Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Regina Hewitt, PhD.

Committee Member

Laura Runge, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Nancy Tyson, Ph.D.


In this thesis I examine A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) by Mary Wollstonecraft and how it reflects the tension between conformity and rebellion that is an inherent component in the life of its author and therefore is a fundamental element of this treatise. In this paper I discuss how the personal struggles of Mary Wollstonecraft, as a woman living in a patriarchal society, influenced her perspective and moved her to address her concerns for her "fellow creatures." This treatise pushed the boundaries of conventional thinking, but it was also written in traditional terms in an effort to appeal to her contemporary audience.

Another aspect of this study is the dichotomy between the public and private sphere that most women of Wollstonecraft's time experienced. This dichotomy is related to the struggle between conformity and rebellion within Wollstonecraft herself, and as Wollstonecraft suggests, is an underlying cause for the wastefulness of women as an important resource within society. Throughout her writing and indeed her life, Wollstonecraft experienced a struggle between the traditional values she grew up with and those she developed in response to her circumstances. This struggle cultivated a tension that became intrinsic to her being and is reflected in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.

Additionally, this study looks at how Wollstonecraft influenced other female figures of her time-specifically Anna Letitia Barbauld. Although Barbauld differed from Wollstonecraft in her ideas relating to women and their role in society as well as their rights to formal education, she was in fact inspired by the fervor with which Mary Wollstonecraft fought to bring her ideas to light.

Finally, the conclusion summarizes the fact that Wollstonecraft concerned herself not only with her career as a writer, but also with the broader implications of such a career for the women of her time. She used the power of her words to open up discussion about women's place within society.