Tag Archives: Mary Wollstonecraft

Education – Mary Wollstonecraft – Update Link to Roberta’s blog



Footsteps - image created by Maggie Baldry

Despite the clear successes of the pioneers of the Arts and Computing Technology at one time in the history of Planet Earth, it would have been unthinkable for a women to become involved in activities that were not defined in terms of home, family, husband and children.

There are many issues and debates surrounding female education (primary education, secondary education, tertiary education and health education in particular). These debates include gender equality and access to education, and its connection to the alleviation of poverty.

Notwithstanding that this is not a feminist blog, it is without doubt that the feminist movement has certainly promoted the importance of the issues attached to female education, discussion is wide-ranging and by no means confined to narrow terms of reference: it includes for example AIDS.

From the historical perspective, in medieval Europe, education for girls and women was at best patchy, and seen as controversial in the light of pronouncements of some religious authorities. It was also seen as stratified in the  same way as society itself.  The emphasis was on educating the daughters of the nobility for their social position to come.

Apart from Elizabeth I of England, who had a strong humanist education, which fits the pattern of education for leadership, rather than for the generality of women. Schooling for girls was rare; the assumption was still that education would be brought to the home environment. The issue of female education in the large, as emancipatory and rational human right, is broached seriously in the Enlightenment. Mary Wollstonecraft is a writer who dealt with it in those terms and we will take a brief look at her work and life later in this chapter.

Actual progress in institutional terms, for secular education of women, began in the West in the nineteenth century, with the founding of colleges offering single-sex education to young women. These appeared in the middle of the century. Once women began to graduate from institutions of higher education, there steadily developed also a stronger academic stream of schooling, and the teacher training of women in larger numbers, principally to provide primary education. Women’s access to traditionally all-male institutions took several generations to become complete.

The pioneers of equal access to education for women and men had to battle with the mind set that women did not need to be educated or were not physically capable of being educated. Mary Wollstonecraft was one of the early pioneers of the education for women. But she is not necessarily a friend to the poor; for example, in her national plan for education, she suggests that, after the age of nine, the poor be separated from the rich and taught in another school. Notwithstanding those comments a short Wikipedia based extract about her life, work and influence follows.

Update 19 July 2011

Roberta Wedge contacted me a little while ago and left comments on this page.

Roberta has an amazing blog about Mary Wollstonecraft and I would highly recommend you check out this blog

: A Vindication of the Rights of Mary.

Mary Wollstonecraft

 (27 April 1759 – 10 September 1797)

 Mary Wollstonecraft was a British writer, philosopher and feminist.

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft

During her brief career, she wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children’s book. Wollstonecraft is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education. She suggests that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason.

Among the general public and specifically among feminists, Wollstonecraft’s life has received much more attention than her writing because of her unconventional, and often tumultuous, personal relationships. After two complicated and heart-rending affairs with Henry Fuseli and Gilbert Imlay, Wollstonecraft married the philosopher William Godwin, one of the forefathers of the anarchist movement; they had one daughter, Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. Wollstonecraft died at the age of thirty-eight due to complications from childbirth, leaving behind several unfinished manuscripts.

Today Wollstonecraft is considered to be one of the foundational feminist philosophers. Her early advocacy for women’s equality and her critiques of conventional femininity presaged the organized feminist movement. Feminist scholars and activists have often cited both her philosophical ideas and her personal life as important influences on their work.

Wollstonecraft’s work has also had an effect on feminism in recent years. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Muslim feminist, cited the Rights of Woman in her autobiography and wrote that she was “inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft, the pioneering feminist thinker who told women they had the same ability to reason as men did and deserved the same rights.”


The next blog will look at the work of the campaigner for women’s rights to university access, Emily Davies.


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Posted by on June 20, 2011 in Soft Footsteps


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