Mary Wollenstonecraft or Jeremy Bentham as first advocate of Womans Rights?

Mary Wollenstonecraft (27 April 1759 – 10 September 1797)  born in Spitalfields London, is often credited as being the founder of English feminism, she was a remarkable woman and author of “Vindication of the Rights of Women a work in which she articulates that women are not naturally inferior to men but only appear to be as the result of a lack of education.

Actually 10 years earlier Jeremy Bentham was already addressing this important subject.  She was a woman in essence born out of her time, living unconventional and socially unacceptable personal relationships. This prejudiced the serious attention of the work she had written and her leadership in thought about the rights and role of women in society.

Sadly Mary died young have given birth to her second daughter who became an accomplished writer herself born Mary Wollenstonecraft Godwin, she became the novelist Mary Shelley.

Her work read now in context to the struggle to establish women’s rights has established her reputation as being one of the most influential writers and thought leaders/philosophers on women’s rights and feminism in the 20th Century.

Instead of viewing women as ornaments to society or property to be traded in marriage, Wollstonecraft maintained that they are human beings deserving of the same fundamental rights as men.

Jeremy Bentham and Mary were both key leaders in the thoughts about the need for women’s equal rights to be established and whilst his writings pre-date hers, ther appears to be no documented evidence that her thoughts were derrived from his earlier work.


Intriguing Connections:

  • Tragically Mary died having given birth to her second daughter Mary Shelley, having married William Godwin, her daughter went on to be the famous author of the Novel Frankenstein.
  • Was there any knowledge of Bentham’s earlier work?


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Useful Links:

Images of Mart at The National Portrait Gallery

Professor Janet Todd via BBC on Wollenstonecraft

Free to read in Google Books: Vindication of the Rights of Women 1792 
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