Mary Collier (c. 1688 – 1762) was an English poet, perhaps best known for her poetic riposte to Stephen Duck, The Woman's Labour.
Little is known of Collier's early life other than what she wrote in ‘Some remarks on the author's life drawn by herself’, prefaced to her Poems on Several Occasions that were being republished in a 1762 edition. She was from Hampshire, born to poor parents, educated at home, and worked as a washer-woman, brewer, and at other manual labour. It was in this preface to the 1762 edition that she expressed outrage at Stephen Duck's portrayal of working-class women, which inspired Poems on Several Occasions. A family that had employed her encouraged Collier to publish her poetry. Collier initially wrote poems for her own amusement, not planning on their publication; she would recite the poems to entertain her listeners, and thus brought attention to her talents.
She read Stephen Duck's The Thresher's Labour (1730) and in response to his apparent disdain for labouring-class women, wrote the 246-line poem for which she is mainly remembered, The Woman's Labour: an Epistle to Mr Stephen Duck. In this piece she catalogues the daily tasks of a working woman, both outside the home and, at the end of the day, within the home as well:
- You sup, and go to Bed without delay,
- And rest yourselves till the ensuing Day;
- While we, alas! but little Sleep can have... (111-113)
Collier is an important figure in the self-taught, laboring-class tradition in eighteenth-century poetry, a tradition which also includes Duck, as well as Ann Yearsley and Mary Leapor. Collier, Duck, and similar working-class poets from rural Great Britain were responding in part to the economic upheaval in the countryside, brought about by the enclosures of agricultural land and growing unemployment. Duck's depiction of female labourers as lazy and feckless characters in particular infuriated Collier, during a period when women field labourers often lost out to men in tight employment markets in the countryside.
Collier worked as a washer-woman until she was sixty-three. She continued working for seven more years until, in poor health, she retired at age seventy and died shortly thereafter.
- The Woman's Labour: an Epistle to Mr Stephen Duck (1739)
- Poems on Several Occasions (1762)
- The Poems of Mary Collier (1765)
- Jones, William R. “Collier, Mary (1688?–1762).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 14 Nov 2008.
- Todd, Janet, ed. "Collier, Mary (fl. 1740–1760)." A dictionary of British and American women writers, 1660–1800. Rowman & Littlefield, 1987.