Timeline of Mary Wollstonecraft

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Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie (c. 1791) MaryWollstonecraft.jpg
Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie (c. 1791)

The lifetime of British writer, philosopher, and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (17591797) encompassed most of the second half of the eighteenth century, a time of great political and social upheaval throughout Europe and America: political reform movements in Britain gained strength, the American colonists successfully rebelled, and the French Revolution erupted. Wollstonecraft experienced only the headiest of these days, not living to see the end of the democratic revolution when Napoleon crowned himself emperor. Although Britain was still revelling in its mid-century imperial conquests and its triumph in the Seven Years' War, it was the French revolution that defined Wollstonecraft's generation. As poet Robert Southey later wrote: "few persons but those who have lived in it can conceive or comprehend what the memory of the French Revolution was, nor what a visionary world seemed to open upon those who were just entering it. Old things seemed passing away, and nothing was dreamt of but the regeneration of the human race." [1]


Part of what made reform possible in Britain in the second half of the eighteenth century was the dramatic increase in publishing; books, periodicals, and pamphlets became much more widely available than they had been just a few decades earlier. [2] This increase in available printed material helped facilitate the rise of the British middle class. Reacting against what they viewed as aristocratic decadence, the new professional middle classes (made prosperous through British manufacturing and trade), offered their own ethical code: reason, meritocracy, self-reliance, religious toleration, free inquiry, free enterprise, and hard work. [3] They set these values against what they perceived as the superstition and unreason of the poor and the prejudices, censorship, and self-indulgence of the rich. They also helped establish what has come to be called the "cult of domesticity", which solidified gender roles for men and women. [4] This new vision of society rested on the writings of Scottish Enlightenment philosophers such as Adam Smith, who had developed a theory of social progress founded on sympathy and sensibility. A partial critique of the rationalist Enlightenment, these theories promoted a combination of reason and feeling that enabled women to enter the public sphere because of their keen moral sense. [5] Wollstonecraft's writings stand at the nexus of all of these changes. Her educational works, such as her children's book Original Stories from Real Life (1788), helped inculcate middle-class values, and her two Vindications, A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790) and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), argue for the value of an educated, rational populace, specifically one that includes women. In her two novels, Mary: A Fiction and Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman , she explores the ramifications of sensibility for women.

The end of the eighteenth century was a time of great hope for progressive reformers such as Wollstonecraft. Like the revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine and others, Wollstonecraft was not content to remain on the sidelines. She sought out intellectual debate at the home of her publisher Joseph Johnson, who gathered leading thinkers and artists for weekly dinners, [6] and she traveled extensively, first to be a part of the French revolution and later to seek a lost treasure ship for her lover in what was then exotic Scandinavia, turning her journey into a travel book, Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark . After two complicated and heart-rending affairs with the artist Henry Fuseli and the American adventurer Gilbert Imlay (with whom she had an illegitimate daughter, Fanny Imlay), Wollstonecraft married the philosopher William Godwin, one of the forefathers of the anarchist movement. [7] Together, they had one daughter: Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein . Wollstonecraft died at the age of 38 due to complications from this birth, leaving behind several unfinished manuscripts. [8] Today, she is most often remembered for her political treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and is considered a foundational feminist philosopher. [9]



  • Marriage of Edward John Wollstonecraft (born 1736) and Elizabeth Dickson (born c. 1740) (Wollstonecraft's parents) [10]
  • 3 March Birth of William Godwin, philosopher and future husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire [11] [12]
  • Birth of Edward (Ned) Wollstonecraft (brother to Mary) [10]
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  • Birth of Henry Woodstock Wollstonecraft (brother to Mary) [10]
  • Birth of Elizabeth (Eliza) Wollstonecraft (sister to Mary) [10]
  • The Wollstonecraft family moves to Epping Forest [17]
  • Birth of Everina (Averina) Wollstonecraft (sister to Mary) [10]
  • The Wollstonecraft family moves to Barking [17]
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  • Birth of Charles Wollstonecraft (brother to Mary) [10]
  • The Wollstonecraft family moves to Hoxton [15]
  • Wollstonecraft meets Mr. and Mrs. Clare, who provide a second home for her and educate her [15]
  • Through the Clares, Wollstonecraft first meets Fanny Blood, for whom she will develop deep feelings [15]


  • Wollstonecraft's parents and younger siblings move to Enfield [17]
  • Autumn Wollstonecraft returns home to nurse her ill mother [15] [19]
  • 19 April Wollstonecraft's mother dies [10]
  • Wollstonecraft's father remarries and moves to Wales [15]
  • Wollstonecraft moves to Walham Green to live with Fanny Blood and her family [15]
  • 20 October Eliza, Wollstonecraft's sister, marries Meredith Bishop [15] [20]
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  • At the instigation of Wollstonecraft, Eliza leaves her husband and child (who dies later in the year) [15]
  • Wollstonecraft's school moves from Islington to Newington Green; Eliza, Everina, and Fanny help teach [15]
  • Wollstonecraft becomes friends with the minister Richard Price (pictured) [15]
  • Wollstonecraft meets author Samuel Johnson [15]
  • February Fanny Blood marries Hugh Skeys in Lisbon [10]
  • Wollstonecraft travels to Lisbon [10]
  • November Fanny gives birth to a child and dies shortly thereafter [10]
  • December Wollstonecraft returns to London [10]
  • Publication of Wollstonecraft's anthology, The Female Reader, by Johnson (published under the pseudonym of Mr. Cresswick) [15]
  • Wollstonecraft becomes romantically involved with the artist and writer Henry Fuseli [17]
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  • Publication of Wollstonecraft's translation of Maria Geertruida van de Werken de Cambon's Young Grandison by Johnson [10]
  • Publication of Wollstonecraft's translation of Christian Gotthilf Salzmann's Elements of Morality, for the Use of Children, illustrated by William Blake, by Johnson [10]
  • 29 November Publication of the first edition Wollstonecraft's treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Men by Johnson (anonymous) [15]
  • 18 December Publication of the second edition of A Vindication of the Rights of Men , with Wollstonecraft's name on the title page, by Johnson (pictured) [15]
  • Wollstonecraft temporarily adopts Ann, a seven-year-old relative of Hugh Skeys (Fanny Blood's husband) [10]
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  • Wollstonecraft meets and falls in love with American adventurer Gilbert Imlay in France [10]
  • Wollstonecraft registers as Imlay's wife at the United States embassy in France for protection during the Reign of Terror [10]
  • June Wollstonecraft moves from Paris to Neuilly to escape the revolutionary violence [15]
  • September Wollstonecraft, now pregnant, returns to Paris [15]
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  • January Wollstonecraft moves to Le Havre, France [15]
  • 14 May Birth of Wollstonecraft and Imlay's daughter, Fanny Imlay, in Le Havre [10]
  • Imlay returns to England, leaving Wollstonecraft and their daughter alone [15]
  • December Publication of Wollstonecraft's An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution in London [15]
  • April Wollstonecraft returns to London to join Imlay and learns of his infidelity [15]
  • May Wollstonecraft's first suicide attempt; she is saved by Imlay [15]
  • JuneSeptember Wollstonecraft journeys to Scandinavia on business for Imlay [10]
  • October Wollstonecraft's second suicide attempt; she jumps off Putney Bridge into the River Thames and is saved by strangers [15]
Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie (c. 1797).jpg
  • John Opie paints Wollstonecraft's portrait (at right) [15]
  • 29 March Wollstonecraft and Godwin marry; they lose friends because it is revealed that Wollstonecraft was never married to Imlay [15]
  • 30 August Birth of Wollstonecraft and Godwin's daughter, Mary Shelley, future author of Frankenstein [10]
  • 10 September Death of Mary Wollstonecraft from complications in childbirth [10]

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>A Vindication of the Rights of Woman</i> 1792 philosophic feminist book by Mary Wollstonecraft

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (1792), written by British philosopher and women's rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797), is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy. In it, Wollstonecraft responds to those educational and political theorists of the eighteenth century who did not believe women should receive a rational education. She argues that women ought to have an education commensurate with their position in society, claiming that women are essential to the nation because they educate its children and because they could be "companions" to their husbands, rather than mere wives. Instead of viewing women as ornaments to society or property to be traded in marriage, Wollstonecraft maintains that they are human beings deserving of the same fundamental rights as men.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mary Wollstonecraft</span> English writer and intellectual (1759–1797)

Mary Wollstonecraft was a British writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights. Until the late 20th century, Wollstonecraft's life, which encompassed several unconventional personal relationships at the time, received more attention than her writing. Today Wollstonecraft is regarded as one of the founding feminist philosophers, and feminists often cite both her life and her works as important influences.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Godwin</span> English philosopher and novelist (1756–1836)

William Godwin was an English journalist, political philosopher and novelist. He is considered one of the first exponents of utilitarianism and the first modern proponent of anarchism. Godwin is most famous for two books that he published within the space of a year: An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, an attack on political institutions, and Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams, an early mystery novel which attacks aristocratic privilege. Based on the success of both, Godwin featured prominently in the radical circles of London in the 1790s. He wrote prolifically in the genres of novels, history and demography throughout his life.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Amelia Opie</span> English novelist and abolitionist (1769–1853)

Amelia Opie was an English author who published numerous novels in the Romantic period up to 1828. Opie was also a leading abolitionist in Norwich, England. Hers was the first of 187,000 names presented to the British Parliament on a petition from women to stop slavery.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen</span> 1791 manifesto written by French feminist Olympe de Gouges

The Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen, also known as the Declaration of the Rights of Woman, was written on 14 September 1791 by French activist, feminist, and playwright Olympe de Gouges in response to the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. By publishing this document on 15 September, de Gouges hoped to expose the failures of the French Revolution in the recognition of gender equality. As a result of her writings, de Gouges was accused, tried and convicted of treason, resulting in her immediate execution, along with the Girondists, becoming one of only three women beheaded during the ensuing Reign of Terror – and the only executed for her political writings.

<i>A Vindication of the Rights of Men</i> Book by Mary Wollstonecraft

A Vindication of the Rights of Men, in a Letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; Occasioned by His Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) is a political pamphlet, written by the 18th-century British writer and women's rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft, which attacks aristocracy and advocates republicanism. Wollstonecraft's was the first response in a pamphlet war sparked by the publication of Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), a defense of constitutional monarchy, aristocracy, and the Church of England.

Mary Hays (1759–1843) was an autodidact intellectual who published essays, poetry, novels and several works on famous women. She is remembered for her early feminism, and her close relations to dissenting and radical thinkers of her time including Robert Robinson, Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin and William Frend. She was born in 1759, into a family of Protestant dissenters who rejected the practices of the Church of England. Hays was described by those who disliked her as 'the baldest disciple of [Mary] Wollstonecraft' by The Anti Jacobin Magazine, attacked as an 'unsex'd female' by clergyman Robert Polwhele, and provoked controversy through her long life with her rebellious writings. When Hays's fiancé John Eccles died on the eve of their marriage, Hays expected to die of grief herself. But this apparent tragedy meant that she escaped an ordinary future as wife and mother, remaining unmarried. She seized the chance to make a career for herself in the larger world as a writer.

<i>Original Stories from Real Life</i> Childrens book by Mary Wollstonecraft

Original Stories from Real Life; with Conversations Calculated to Regulate the Affections, and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness is the only complete work of children's literature by the 18th-century English feminist author Mary Wollstonecraft. Original Stories begins with a frame story that sketches out the education of two young girls by their maternal teacher Mrs. Mason, followed by a series of didactic tales. The book was first published by Joseph Johnson in 1788; a second, illustrated edition, with engravings by William Blake, was released in 1791 and remained in print for around a quarter of a century.

<i>Mary: A Fiction</i> 1788 novel by Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary: A Fiction is the only complete novel by 18th-century British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. It tells the tragic story of a female's successive "romantic friendships" with a woman and a man. Composed while Wollstonecraft was a governess in Ireland, the novel was published in 1788 shortly after her summary dismissal and her decision to embark on a writing career, a precarious and disreputable profession for women in 18th-century Britain.

Gilbert Imlay was an American businessman, author, and diplomat.

<i>The Unsexd Females</i>

The Unsex'd Females, a Poem (1798), by Richard Polwhele, is a polemical intervention into the public debates over the role of women at the end of the 18th century. The poem is primarily concerned with what Polwhele characterizes as the encroachment of radical French political and philosophical ideas into British society, particularly those associated with the Enlightenment. These subjects come together, for Polwhele, in the revolutionary figure of Mary Wollstonecraft.

Frances Imlay, also known as Fanny Godwin and Frances Wollstonecraft, was the illegitimate daughter of the British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the American commercial speculator and diplomat Gilbert Imlay. Wollstonecraft wrote about her frequently in her later works. Fanny grew up in the household of anarchist political philosopher William Godwin, the widower of her mother, with his second wife Mary Jane Clairmont and their combined family of five children. Fanny's half-sister Mary grew up to write Frankenstein and married Percy Bysshe Shelley, a leading Romantic poet, who composed a poem on Fanny's death.

<i>Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman</i> 1798 unfinished novel by Mary Wollstonecraft

Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman is the 18th-century British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft's unfinished novelistic sequel to her revolutionary political treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). The Wrongs of Woman was published posthumously in 1798 by her husband, William Godwin, and is often considered her most radical feminist work.

<i>Thoughts on the Education of Daughters</i> 1787 book by Mary Wollstonecraft

Thoughts on the education of daughters: with reflections on female conduct, in the more important duties of life is the first published work of the British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Published in 1787 by her friend Joseph Johnson, Thoughts is a conduct book that offers advice on female education to the emerging British middle class. Although dominated by considerations of morality and etiquette, the text also contains basic child-rearing instructions, such as how to care for an infant.

<i>Analytical Review</i> Periodical (London : Printed for J. Johnson, 1788-1799. )

The Analytical Review was an English periodical that was published from 1788 to 1798, having been established in London by the publisher Joseph Johnson and the writer Thomas Christie. Part of the Republic of Letters, it was a gadfly publication, which offered readers summaries and analyses of the many new publications issued at the end of the eighteenth century.

<i>Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark</i> 1796 travel narrative by Mary Wollstonecraft

Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796) is a personal travel narrative by the eighteenth-century British feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft. The twenty-five letters cover a wide range of topics, from sociological reflections on Scandinavia and its peoples to philosophical questions regarding identity. Published by Wollstonecraft's career-long publisher, Joseph Johnson, it was the last work issued during her lifetime.

<i>Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman</i> Biography of Mary Wollstonecraft

Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798) is William Godwin's biography of his late wife Mary Wollstonecraft. Rarely published in the nineteenth century and sparingly even today, Memoirs is most often viewed as a source for information on Wollstonecraft. However, with the rise of interest in biography and autobiography as important genres in and of themselves, scholars are increasingly studying it for its own sake.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Revolution Controversy</span>

The Revolution Controversy was a British debate over the French Revolution from 1789 to 1795. A pamphlet war began in earnest after the publication of Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), which defended the House of Bourbon, the French aristocracy, and the Catholic Church in France. Because he had supported the American Patriots in their rebellion against Great Britain, Burke's views sent a shockwave through the British Isles. Many writers responded to defend the French Revolution, such as Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. Alfred Cobban calls the debate that erupted "perhaps the last real discussion of the fundamentals of politics" in Britain. The themes articulated by those responding to Burke would become a central feature of the radical working-class movement in Britain in the 19th century and of Romanticism. Most Britons celebrated the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and believed that Kingdom of France should be curtailed by a more democratic form of government. However, by December 1795, after the Reign of Terror and the War of the First Coalition, few still supported the French cause.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Timeline of Jane Austen</span>

Jane Austen lived her entire life as part of a family located socially and economically on the lower fringes of the English gentry. The Rev. George Austen and Cassandra Leigh, Jane Austen's parents, lived in Steventon, Hampshire, where Rev. Austen was the rector of the Anglican parish from 1765 until 1801. Jane Austen's immediate family was large and close-knit. She had six brothers—James, George, Charles, Francis, Henry, and Edward—and a beloved older sister, Cassandra. Austen's brother Edward was adopted by Thomas and Elizabeth Knight and eventually inherited their estates at Godmersham, Kent, and Chawton, Hampshire. In 1801, Rev. Austen retired from the ministry and moved his family to Bath, Somerset. He died in 1805 and for the next four years, Jane, Cassandra, and their mother lived first in rented quarters and then in Southampton where they shared a house with Frank Austen's family. During these unsettled years, they spent much time visiting various branches of the family. In 1809, Jane, Cassandra, and their mother moved permanently into a large "cottage" in Chawton village that was part of Edward's nearby estate. Austen lived at Chawton until she moved to Winchester for medical treatment shortly before her death in 1817.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fanny Blood</span> British artist, teacher (1758–1785)

Frances "Fanny" Blood was an English illustrator and educator, and longtime friend of Mary Wollstonecraft.


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