Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was an
English writer, philosopher, and fierce advocate for the rights of women, which
she considered essential to the well-being of society as a whole.
As a child, Mary learned self-sufficiency
by necessity, assuming responsibility for herself and her sisters in the face
of abuse and neglect by their parents. Education proved to be the way out, and
Mary not only secured her own independence, but also saw to it that her sisters
learned to support themselves.
Having suffered personally from the
consequences of unhappy marriage and a mother who was ill-equipped to support and
protect her children, Wollstonecraft spent the rest of her life reflecting on
and writing about the rights and education of women. She first made her ideas
public with Thoughts on the Education of
Daughters (1787), but is best known for A
Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), in which she argues that women
are not naturally less rational and capable than men, but only appear to be so
because they lack proper education. How much better for everyone—including
men—if women were given the opportunity to develop their abilities fully and
contribute in a meaningful way to society.
Wollstonecraft embodied many of these
principles in own her work as a governess, teacher, writer, book reviewer, and
foreign correspondent (she reported on the French Revolution from Paris at
considerable personal risk). As a real and complicated human being, Wollstonecraft
also struggled—with depression, poverty, insecurity about her writing, and
several unhappy love affairs. Although her unconventional life scandalized many
and often threatened to overshadow her ideas, Mary Wollstonecraft influenced
generations of women (including Jane Austen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and
George Eliot) and was eventually reclaimed as a champion of the feminist
One famous woman upon whom Wollstonecraft left
a deep impression, but whose life she shared only for a few fleeting days, was
her own daughter, the author Mary Shelley.
Laura Alary is a writer, reader, and all-round curious
person. She has loved books since she was barely big enough to clamber up the
steps to the bookmobile that rolled into her Halifax neighborhood once a week.
At school, she made her own books out of manila paper, mucilage and crayons.
The first story she can remember writing was about a little girl who kept
spilling paint and having to figure out how to turn the messes into pictures (a
good rule for life).
These days, Laura
considers herself very lucky to work in a beautiful library and write her own
books. Her latest is What
Grew in Larry’s Garden (Kids Can Press, 2020), and
she is anticipating the publication of two new picture book biographies about
Maria Mitchell and Cecilia Payne. You can find Laura and her books online
at www.lauraalary.ca (Twitter@LauraAlary1).
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