Mother of feminism who had a Barking childhood

THE MOTHER of Feminism and true radical of her time took solace in the nature surrounding her Barking childhood home to escape alcohol-fuelled domestic scenes. Writer, philosopher and world-famous social reformer Mary Wollstonecraft was born 250 years ago

THE MOTHER of Feminism and true radical of her time took solace in the nature surrounding her Barking childhood home to escape alcohol-fuelled domestic scenes.

Writer, philosopher and world-famous social reformer Mary Wollstonecraft was born 250 years ago, on April 27 in 1759 in Spitalfields, London, to a family of merchants and silk weavers of Irish descent.

Her abusive and despotic father haplessly tried to establish himself as a countryside gentleman and moved to Essex with his family when Mary was four.

A year later, they moved again - this time to a road called Whale Bone near Chadwell Heath junction near the Sun and Whalebone public house which father Edward Wollstonecraft might have frequented.


You may also want to watch:


The family moved for a third time in 1765, to a farm near the thriving market town of Barking where Mr Wollstonecraft continued to drown his financial failures in the bottle and let his wife and children bear the brunt of his frustration.

Appalled and depressed by his violence, Mary used to seek recluse in nature, which had a therapeutic effect on her.

Most Read

She gained a kind of spiritual consolation from the 'reveries' she later described when looking up into the sky from the flat, uninhabited land that lay before her, between the farm, the land known as Barking Level and the Marshes south of the river.

Her father, who became Overseer of the Poor for Ripple ward in 1767-68, befriended another London trader who had moved to Barking - Mr Joseph Gascoyne, brother of MP Bamber Gascoyne.

When Mary was nine, the family moved to Yorkshire, and then back to London ten years later.

As her father brought financial ruin upon his family, Mary and her siblings had to seek work.

In the eighteenth century, women barely had any legal rights - a married woman was deemed her husband's property, and a working middle class woman was certain to slide down the social ladder.

Young Mary, however, motivated by an early sense of injustice and by her strong spirit, rejected the traditional role of women in society and did things her way.

She educated herself and worked as a lady's companion, a governess and a writer.

Although reactionary voices were to decry her radical views and to call her a "Hyena in Petticoats" she was a woman of reason and a philosopher.

Her literary legacy is a collection of works including Mary: A Fiction, The Wrongs of Woman and her groundbreaking 1792 publication A Vindication of the Right of Woman, which caused outrage among the political and intellectual elites.

In it, she criticised the educational restrictions that women faced to keep them in "ignorance and slavish independence."

Her observation that women were encouraged to be "docile and attentive to their looks to the exclusion of all else" still rings true in today's celebrity- and beauty-obsessed society.

She bravely travelled to Paris to report on the revolution in 1792 and gave birth to her first daughter, Fanny, in 1794.

When Fanny's father, an American called Gilbert Imlay, left Mary in 1795, Mary attempted suicide but survived.

A year later, she married William Godwin, a radical philosopher in his own right who was to become the forefather of Anarchism.

In 1796, Wollstonecraft returned to her former home in Dagenham with her new husband.

Tragically, she died after the birth of her second daughter, Mary Godwin Wollstonecraft, later Shelley, on September 10 in 1797, at the young age of 38.

It was to take another 65 years or so after Mary's death before the women's suffrage movement was to take off and another 120 years before women would finally get the vote.

Her work was rediscovered in the twentieth century and was championed by the writers and thinkers Virginia Woolf and Emma Goldman.

Godwin Primary School in Finnymore Road, Dagenham, was named in her honour.

The struggle she fought inspired others and led to many victories.

However, even to this day women still face many restrictions and disadvantages on pay, domestic violence and the dilemma to choose between work and children.

Mention of the f-word still brings up jokes and cliches about shaving habits and man-hating motives but Mary's story - and thousands more - show us what Feminism is really about: equality, determination, strength, reason and care.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus