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 movement.
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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