Wollstonecraft, Mary

BORN 27 Apr 1759, London: Primrose Street, Spitalfields - DIED 10 Sep 1797, London: 29 the Polygon, Somers Town
CAUSE OF DEATH childbirth (infection causing puerperal fever)
GRAVE LOCATION Bournemouth, Dorset: St. Peter's Churchyard

Mary Wollstonecraft was the second of the seven childtren of Edward John Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Dickson. In her Youth she lived at Epping and at Beverley, Yorkshire, where she met Jane Arden, with whom she developed a passionate friendship. The family moved to London, Wales and once more London. In 1784 she set up a school at Newington Green, a dissenting community. together with her sister Eliza and her friend Fanny Blood. Fanny health detoriated after she became pregnant and Mary left the school to nurse her in 1785. But Fanny died in November, 1785. After the school closed in 1786 Mary worked as a governess for the Kingsborough family at at Mitchelstown, Ireland. Fanny's death was an inspiration for her first novel "Mary: A Fiction" (1788).

After her dismissal by the Kingsborough family, in 1787 publisher Joseph Johnson gave her work as a translator and from then on she lived from her pen and worked mostly for him.

In France she witnessed the French Revolution in 1789 and she developed a feminist way of thinking. In 1792 she published her "A Vindication to the Rights of Woman" (In 1791 Thomas Paine had published his "Rights of Man").

She had a child, Fanny, by the American Gilbert Imlay. In May 1795 she tried to kill herself, possibly because she had discovered that Imlay had an affair with another woman. In June 1795 she travelled to Scandinavia, where she stayed for a few months. Back in London she tried to take her life again by jumping from Putney Bridge into the Thames in Oct 1795. She was rescued by two watermen after she had lost conciousness.

Mary had first met the filosopher William Godwin in 1791 at Johnson's and in they met 1796 again at Mary Hays'. Her relationship with Imlay had ended by now and she visited Godwin alone on 14 April 1796. In August they became lovers and after she became pregnant Godwin married her, although he had been opposed to marriage all his life. She gave birth to their daughter Mary (of later Frankenstein fame), but the mother died ten days later of an infection caused by the unhygienic pratices that were common during childbirth in those days.

Mary Wollstonecraft was buried at St. Pancras' Churchyard in London (where she had been married only five months before) and it was at her grave that her daughter Mary declared her love to Percy Bysshe Shelley on 26 June 1814. Godwin was buried there too in 1836, but their remains where moved to Bournemouth when St. Pancras' Churchyard was broken up for the railroad to St. Pancras' Station, but her tombstone can still be seen in the remaining part of the old cemetery.

After her death William Godwin published a "Memoir" (1798) of her life, revealing how unorthodox it had been. This destroyed her reputation for a long time, until her ideas of equality between man and woman were picked by the feminist movement around 1900.

• Daughter: Shelley, Mary
• Daughter: Imlay, Fanny
• Husband: Godwin, William (1797-1797, London: St. Pancras Church)

Related persons
• had work illustrated by Blake, William
• was a friend of Hays, Mary
• was a friend of Johnson, Joseph
• has a connection with King, Margaret, Lady Mount Cashell
• was a friend of Price, Richard
• has a connection with Siddons, Sarah
• has a connection with Williams, Helen Maria

13/4/1791First meeting between Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. They met at the house of Joseph Johnson, Mary's publisher, who was hosting a dinner for Thomas Paine. They didn't like each other at this occasion and didn't see each other for several years afterwards. [Godwin, William][Johnson, Joseph]
0/1/1792Publication of "A Vindication to the Rights of Woman" by Mary Wollstonecraft. It was written in 1791 and published early in 1792 by Joseph Johnson. [Johnson, Joseph]
0/5/1795First suicide attempt of Mary Wollstonecraft. She swallowed laudanum. The possible reason was the discovery that her partner Gilbert Imlay was unfaithful. 
21/6/1795Mary Wollstonecraft leaves for Scandinavia 
0/9/1795Mary Wollstonecraft returns from Scandinavia to London 
0/10/1795Second suicide attempt of Mary Wollstonecraft by jumping into the river Thames. She walked to the Thames near Battersea Bridge. When she saw how many people were walking there she hired a boat and rowed down the river. It was raining heavily and soon she was completely wet. Near Putney she left the boat and jumped from Putney Bridge. She lost consciousness in the water, but she was recued by two watermen. Later she told how much pain she had felt when the water entered her lungs. 
8/1/1796Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin meet at the house of Mary Hays [Godwin, William][Hays, Mary]
0/2/1796Mary Wollstonecraft completely ends her relation with Gilbert Imlay 
0/3/1796Publication of "Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark" by Mary Wollstonecraft  
14/4/1796Mary Wollstonecraft visits William Godwin alone. At the time it was unusual that an unmarried woman visited an unmarried man alone. [Godwin, William]
21/8/1796Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin become lovers. This becomes clear from a secret diary that was kept by Godwin. [Godwin, William]
29/3/1797William Godwin marries Mary Wollstonecraft. At St. Pancras Church in London. [Godwin, William]
10/9/1797Mary Wollstonecraft dies ten days after giving birth. She had given birth to her daughter, the future Mary Shelley, but she died ten days later of childbirth fever. [Shelley, Mary]
15/9/1797Mary Wollstonecraft is buried at St. Pancras' Churchyard. Her widower William Godwin was too upset to attend the funeral. [Godwin, William]
26/6/1814Mary Godwin and Percy Bysshe Shelley declare each other their love. They did so at the tomb of Mary's mother Mary Wollstonecraft. When Mary's father William Godwin heard the news he strongly disagreed. [Shelley, Mary][Shelley, Percy Bysshe]
14/4/1836William Godwin is buried at St. Pancras' Churchyard. He was buried next to Mary Wollstonecraft, who had died in 1797. The ceremony was attended by Percy Florence Shelley (chief mourner), E.J. Trelawny, James Kenney, Thomas Campbell, Dr. Uwins and Mr. Caunter. The Times reported on the funeral on 16 Apr 1836. [Godwin, William][Trelawny, Edward John]


The tombstone of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin at 'Old' St. Pancras Churchyard in London. Their remains were moved to Bournemouth in 1851. The cemetery was largely broken up for the construction of the railroad in 1866.
Picture by Androom (14 Dec 1993)


"Mary Wollstonecraft" by John Opie (National Portrait Gallery, London).


The grave monument for William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft at St. Pancras Old Churchyard, St. Pancras Road, London. Their remains were moved to Bournemouth following the death of Mary Shelley in 1851.
Picture by Androom (28 May 2004)


William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft were married in 1797 at Old St. Pancras Church, St. Pancras Road, London.
Picture by Androom (28 May 2004)


The grave of Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin and Mary Shelley at St. Peter's Churchyard, Bournemouth.
Picture by Androom (18 Jun 2010)


The grave of Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin and Mary Shelley at St. Peter's Churchyard, Bournemouth.
Picture by Androom (18 Jun 2010)


The grave of Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin and Mary Shelley at St. Peter's Churchyard, Bournemouth.
Picture by Androom (18 Jun 2010)


Plaque for Mary Shelley at St. Peter's Church, Bournemouth.
Picture by Androom (18 Jun 2010)


Mary Wollstonecraft is remembered at the People's History Museum in Manchester.
Picture by Androom (08 Nov 2019)


• Bernheim, Cathy, Mary Shelley, Qui Ítes-vous?, La Manufacture, Lyon, 1988
• Crawford, Anne and others, The Europa Biographical Dictionary of British Women, Europa Publications Ltd, London, 1983
• Feldman, Paula R. and Diana Scott-Kilvert, The Journals of Mary Shelley, 1814-1844, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1987
• St Clair, William, The Godwins and the Shelleys, Faber and Faber, London, 1990
• Todd, Janet, Mary Wollstonecraft, A Revolutionary Life, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2000
• Todd, Janet, Death & The Maidens, Fanny Wollstonecraft and The Shelley Circle, Counterpoint, Berkeley, 2007
• Todd, Janet (ed.), The Collected Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft, Columbia University Press, New York
• Tomalin, Claire, The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft, Penguin Books, London, 1992
Mary Wollstonecraft - Wikipedia
William Godwin - Wikipedia

Wolter, Charlotte

Published: 01 Jan 2006
Last update: 25 Apr 2022