The First Classical Feminist

Feminism has evolved over the last couple centuries.

It is fair to say that classical feminism has done much for women in many Western nations and in developed countries. Voting rights, right to own land, get educated and have a job, are all things that many women take for granted now.

While many in America know about the Suffragettes, headed by Susan B. Anthony, around the turn of the 20th century, but the concept of suffrage and other women’s rights were voiced in various societies well before the movement that allowed the female vote in America thanks to the 19th Amendment in 1920. It wasn’t just in America the issue was important to half the population.

A British woman named Mary Wollstonecraft in the 18th century was one of those activists.  She was only with us for 38 years, but she was a prolific writer and philosopher, most known for A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792, in which she argued that women were only inferior to men due to education, but that men and women should be treated as equally rational beings.

She was one of the first to preach about equality among the sexes.

She died just days after giving birth to her second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who became the famous author Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame. Her mother was married to one of the early founders of the anarchist movement, a man named William Godwin. Before marrying Godwin, however, Mary Wollstonecraft had a couple of affairs and had a daughter from one of them, a daughter named Fanny Imlay.

The most vocal early classical feminist, Wollstonecraft was an educational advocate, especially in the education of girls. She, her sister and a friend, combined to open a school for girls to give them a proper formal education, and she later wrote a pamphlet about her experiences in 1787.

She had been an anti-marriage feminist, joining her husband Mr. Godwin in stating marriage as a “tyranny,” especially when it comes to women being less educated than men and thus becoming tyrants in the house with children and servants. Wollstonecraft realized early on that she was not one to be a housewife or a domestic, so she left a position as a governess and returned to work as a writer, author, and advocate. Despite the “tyranny” of marriage, Wollstonecraft and Godwin married while she was pregnant with their daughter.

Besides writing A Vindication, which was in itself radical at the time, she also wrote Maria, or the Wrongs of Women, which was a missive that advocated women embracing their sexual selves, and that it was immoral for women to hide their sexuality. As modesty was all the rage at that time, her ideas generated a lot of buzz for their controversy.

She knew how to generate headlines, at least.

She was a celebrity of sorts in women’s social circles during the late 18th century, and she faded into the memories until the 1900s, when some suffragettes brought up her work in their push for voting rights in the United States. She also became a source of study during the new feminism movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Comments Off on The First Classical Feminist

Filed under Feminists

Comments are closed.