Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) may be better known today as the mother of Mary Shelley (author of "Frankenstein" and wife of the revolutionary philosopher William Godwin. In her own day, however, she was famous – or perhaps notorious – as a radical feminist.
She lived in a period when revolutionary theories were gaining currency. The class system, the distribution of wealth and the belief in an unchanging God-given "natural order" and "human nature" were all being questioned. However, hardly anyone thought to question the subordination of women until Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" was published in 1792. The book provoked fury with its claims –commonplace today – that girls are as capable of benefiting from education as boys, that much of what we call "femininity" is socially learned behaviour, not natural, and that women should be allowed to participate fully in economic and political life.
It was many years before any of Mary Wollstonecraft's theories would be acted on, but she undoubtedly helped to lay the foundations for the notion of equality of opportunity for all, which is now taken for granted.