7 Best Mary Wollstonecraft Books (Feminism & Women’s Rights)

If you’re interested in feminist theory and literature, Mary Wollstonecraft is a name that should be on your reading list. A pioneer in the field of women’s rights and one of the most influential figures of the Enlightenment era, Wollstonecraft’s works are still relevant today. In this article, we’ll explore the best Mary Wollstonecraft books to read, from her well-known classics to her lesser-known works.

7 Best Mary Wollstonecraft Books (Feminism & Women’s Rights)

A Brief Introduction to Mary Wollstonecraft

To fully appreciate Wollstonecraft’s writing, it’s important to understand who she was and the impact she had on literature and feminism. Mary Wollstonecraft was born in London in 1759 and was a writer, philosopher, and advocate for women’s rights.

Wollstonecraft’s childhood was not an easy one. Her father was a violent alcoholic and her mother was often too sick to care for her children. Despite this, Wollstonecraft was determined to receive an education. She attended school as a young girl and later became a governess, which allowed her to continue her own studies.

Who was Mary Wollstonecraft?

Wollstonecraft was a woman ahead of her time. She believed in the equality of the sexes and argued that women deserved the same rights and freedoms as men. Her most significant work, “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” was published in 1792 and is still considered a cornerstone of feminist philosophy.

In addition to her advocacy for women’s rights, Wollstonecraft was also a proponent of education reform. She believed that education should be available to all, regardless of gender or social class. Her ideas on education were revolutionary and helped pave the way for the establishment of public schools in England.

The Impact of Wollstonecraft’s Work on Feminism and Literature

Wollstonecraft’s writing challenged the traditional gender roles of the era and paved the way for future feminist movements. She influenced many writers and activists in her time, including her daughter Mary Shelley, author of “Frankenstein.”

Wollstonecraft’s work also had a significant impact on literature, with her ideas and themes appearing in many novels of the Romantic and Victorian eras. Her belief in the importance of education can be seen in the works of authors such as Jane Austen, who often wrote about the struggles of women who were denied an education.

Overall, Mary Wollstonecraft’s legacy is one of empowerment and progress. Her ideas and writing continue to inspire women and men around the world to fight for equality and justice.

Top Mary Wollstonecraft Books to Start With

If you’re new to Wollstonecraft’s writing, these are the books to start with:

“A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”

Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Wollstonecraft’s most famous work, “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” is a must-read for anyone interested in feminist theory. In it, she argues that women should have the same access to education and opportunities as men. Wollstonecraft’s groundbreaking ideas on gender equality and the education of women were considered radical during her time, and this book remains a seminal work in the history of feminist thought.

“A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” is not only a powerful call to action for women, but it is also a critique of the societal norms that limit women’s potential. Wollstonecraft argues that women are not inherently inferior to men, but rather, they are denied the same opportunities for education and intellectual development. She believes that if women were given the same opportunities as men, they would be able to achieve the same level of success and contribute just as much to society.

“Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman”

Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman

A novel that explores the consequences of a woman’s confinement in a mental institution, “Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman” is a powerful commentary on the treatment of women during Wollstonecraft’s time. The novel tells the story of Maria, a woman who is wrongfully imprisoned in a mental institution by her husband. Through Maria’s experiences, Wollstonecraft exposes the injustices faced by women in the 18th century, including the lack of legal rights and the societal expectations that forced women into subservient roles.

“Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman” is not only a critique of the treatment of women in mental institutions, but it is also a commentary on the broader societal issues that contributed to the oppression of women. Wollstonecraft uses Maria’s story to highlight the importance of women’s autonomy and agency and to argue that women should be able to make their own choices about their lives and their bodies.

“Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark”

Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (Cosimo Classics. Travel & Exploration)

A travelogue that chronicles Wollstonecraft’s journey through Scandinavia, “Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark” offers a fascinating insight into the cultural and social practices of the region. In her letters, Wollstonecraft reflects on the natural beauty of the landscape, the customs and traditions of the people she meets, and her observations on the political and social climate of the region.

Wollstonecraft’s travelogue is more than just a description of her travels; it is also a reflection on the broader themes of human nature and society. She uses her observations of the Scandinavian people to argue that societal norms and expectations are not universal, but rather, they are shaped by cultural and historical factors. Wollstonecraft’s insights into the diversity of human experience and the importance of cultural understanding remain relevant today.

Exploring Wollstonecraft’s Lesser-Known Works

While Wollstonecraft’s most famous works, such as “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” are essential reading for anyone interested in feminist theory and gender equality, her lesser-known works also offer valuable insights into her ideas and beliefs. Here are some to consider:

Thoughts on the Education of Daughters

Thoughts on the Education of Daughters

As a strong advocate for women’s education, Wollstonecraft penned several works on the subject. “Thoughts on the Education of Daughters” offers practical advice on how to nurture a girl’s mind and character. In this work, Wollstonecraft emphasizes the importance of education that goes beyond mere “accomplishments” such as music and embroidery and instead focuses on developing a woman’s intellect and critical thinking skills. She argues that women should be educated as rigorously as men and that this education should include a broad range of subjects, including science, philosophy, and politics.

“The Female Reader”

The Female Reader: Or Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose and Verse; Selected from the Best Writers, and Disposed Under Proper Heads; For the Improvement of Young Women:

Published in 1789, “The Female Reader” is a collection of essays and extracts written by women, including Wollstonecraft herself. The book challenges the idea that women’s reading should be limited to certain genres and authors. Wollstonecraft argues that women should be free to read widely and critically and that they should have access to the same intellectual resources as men. She also critiques the idea that women’s reading should be purely for entertainment, arguing that reading can be a powerful tool for personal growth and social change.

“Original Stories from Real Life”

Original Stories from Real Life

Written for children, “Original Stories from Real Life” is a collection of tales that promote moral values and encourage young readers to make ethical choices. Wollstonecraft believed that children’s literature should not only be entertaining, but also instructive and that it should teach children to think critically about the world around them. The stories in this collection deal with themes such as honesty, kindness, and social justice, and they encourage children to question unfair social norms and stand up for what they believe in.

Overall, Wollstonecraft’s lesser-known works offer a fascinating glimpse into her intellectual and moral worldview. They demonstrate her commitment to gender equality, her belief in the power of education and reading, and her vision of a more just and equitable society.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s Influence on Other Authors and Feminists

Wollstonecraft’s ideas and writing have had a lasting impact on feminism and literature. Her legacy is undeniable, and her influence can be seen in many areas of contemporary thought. Here are some of the ways her influence can be seen today:

The Legacy of Wollstonecraft’s Ideas

Wollstonecraft’s belief in the equality of the sexes is still relevant today, with many feminist movements continuing to draw on her work and ideas. Her groundbreaking work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, challenged the prevailing ideas of her time and opened up new avenues of thought for future generations. Her ideas about the importance of education for women and the need for women to have equal rights with men in all areas of life were radical for her time, but they continue to inspire people today.

One of the most significant ways in which Wollstonecraft’s ideas have influenced contemporary thought is in the area of gender identity. Her work challenged the traditional roles assigned to men and women and paved the way for a more fluid understanding of gender. Today, many people identify as non-binary or genderqueer, and Wollstonecraft’s ideas about the social construction of gender have played a significant role in this shift.

Contemporary Feminist Writers Inspired by Wollstonecraft

Wollstonecraft’s influence can be seen in the work of many contemporary feminist writers. Bell Hooks, for example, has cited Wollstonecraft as a significant influence on her work. Hooks, like Wollstonecraft, is interested in exploring the intersections of race, gender, and class and has written extensively on these topics.

Angela Davis, another prominent feminist writer, and activist, has also been influenced by Wollstonecraft. Davis’s work on the prison-industrial complex and the intersection of race and gender owes a debt to Wollstonecraft’s ideas about the importance of education and the need for women to have equal rights with men.

Rebecca Solnit, a writer, and activist known for her work on environmental issues and social justice, has also been inspired by Wollstonecraft. Solnit’s writing often explores the ways in which power is distributed in society, and she has cited Wollstonecraft’s work as an important precursor to her own.

Overall, Wollstonecraft’s influence on contemporary feminist thought and writing cannot be overstated. Her ideas and legacy continue to inspire people around the world, and her work remains as relevant today as it was when it was first published.

Further Reading and Resources on Mary Wollstonecraft

If you want to learn more about Mary Wollstonecraft, there are many biographies and critical studies available, as well as a wealth of online resources and archives. Here are some to consider:

Biographies and Critical Studies

Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life

“Mary Wollstonecraft: “A Revolutionary Life” by Janet Todd and “Mary Wollstonecraft: A Literary Life” by J. Todd and M. Butler are both excellent biographies. For critical studies, try “Romanticism and the Rights of the Negative” by William Keach or “The Cambridge Companion to Mary Wollstonecraft,” edited by Claudia L. Johnson.

Online Resources and Archives

The Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Chronology and Resource Site and The Mary Wollstonecraft Project are two excellent resources for further reading and research.


Whether you want to explore Wollstonecraft’s ground-breaking feminist theory or immerse yourself in her literary works, there’s plenty to discover in her writing. We hope this article has helped you discover the best Mary Wollstonecraft books to read and inspired you to explore her legacy further.


How old was Mary Wollstonecraft when she wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women?

Wollstonecraft was thirty-three when she authored A Vindication of the Rights of Women and created what is broadly believed to be the first piece of feminist literature. She died five years later.

Did Mary Wollstonecraft write fiction or nonfiction?

Wollstonecraft wrote both fiction and nonfiction pieces. Her most famous novel, Maria: Or the Wrongs of Woman, explores many of the same arguments that she outlined in A Vindication …, but does so in narrative form.

Who is Mary Wollstonecraft’s daughter?

Wollstonecraft is the mother of Mary Shelley, who authored Frankenstein and is credited with creating the science fiction genre.

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Eddison Monroe
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