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Writing in an age when the call for the rights of man had brought revolution to America and France, Mary Wollstonecraft produced her own declaration of female independence in 1792. Passionate and forthright, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman attacked the prevailing view of docile, decorative femininity and instead laid out the principles of emancipation: an equal education for girls and boys, an end to prejudice, and the call for women to become defined by their profession, not their partner. Mary Wollstonecrafts work was received with a mixture of admiration and outrageWalpole called her a hyena in petticoatsyet it established her as the mother of modern feminism.
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) was an educational, political and feminist writer who early in her life worked as a companion, teacher and governess. In 1788 she settled in London as a translator and reader for the publisher Joseph Johnson, becoming part of the radical set that included Paine, Blake, Godwin and the painter Fuseli. Her great work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, was published in 1792. She lived in Paris during the French Revolution and had a child by the American Gilbert Imlay, who deserted her. She returned to London in 1795 and, following her attempted suicide, became involved with Godwin, whom she married in 1797, shortly before the birth (which proved fatal) of her daughter, the future Mary Shelley. She left several unfinished works, including Maria.