired her to broadcast progressive, humane ideas of gender equality.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: General Ideas

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman became the work of Wollstonecraft’s life, which sealed her role as one of the pioneers of feminism. As the description of her life suggests, Mary faced multiple challenges on her way from childhood across two marriages. She witnessed the oppression of women in the society of the late 18th century, which revealed itself in the vast majority of spheres. Wollstonecraft opens her writing with an introduction dedicated to the late Charles M. Talleyrand-Périgord (10). She provided an accurate critique of his ideas while treating the matter with due respect. This introduction provides a solid outline of Wollstonecraft’s general stance on the matter, as she demonstrates readiness to argue for the rights of women. The author lays an emphasis on the education of young girls, saying that the negligence in this regard is the reason for the women’s generally unfortunate positions in society. Wollstonecraft states that the world sees women as inferior people as compared to men, thus diminishing their roles in society and depriving them of integral human rights.

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Mary Wollstonecraft divides her writing into several chapters, and each of them describes a particular aspect of the issue while being connected to the overarching idea. In the beginning, the author states that humanity’s most valuable trait is the ability to reason (Wollstonecraft 17). According to Wollstonecraft, men and women demonstrate a similar innate level of this ability, making them inherently equal by natural parameters. In the first chapter, the author objects to the nature of absolute power in its contemporary state, as the system of the time benefited men. Wollstonecraft argues that women should enjoy a similar level of opportunities in terms of education, career, and entertainment. In fact, women are taught in a completely different way, as they are pushed toward obedience and subordination. The pleasure and comfort of a man are deemed the matter of the highest priority for society, forcing women to work toward this objective. These views appear to stem from obsolete ideas, which remained engraved for centuries, even in developed cultures, and considerable effort was needed to break the order.

The following chapters of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman provide more detailed insight into the nature of each aspect of the greater problem. Wollstonecraft notes that the disparities between the two sexes have had multiple explanations (30). Patriarchal society attempted to justify the unfair treatment of women by claiming that they are inherently different from men. For example, women were seen as weaker beings, incapable of solving problems with the same level of efficiency as men, and their cognitive capabilities were diminished, as well. This factor accounted for the disparities in education, as it was perceived that only men were able to master complicated aspects of science and arts (Wollstonecraft 64). Instead of agile minds and creativity, women are taught to focus on their physical qualities, such as beauty and attractiveness. Consequently, women suppressed their feelings and lived for decades in unhappy marriages.

Such a simple, humiliating role of a woman caused reasonable frustration on behalf of the author. Wollstonecraft argues that men and women are both God’s creatures endowed with souls, and there is no natural difference, which would explain social disparities. The author states the each woman’s life must strike the right balance of reason and emotion. In fact, childhood is mentioned as a pivotal stage of a young girl’s development. It is at this point that they absorb the basic understanding of the interpersonal relationship and functioning within society. Wollstonecraft sees marriage as a form of friendship, meaning that the husband and the wife should enjoy each other’s company. A woman must remain an equal partner in this system while exercising a certain degree of reasoning and independence of thought. However, financial autonomy is also mentioned by Wollstonecraft as a topical issue, which must be addressed. Overall, the author provides a comprehensive framework describing and explaining the disparities a woman of her experienced, and these ideas have remained relevant for over two centuries.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: Education

Mary Wollstonecraft utilized her experience, along with the inner need for social justice and literary talent, to discuss the importance of women’s rights. As a matter of fact, while she speaks about various factors and manifestations of disparities, most of the aspects are traced back to education. Coming from a relatively poor family, Wollstonecraft was familiar with poor learning opportunities and their impact on a young woman. Additionally, she was able to see the matter from a different perspective during her time at the Newington Green School. Accordingly, education remained the focus of attention throughout all pages of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. It was Wollstonecraft’s pivotal idea to provide all men and women with equal learning opportunities. She managed to become educated through her own resilience, despite evident constraints, and attain considerable success and visibility. However, Wollstonecraft wanted the existence of a successful, educated woman to be the norm instead of a marvel.

As mentioned earlier, men’s and women’s educational experiences were different on the level of curricula, which was explained by alleged physical differences. Wollstonecraft argued for an opposite standpoint, saying that uneven learning opportunities widened the gap between the sexes artificially. Poor qualities, which were attributed to women of the time and deemed natural, were caused by the lack of training. Women’s education programs were of poor quality and mostly revolved around superficial aspects, while men had access to knowledge in philosophy, natural sciences, and mathematics. Wollstonecraft was sure that women should have access to a similar course of their choosing. According to her, proper education would enhance women’s potential in a variety of spheres and allow them to occupy important positions in the global system. It is worth mentioning that Wollstonecraft never expressed any dislike toward men. She never said that one of the sexes was superior, thus promoting true equality. In other words, Mary Wollstonecraft realized the paramount importance of quality education in shaping a young woman’s talents, personality, and aspirations, demanding equal learning opportunities and fair competition with men.

Global Women’s Issues: Women in the World Today by the Bureau of International Information Programs

Mary Wollstonecraft lived and worked over two centuries ago, but her ideas remain relevant in the environment of the 21st century. Gender inequality has been a topical issue, fueling contemporary feminist research. The Bureau of International Information Programs of the United States Department of State has united several prominent theorists of women’s studies around an important project. Global Women’s Issues: Women in the World Today describes problems, which women face in the 21st century despite recent advancements. Education plays a pivotal role in this respect, similar to the ideas discussed by Wollstonecraft two hundred years prior. The study argues that accessible education has become a global priority since the 1990s and was later fixed in the Millennium Development Goals. In turn, Wollstonecraft’s essay suggests that the issue was not as recent, and women’s education has lacked due attention since the 18th century.

Authors of the Bureau of International Information Programs refer to women’s education as the primary source of empowerment. In a way, this notion resembles Wollstonecraft’s rhetoric, but she mainly objected to a woman’s role as a pleasure accessory of a man. Empowerment is a related concept, although the emphasis on it reflects that society has managed to achieve progress over the last two hundred years. The Millennium Goals were adopted by the leaders of the United Nations, and their primary focus is on eliminating the gender gap in secondary and higher education. The authors of the report refer to statistical evidence, saying that the benefits of quality education for young women are evident. Educated women earn higher salaries and occupy better positions in organizations, which allows them to invest money in their family’s development. In addition, the report overall better health, mental well-being, and quality of life, while being less likely to suffer from a range of chronic diseases and domestic violence. Evidently, contemporary research focuses on financial and scientific aspects of the problem, while Wollstonecraft mainly discussed it in the context of basic social roles and interactions.

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Considering the research presented above, it is possible to say that society has achieved substantial progress in terms of women’s rights and equality. Mary Wollstonecraft called for basic rights to be respected in the case of women, while modern scholars discuss more profound issues. Additionally, recent studies are more practice-oriented, as they argue for the practical ways of improving women’s lives instead of speaking of the necessity of it. Accordingly, while Wollstonecraft’s work was fundamental for the development of feminist theories, the Bureau of International Information Programs presented a natural development of the issue, making it more relevant in the modern context. The former laid the theoretical and ideological foundation for future studies, and the latter shows the way to translate those ideas into practice. However, despite considerable progress, the situation remains difficult in emerging economies and traditional societies, especially those in which the heavy influence of religion persists. Developed countries cannot ignore these circumstances, as the world is now globalized, and all of humanity should contribute toward a common goal.


In conclusion, the work published by Mary Wollstonecraft became a turning point in the global fight for women’s rights.. She used her unique experience and literary talent to broadcast her ideas across the globe, calling for equal educational opportunities for men and women. According to her, the quality of learning was the reason for the majority of disparities between sexes, and equal access to education was the key to eradicating them. Modern theorists agree with this idea, devoting much attention to women’s education while providing a more relevant, practical perspective. While the world has achieved success in terms of women’s rights, the issue remains in many developing countries. Resolving the problem is a common objective for all societies, and progressive thinkers, such as Wollstonecraft, serve as the inspiration.

Works Cited

Bureau of International Information Programs, United States Department of State. Global Women’s Issues: Women in the World Today. BCcampus, 2012.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. The Feminist Papers: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Gibbs Smith, 2019.

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