"Freedom, even uncertain freedom, is dear," wrote the author Mary Wollstonecraft in a 1788 letter to her sisters, as she began to eke out a living as a professional writer. "You know I am not born to tread the beaten track."6
Boy, was she right. Mary Wollstonecraft was an outspoken political essayist and a feminist before there was such a thing. Her most famous work, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, made the radical claim that society would be better off if its wives and mothers were educated. Wollstonecraft was a mother herself, having borne one daughter to her unmarried lover and another to her anarchist husband William Godwin. (This second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, grew up to write the novel Frankenstein.)
Wollstonecraft was a series of contradictions. In her writing she was a fierce advocate of traditional morals, but endured harsh criticism over her unconventional personal life. She prized reason above all else, but struggled with depression and an at-times unstable temperament.
These facts only served to strengthen her argument. Having endured numerous challenges from an early age, Wollstonecraft knew that women as well as men needed the mental and intellectual tools to handle all that life threw at them. Women weren't better or worse than men, Wollstonecraft argued. They just deserved an equal shot. "Let their faculties have room to unfold, and their virtues to gain strength, and then determine where the whole sex must stand in the intellectual scale,"7 she wrote in the Vindication. She was just saying, give the girls a chance.