A Vindication of the Rights of Woman | Study Guide

Mary Wollstonecraft

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A Vindication of the Rights of Woman | Key Figures

Key Figure Description
Mary Wollstonecraft Wollstonecraft was the author of several publications, including A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Read More
Baroness de Stael Baroness de Stael was an author who was also known for hosting literary salons where great thinkers might meet and discuss the issues of the day. She was far less critical of Rousseau than Wollstonecraft could accept.
Lord Chesterfield Lord Chesterfield wrote letters that served as advice to a well-bred young man as he grows up. The letters were extremely popular, but they were criticized by Wollstonecraft and other intellectuals of the day.
Mrs. Hester Chapone Mrs. Hester Chapone wrote one of the most popular advice books on good conduct for young ladies in the late 18th century. Surprisingly, her book put great emphasis on girls learning some science and reading history and literature. Wollstonecraft praises Chapone as "worthy of respect."
Dr. James Fordyce James Fordyce was a Scottish minister, and his ideas about women alternate between praising their beauty and encouraging them to be "meek" and emotionally sensitive. Fordyce's Sermons, a two-volume collection of his sermons, was almost 30 years old at the time Wollstonecraft was writing, but it was still immensely popular.
Comtesse de Genlis The Comtesse de Genlis wrote about educational issues, but Wollstonecraft strongly disagreed with her ideas.
Dr. Gregory Dr. Gregory was a physician who wrote advice to his daughters on how to live their lives. Much of Gregory's advice was quite predictable for its time, but Wollstonecraft vehemently disagreed with it.
John Locke John Locke was an Enlightenment philosopher whose ideas helped inspire the American Revolution and the Glorious Revolution in England. Locke emphasized the idea of a "social contract," which argued that governments draw their power from the consent of the governed. Wollstonecraft embraced many of Locke's ideas.
Catharine Macaulay Catharine Macaulay was a female historian who also wrote about education. Wollstonecraft greatly admired Macaulay's writings and was disappointed Macaulay died before the publication of Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
John Milton John Milton was an extremely famous English writer of the 17th century, best known for writing "Paradise Lost," arguably one of the greatest epic poems ever written. Wollstonecraft repeatedly cites Milton in Vindication of the Rights of Woman, although she disagrees with his views on women.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau Rousseau was a controversial and highly influential French Enlightenment philosopher who wrote on many topics including education, but Wollstonecraft is especially critical of his stance regarding women's education.
Adam Smith To a modern reader, Adam Smith is best known for The Wealth of Nations, but in his time he was known more as a philosopher than an economist. Wollstonecraft quotes from his Theory of Moral Sentiments to support some of her own arguments and to demonstrate her broad knowledge of other writers.
Jonathan Swift Dean Jonathan Swift, writer and intellectual, is perhaps best known to modern readers as the author of Gulliver's Travels and his satirical pamphlet, "A Modest Proposal," suggesting Irish children be sold as food to ease Ireland's economic troubles.
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord Wollstonecraft begins Vindication of the Rights of Woman with a note to M. Talleyrand, who was a French statesman and a former bishop. Talleyrand spoke forcefully about equality during the French Revolution, but his ideas did not necessarily include equality for women.
General George Washington The leader of the American Army during the Revolutionary War and the first president of the United States, Wollstonecraft uses General George Washington as an example of her definition of personal modesty.
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