In her short life Mary Wollstonecraft, who was born in 1759 in Spitalfields and lived around Newington Green and Hoxton, made a huge impact: fighting for human rights before the term even existed.
The writer and philosopher attended the radical Newington Green Unitarian Church, which was frequented by America’s founding fathers Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine.
Her most famous work ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women’ was the first book written in English which argued for equality for men and women. She stated women were not inferior to men, but simply appeared so because they lacked access to education. She simply sought equality, stating: “I do not wish (women) to have power over men, but over themselves.”
A century before the suffragette movement, Mary proposed that women have representation in Parliament and that boys and girls be educated together at state expense.
Today, more than 80 female politicians, academics and public figures are calling for a statue at Newington Green to honour her. With 90% of all statues in London of men, they say it would help break the “bronze ceiling” – or lack of women in public art.
The Mary on the Green campaign is trying to raise £200,000 towards the permanent memorial which will recognise Mary’s contribution to women’s rights.
Mary was born into a family that was sliding into poverty – her father was a violent alcoholic and she received only scant schooling. Education, in those days, was only available to the wealthy. But she dragged herself up, eventually becoming a self-sufficient writer.
Aged just 25, she established a girls’ boarding school in Newington Green and began mixing with the intellectual radicals of the day who had all been drawn to the area by Dr Richard Price, Minister at the Unitarian Church.
Her career as a writer began with reviews, translations and children’s books before her internationally-acclaimed human rights work took off. She had two daughters, one with American adventurer and spy Gilbert Imlay, whose infidelity drove her to attempt suicide twice.
Her second daughter was with her husband anarchist and atheist William Godwin and tragically Mary tragically died due to complications from childbirth just a few days later, aged just 38. The baby grew up to become Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.
In the depths of grief, Godwin wrote her first biography and by revealing her unconventional life and loves, he unwittingly ruined her reputation. Historian Horace Walpole later described her as a “hyena in petticoats.”
International Women’s Day takes place this Thursday March 8th, with the title ‘Press for Progress.’ It’s a strong call to motivate friends, colleagues and communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.
Started by the Suffragettes in the early 1900s, the first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911.
East London was at the centre of the struggle for women’s rights – not far from here, in Bow, Sylvia Pankhurst led the East London Federation of the Suffragettes and fought for women’s rights to vote. Yet 150 years before that Stoke Newington’s Mary Wollstonecraft took monumental steps towards the ongoing quest for gender equality. Having a statue as a permanent reminder of her contribution would be wonderful and so inspiring.”
To help make Mary’s statue a reality, visit www.maryonthegreen.org
I do not wish (women) to have power over men, but over themselves.
Posted 8th March 2018
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