Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin
1759 – 1797 A.D.
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, an English writer, born near London, and of Irish descent. The brutality of her father after the death of their mother in 1780 compelled Mary and her sisters to leave their home. Mary earned her living as a school-teacher and governess until 1788, when she settled in London and was employed by Johnson, the publisher, a a reader and translator.
While at Paris in 1792 she met Gilbert Imlay, an American merchant and author; their intimacy lasted about four years, when he deserted her whom he terms in a legal document, “Mary Imlay, my best friend and wife.”
In 1796 Mary went back to Johnson, the publisher, supporting herself and her child by Imlay. The following year, she met the novelist and political writer, William Goodwin, and they were married. And now Mary had a season of calm in her stormy existence, while Godwin’s admiration for his wife equaled his affection. But their happiness was of short duration. In the latter part of the same year the birth of her daughter Mary, afterwards the wife of Shelley, proved fatal, and she died at the age of thirty-eight, just when happiness had come to her.
Mary Wollstonecraft was the most brilliant of the advanced women of her time, and her most notable work, Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), is a conspicuous landmark in the history of feminism, anticipating the claims for greater freedom, personal, social, and political, that are the marks of the women’s movement of a century later.
In 1851, her daughter, Mrs. Shelly writes:
“Mary Wollstonecraft was one of those beings who appear once perhaps in a generation, to gild humanity with a ray which no difference of opinion can cloud. Her genius was undeniable. She had been bred in the hard school of adversity, and having experienced the sorrows entailed on the poor and the oppressed, an earnest desire was kindled with her to diminish these sorrows. Her sound understanding, her intrepidity, her sensibility and eager sympathy, stamped all her writings with force and truth, and endowed them with a tender charm that enchants while it enlightens.”
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.