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The Mother of Feminism

Nov. 10, 2020

Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

In her life Mary Wollstonecraft rose phoenix-like from the misery of growing up with a father, a drunk, who squandered the family money  and abused both her and her mother. She received little formal education but nevertheless educated herself so that at 25 she was able to open a girls' boarding school on Newington Green, North London. She debated with the intellectual radicals of the day; Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and Joseph Priestley and at 33 wrote her most famous work "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" which imagined a social order where women were the equals of men - imagine that! - but died aged only 38 following the birth of her daughter, the author Mary Shelley, who gave us 'Frankenstein'.

The statue has caused fierce debate; the sculptor, Maggie Hambling, picked by a judging panel in 2018 said:

“This sculpture encourages a visual conversation with the obstacles Wollstonecraft overcame, the ideals she strived for, and what she made happen. A vital contemporary discourse for all that is still to be achieved.”

Writer Tracy King tweeted: "There is no reason to depict Mary naked unless you are trying to be edgy to provoke debate. Statues of named men get to be clothed because the focus is on their work and achievements. Meanwhile, women walking or jogging through parks experience high rates of sexual harassment because our bodies are considered public property."

Caroline Criado Perez, who campaigned for Jane Austen to appear on the £10 note and wrote Invisiblewomen, said the statue "feels disrespectful to Wollstonecraft herself".

Historian Simon Schama wrote that he "always wanted a fine monument to Wollstonecraft - this isn't it".

Writer Bee Rowlatt, who has led the 10 year long campign to get a sculpture celebrating Mary Wollstonecraft in Newington Green said 

“It will definitely start a conversation....it will... promote comment and debate and that’s good, that’s what Mary did all her life.”