Hays, Mary

BORN 13 Oct 1759, London: Southwark - DIED 1843, London
GRAVE LOCATION London: Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington Church Street, Stoke Newington (Square 80 No 406 (Section L07))

Mary Hays was born in 1760 to a family of Dissenters in Southwark (near London). In 1777 she fell in love with John Eccles, a young man living in the neighbourhood. Initially both families were against their relationship, but they held on and in 1780 they were finally engaged. Disaster struck when Eccles died of a fever on 23 Aug 1780, just a week before they would be married.

Mary would remain unmarried for her entire life. After reading "Vindication to the Rights of Women" she had written an admiring letter to its author, Mary Wollstonecraft. They first met at Hays' request in 1792 and Mary Hays became a convinced feminist in the footsteps of her great example. She asked Mary Wollstocraft for comments on her book "Letters and Essays" before it was published in 1793.

She also befriended William Godwin, who acted as her mentor. Godwin and Wollstonecraft had met once before at Dr. Johnson's house and didn't get along well, but when they met again at Mary Hays' house things went different: Mary Wollstonecraft got pregnant and married Godwin in 1797.

Mary Hays' first novel "Memoirs of Emma Courtney" (1796) was about her love for the mathematician William Frend and Godwin also appeared in it. Frend had brought some romance back into her life, but when she tried to hook him he finally rejected her. Mary Hays claimed that women should be allowed to propose marriage as well as men, but she had the personal problem that she wasn't looking very attractive.

In 1797 she published "Appeal to the Men of Great Britain on Behalf of Women" and in the same year she sat at Mary Wollstonecraft's deathbed and afterwards wrote an obituary for the liberal Monthly Magazine. In 1798 the Monthly Magazine stated that she started a large project in the field of female biography that went against Mary Wollstonecraft's opinion that exceptional women shouldn't receive special attention.

In 1799 her second novel was published, "The Victim of Prejudice". Supporters of the French Revolution as well as feminists were very unpopular in England around 1800 and she was caricatured by others. Her radicalism seemed to decrease and in 1803 she published "Female Biography; or Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women, of all Ages and Countries", which had taken her several years to complete. Mary Wollstonecraft was not included, possibly because of the violent reaction of the public to Godwin's written memoir of his deceased wife and officially because she had already written her obituary for Monthly Magazine.

Her later novels, like "Harry Clinton: A Tale for Youth" (1804), were less successful and she became increasingly influenced by evangelical movements. She was over sixty when she wrote her last work, "Memoirs of Queens, Illustrious and Celebrated". In the last twenty years of her life the world seemed to have forgotten about her and she died in 1843.

She was buried on 25 Feb 1843 at Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington, London, where over 160 years later her grave still existed and could be located with the assistance of the cemetery staff.

Related persons
• knew Blake, William
• was a friend of Godwin, William
• visited Johnson, Joseph
• knew Lamb, Charles
• was a friend of Wollstonecraft, Mary

8/1/1796Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin meet at the house of Mary Hays [Godwin, William][Wollstonecraft, Mary]


The grave of Mary Hays at Abney Park Cemetery, London.
Picture by Androom (28 May 2004)


The grave of Mary Hays at Abney Park Cemetery, London.
Picture by Androom (28 May 2004)


The grave of Mary Hays at Abney Park Cemetery, London.
Picture by Androom (28 May 2004)


• Todd, Janet (ed.), Dictionary of British Woman Writers, Routledge, London, 1989
'Sewing in the Next World': Mary Hays as Dissenti… – Romanticism on the Net – Érudit
Literary Encyclopedia — Mary Hays

Hazon, Rita

Published: 01 Jan 2006
Last update: 25 Dec 2021