Timeline of Mary Wollstonecraft

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The lifetime of British writer, philosopher, and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797) encompassed most of the second half of the eighteenth century, a time of great political and social upheaval throughout Europe and America: political reform movements in Britain gained strength, the American colonists successfully rebelled, and the French revolution erupted. Wollstonecraft experienced only the headiest of these days, not living to see the end of the democratic revolution when Napoleon crowned himself emperor. Although Britain was still revelling in its mid-century imperial conquests and its triumph in the Seven Years' War, it was the French revolution that defined Wollstonecraft's generation. As poet Robert Southey later wrote: "few persons but those who have lived in it can conceive or comprehend what the memory of the French Revolution was, nor what a visionary world seemed to open upon those who were just entering it. Old things seemed passing away, and nothing was dreamt of but the regeneration of the human race."[1]

Part of what made reform possible in Britain in the second half of the eighteenth century was the dramatic increase in publishing; books, periodicals, and pamphlets became much more widely available than they had been just a few decades earlier.[2] This increase in available printed material helped facilitate the rise of the British middle class. Reacting against what they viewed as aristocratic decadence, the new professional middle classes (made prosperous through British manufacturing and trade), offered their own ethical code: reason, meritocracy, self-reliance, religious toleration, free inquiry, free enterprise, and hard work.[3] They set these values against what they perceived as the superstition and unreason of the poor and the prejudices, censorship, and self-indulgence of the rich. They also helped establish what has come to be called the "cult of domesticity", which solidified gender roles for men and women.[4] This new vision of society rested on the writings of Scottish Enlightenment philosophers such as Adam Smith, who had developed a theory of social progress founded on sympathy and sensibility. A partial critique of the rationalist Enlightenment, these theories promoted a combination of reason and feeling that enabled women to enter the public sphere because of their keen moral sense.[5] Wollstonecraft's writings stand at the nexus of all of these changes. Her educational works, such as her children's book Original Stories from Real Life (1788), helped inculcate middle-class values, and her two Vindications, A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790) and A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), argue for the value of an educated, rational populace, specifically one that includes women. In her two novels, Mary: A Fiction and Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman, she explores the ramifications of sensibility for women.

The end of the eighteenth century was a time of great hope for progressive reformers such as Wollstonecraft. Like the revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine and others, Wollstonecraft was not content to remain on the sidelines. She sought out intellectual debate at the home of her publisher Joseph Johnson, who gathered leading thinkers and artists for weekly dinners,[6] and she traveled extensively, first to be a part of the French revolution and later to seek a lost treasure ship for her lover in what was then exotic Scandinavia, turning her journey into a travel book, Letters Written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. After two complicated and heart-rending affairs with the artist Henry Fuseli and the American adventurer Gilbert Imlay (with whom she had an illegitimate daughter, Fanny Imlay), Wollstonecraft married the philosopher William Godwin, one of the forefathers of the anarchist movement.[7] Together, they had one daughter: Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. Wollstonecraft died at the age of 38 due to complications from this birth, leaving behind several unfinished manuscripts.[8] Today, she is most often remembered for her political treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and is considered a foundational feminist philosopher.[9]



Year Wollstonecraft Literature History
  • Marriage of Edward John Wollstonecraft (born 1736) and Elizabeth Dickson (born c. 1740) (Wollstonecraft's parents)[10]
  • 3 March – Birth of William Godwin, philosopher and future husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire[11][12]
  • Birth of Edward (Ned) Wollstonecraft (brother to Mary)[10]
A painting of a man standing with his back to the viewer. He is atop a mountain and surrounded by clouds and fog. He is dressed in black and contrasts sharply with the whites, pinks, and blues of the atmosphere. In the distance outcroppings of rocks can be seen.


Year Wollstonecraft Literature History
Man dressed in elaborate gold, white, and black coronation robes made of satin and fur.
  • Birth of Henry Woodstock Wollstonecraft (brother to Mary)[10]
Title page reads "Émile, ou de L'Education. Par J. J. Rousseau, Citoyen de Genève....Tome Premier. A La Haye, Chez jean Neaulme, Libraire. M.DCC.LXII...."
  • Birth of Elizabeth (Eliza) Wollstonecraft (sister to Mary)[10]
  • The Wollstonecraft family moves to Epping Forest[17]
  • Birth of Everina (Averina) Wollstonecraft (sister to Mary)[10]
  • The Wollstonecraft family moves to Barking[17]
A charitable couple giving money to a poor monk.


Year Wollstonecraft Literature History
  • Birth of Charles Wollstonecraft (brother to Mary)[10]
  • The Wollstonecraft family moves to Hoxton[15]
  • Wollstonecraft meets Mr. and Mrs. Clare, who provide a second home for her and educate her[15]
  • Through the Clares, Wollstonecraft first meets Fanny Blood, for whom she will develop deep feelings[15]
Half-length portrait of a man with a short gray wig and curls over both ears. His cream-colored jacket is decorated with medals and a light blue sash.
Half-length profile portrait of a woman wearing a bonnet


Year Wollstonecraft Literature History
  • Wollstonecraft's parents and younger siblings move to Enfield[17]
  • Autumn – Wollstonecraft returns home to nurse her ill mother[15][19]
  • 19 April – Wollstonecraft's mother dies[10]
  • Wollstonecraft's father remarries and moves to Wales[15]
  • Wollstonecraft moves to Walham Green to live with Fanny Blood and her family[15]
  • 20 October – Eliza, Wollstonecraft's sister, marries Meredith Bishop[15][20]
Half-length portrait of a woman looking left and away from the viewer. The painting is done in a palette of browns. Her hat, with its elaborate bow, dominates the top third of the painting. She is wearing a cream-colored dress with a rose-colored bow on the front of the bosom.
Picture of a model of a hot air balloon, which has a blue background and is decorated with gold.
Quarter-length portrait of a man wearing minister's clothes and a wig.
  • At the instigation of Wollstonecraft, Eliza leaves her husband and child (who dies later in the year)[15]
  • Wollstonecraft's school moves from Islington to Newington Green; Eliza, Everina, and Fanny help teach[15]
  • Wollstonecraft becomes friends with the minister Richard Price (pictured)[15]
  • Wollstonecraft meets author Samuel Johnson[15]
  • February – Fanny Blood marries Hugh Skeys in Lisbon[10]
  • Wollstonecraft travels to Lisbon[10]
  • November – Fanny gives birth to a child and dies shortly thereafter[10]
  • December – Wollstonecraft returns to London[10]
Page reads "THOUGHTS ON THE EDUCATION OF DAUGHTERS. THE NURSERY. As I conceive it to be the duty of every rational creature to attend to its offspring, I am sorry to observe, that reason and duty together have not so powerful an influence over human"
  • Publication of Wollstonecraft's anthology, The Female Reader, by Johnson (published under the pseudonym of Mr. Cresswick)[15]
  • Wollstonecraft becomes romantically involved with the artist and writer Henry Fuseli[17]
On the left-hand side of the painting, a building with towers is being attacked and is bathed in flames. On the right-hand side, black smoke billows around. At the base of the piece, small people are fighting and destroying the building brick by brick.


Year Wollstonecraft Literature History
Title page reads "A Vindication of the Rights of Men, in a Letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; Occasioned by His Reflections on the Revolution in France. By Mary Wollstonecraft. The Second Edition. London: Printed for J. Johnson, No. 72, St. Paul's Church-Yard. M.DCC.XC."
  • Publication of Wollstonecraft's translation of Maria Geertruida van de Werken de Cambon's Young Grandison by Johnson[10]
  • Publication of Wollstonecraft's translation of Christian Gotthilf Salzmann's Elements of Morality, for the Use of Children, illustrated by William Blake, by Johnson[10]
  • 29 November – Publication of the first edition Wollstonecraft's treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Men by Johnson (anonymous)[15]
  • 18 December – Publication of the second edition of A Vindication of the Rights of Men, with Wollstonecraft's name on the title page, by Johnson (pictured)[15]
  • Wollstonecraft temporarily adopts Ann, a seven-year-old relative of Hugh Skeys (Fanny Blood's husband)[10]
Half=length portrait of a man turned towards the left and looking inquiringly out towards the viewer. He is wearing a dark red velvet jacket and a white shirt and there are papers next to him.
Title page reads "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects. By Mary Wollstonecraft. London: Printed for J. Johnson, No. 72, St. Paul's church-Yard. 1792."
  • Wollstonecraft meets and falls in love with American adventurer Gilbert Imlay in France[10]
  • Wollstonecraft registers as Imlay's wife at the United States embassy in France for protection during the Reign of Terror[10]
  • June – Wollstonecraft moves from Paris to Neuilly to escape the revolutionary violence[15]
  • September – Wollstonecraft, now pregnant, returns to Paris[15]
Three-quarter length portrait of a woman holding a book on a green velvet pillow. She is wearing a red and gold velvet dress adorned with a thin, white organza around the bosom and a gray wig, also adorned by thin, white material.
  • January – Wollstonecraft moves to Le Havre, France[15]
  • 14 May – Birth of Wollstonecraft and Imlay's daughter, Fanny Imlay, in Le Havre[10]
  • Imlay returns to England, leaving Wollstonecraft and their daughter alone[15]
  • December – Publication of Wollstonecraft's An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution in London[15]
  • April – Wollstonecraft returns to London to join Imlay and learns of his infidelity[15]
  • May – Wollstonecraft's first suicide attempt; she is saved by Imlay[15]
  • June–September – Wollstonecraft journeys to Scandinavia on business for Imlay[10]
  • October – Wollstonecraft's second suicide attempt; she jumps off Putney Bridge into the River Thames and is saved by strangers[15]
Oil painting of a woman sitting in a striped chair. She is wearing a dark-colored dress, with a shawl, contrasted with her tight, white cap and collar. Next to her is a table with writing instruments.
Left-looking portrait of a slightly pregnant woman in a white dress
  • John Opie paints Wollstonecraft's portrait (at right)[15]
  • 29 March – Wollstonecraft and Godwin marry; they lose friends because it is revealed that Wollstonecraft was never married to Imlay[15]
  • 30 August – Birth of Wollstonecraft and Godwin's daughter, Mary Shelley, future author of Frankenstein[10]
  • 10 September – Death of Mary Wollstonecraft from complications in childbirth[10]
Half-length profile portrait of a man. His dark clothing blends into the background and his white face is in stark contrast.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Southey, Robert. The Correspondence of Robert Southey with Caroline Bowles, ed. Edward Dowden. Norton Anthology of English Literature: Norton Topics Online. Retrieved 27 August 2007.
  2. ^ Kelly, Gary. English Fiction of the Romantic Period, 1789–1830. London: Longman (1989), 2.
  3. ^ Kelly, 10.
  4. ^ Kelly, 10-11.
  5. ^ Kelly, 13.
  6. ^ Todd, Janet. Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (2000), 152-53
  7. ^ Todd, 417ff.
  8. ^ Todd, 452ff.
  9. ^ Kaplan, Cora. "Mary Wollstonecraft's reception and legacies". The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. Ed. Claudia L. Johnson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2002).
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am "Mary Wollstonecraft: A Brief Chronology". The Vindications: The Rights of Men and The Rights of Woman. Eds. D. L. Macdonald and Kathleen Sherf. Peterborough: Broadview Press (1997).
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb Lynch, Jack. Eighteenth–century Chronology. Retrieved 5 August 2007.
  12. ^ "William Godwin: A Brief Chronology". Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Eds. Pamela Clemit and Gina Luria Walker. Peterborough: Broadview Press (2001).
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Timeline". The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century. 7th ed. New York: W. W. Norton and Co. (2000).
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa BBC British History Timeline. Retrieved 5 August 2007.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at "Mary Wollstonecraft: A Brief Chronology". The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft. Ed. Claudia L. Johnson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2002).
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z Mandell, Laura; Alan Liu (5 August 2007). "Romantic Chronology". Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f Taylor, Barbara. "Chronology". Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2003).
  18. ^ Todd, 8.
  19. ^ Todd, 39.
  20. ^ Todd, 43.
  21. ^ Balloons (1700–1900). ALLSTAR. Retrieved 6 August 2007.
  22. ^ Todd, 79.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Kelly, Gary. "Chronology". English Fiction of the Romantic Period, 1789–1830. London: Longman (1989).
  24. ^ Declaration of the Rights of Man. Avalon Project at Yale Law School. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  25. ^ Todd, 155.
  26. ^ Todd, 266a.
  27. ^ "French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 6 August 2007.