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[Mary Wollstonecraft]
image id: ps_cps_cd6_081

John Keenan (fl. 1791–1815), after John Opie (1761–1807)
[Mary Wollstonecraft]
Oil on canvas, 1804
NYPL, The Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle

What have we inherited from the women whose lives have been illustrated here? Wollstonecraft’s writings and those of her fellow thinkers are, undoubtedly, the most significant legacy. Their authors’ questions and demands—none of which has been permanently or fully answered or won—hold a permanent place in Western collective memory. But theirs is not our only inheritance: both genteel women conducting charitable enterprises, and working-class women supporting the demand for men’s enfranchisement, carved out a wider space for women in public life. The suffragettes of the 1900s, focusing on women’s legal enfranchisement, occupied that space and expanded it further. Only after fundamental legal rights for women had been won in Britain and elsewhere—in areas of life such as voting, property, child custody, employment, and education—did it become possible to return, aided by new educational opportunities and institutions, to the questions that Wollstonecraft posed.

[A]s we read [Mary Wollstonecraft’s] letters and listen to her arguments and consider her experiments, above all that most fruitful experiment, her relation with Godwin, and realise the high-handed and hot-blooded manner in which she cut her way to the quick of life, one form of immortality is hers undoubtedly: she is alive and active, she argues and experiments, we hear her voice and trace her influence even now among the living.
– Virginia Woolf, “Mary Wollstonecraft,” 1929


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