Wollstonecraft's Rights of Woman


Wollstonecraft's Rights of Woman


  • Intro

    Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) was one of Britain's first great feminist writers. She wrote of her belief that women were only seen as inferior to men because they did not have the same opportunities for a good education. She stressed that women could contribute a huge amount to society, if only they were given the freedom to do so: 'Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship, instead of slavish obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers - in a word, better citizens.'


    In the eyes of the law, a married woman had no property, no vote, no money of her own, nor any rights to her children. It was not until the Married Woman's Property Act of 1870 that married women were allowed to keep the money they earned and have ownership of property acquired before or after marriage. Wollstonecraft's essay, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, contains many comparisons with Thomas Paine's Rights of Man, an essay that called for social justice and liberty.


    Shelfmark: 523.g.3 vi-vii.

  • Transcript

    Wollstonecraft's Rights of Woman

    Original text:


    [to-]gether with the system of duplicity that the whole tenour of their political and civil government taught, have given a sinister sort of sagacity to the French character, properly termed sinesse, and a polish of manners that injures the substance, by hunting sincerity out of society.—And, modesty, the fairest garb of virtue! has been more grossly insulted in France than even in England, till their women have treated as prudish that attention to decency, which brutes instinctively observe.


    Manners and morals are so nearly allied that they have been often been confounded; but, though the former should only be the natural reflection of the latter, yet, when various causes have produced factitious and corrupt manners, which are very early caught, morality becomes an empty name. The personal reserve, and sacred respect for cleanliness and delicacy in domestic life, which French women almost despise, are the graceful pillars of modesty; but, far from despising them, if the pure flame of patriotism have reached their bosoms, they should labour to improve the morals of their fellow-citizens, by teaching men, not only to respect modesty in women, but to acquire it themselves, as the only way to merit their esteem.


    Contending for the rights of woman, my main argument is built on this simple principle, that if she be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge, for truth must be common to all, or it will be inefficacious with respect to its influence on general practice. And how can women be expected to co-operate unless she know why she ought to be virtuous? unless freedom strengthen her reason till she comprehend her duty, and see in what manner it is connected with her real good? If children are to be educated to understand the true principle of

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