A Vindication of the Rights of Woman | Study Guide

Mary Wollstonecraft

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A Vindication of the Rights of Woman | Chapter 10 : Parental Affection | Summary



  • Wollstonecraft says many parents "love their children in the most brutal manner" and "sacrifice every relative duty to promote" their children's advancement in the world, yet they create bitterness in their children "by the most despotic stretch of power." She insists "parental affection ... is but a pretext to tyrannize where it can be done with impunity." This apparently is in reference to fathers because she claims a woman "either neglects her children or spoils them by improper indulgence."
  • Wollstonecraft suggests the duty of caring for infants and small children could "afford many forcible arguments for strengthening the female understanding." She argues that "a woman must have sense, and that independence of mind which few women possess" to be a good mother.
  • She criticizes women who do not nurse their own children because "this duty is calculated to inspire maternal and filial affection." Wollstonecraft argues a child can be a "pledge of affection" between husband and wife, naturally maintaining those ties when the passionate love between them has changed to friendship. However, she says, the "pledge of affection" only holds if the parents get involved in raising the child.


At the time she wrote this, Wollstonecraft had no children of her own. Her analysis is based, therefore, on her own experiences as a child and on observations of parents of her former students. Her personal experiences were difficult. Her father was reportedly abusive and wasted the family's money. Wollstonecraft received a haphazard education, but she needed to support herself after her mother's death. She may be thinking of her father when she speaks of the parental inclination to "tyrannize" children.

To Wollstonecraft, duty was particularly important and a mother's duty is to her children. Yet Wollstonecraft would not excuse mothers from the need to pursue an education. She argues a well-educated woman will be a better mother. Many present-day health advocates argue for improving educational access for girls in developing nations because increasing and improving girls' education benefits the overall health of a nation in multiple ways, including reduced rates of maternal and child death and the general improvement of children's health. Wollstonecraft was right, but it would be many years before research studies provided proof for her theses.

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