Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Today is the birthday of writer, philosopher,
women's-rights advocate
Mary Wollstonecraft

"Born in London in 1759. Her book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) is one of the earliest books of feminist philosophy; in it, she argues that it is lack of access to education, not any inherent flaw, that makes women seem inferior to men. She argued that women should be taught to be rational, rather than ornamental, beings and that they should be given skills to help them support themselves in widowhood so that they need never marry out of financial necessity. Her own education was haphazard, because her father had squandered his inheritance and was trying — and failing — to earn a living as a gentleman farmer. The family moved around a lot, and though her brother Ned received a formal education, Mary did not.  She's less well known, but no less influential, as a travel writer. Her book Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796) combined political and social commentary, descriptions of the landscape and culture, and personal revelation, and it influenced Romantic poets like Wordsworth and Coleridge. It probably didn't hurt her burgeoning relationship with philosopher William Godwin either; he wrote: "If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book." They became good friends, and then lovers, and she became pregnant. They married in March 1797, and their daughter, Mary, who would grow up to marry Percy Shelley and write Frankenstein, was born in August, but Mary Wollstonecraft died of septicemia 10 days later. Godwin grieved deeply, writing to a friend, "I have not the least expectation that I can now ever know happiness again."  Ten years before her death, Wollstonecraft had written to her sister, "You know I am not born to tread in the beaten track — the peculiar bent of my nature pushes me on." Because that was what Godwin loved about her, he published a memoir of her life the following year, intending it as a celebration of her unconventional life, but readers were shocked at her love affairs, her suicide attempts, and her two daughters conceived out of wedlock. Her reputation suffered a near-fatal blow, and the prevailing opinion of the 19th century was that no respectable woman would have anything to do with her except as a cautionary tale.

It took almost 80 years, and the women's suffrage movement, to rehabilitate her in the public eye."

 from The Writer's Almanac®

This five-minute radio gem is a listener favorite as host Garrison Keillor recounts the highlights of that day in history and reads a short poem or two.

Three More Days for April!

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