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Political Ideas – Mary Wollstonecraft

4. Vindication of the Rights of Woman

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In this module, we explore Wollstonecraft’s ‘Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1792), focusing in particular on: (i) the French Revolution as a key context for this work; (ii) Wollstonecraft’s connections to France; (iii) Wollstonecraft’s demands for a full moral revolution; (iv) Wollstonecraft’s arguments for the education of women; (v) Wollstonecraft’s arguments for formal equalities and civil liberties; (vi) Wollstonecraft’s arguments that women are rational and independent beings capable of reason (vii) the importance of duties to rights, and vice versa; (viii) crucially, that the ‘Vindication…of Woman’ is not only concerned with women, but posits a much more all-encompassing and ambitious political project.


This course explores the political ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft and may be particularly useful for those studying the Core Political Ideas component of the AQA and Edexcel Government and Politics A Level specifications. While she is best known as an early feminist, Dr Sylvana Tomaselli asks us here to instead consider Wollstonecraft in context as a key Enlightenment philosopher and moralist. We begin with an exploration of Wollstonecraft’s life and early works, before moving on in the second lecture to consider Burke’s ‘Reflections’ (1790) as key context for Wollstonecraft’s political ideas. We then turn in the third lecture to Wollstonecraft’s polemical ‘Vindication of the Rights of Men’ (1790), highlighting her critique of Burke – another named thinker under Core Political Ideas: Conservatism – and arguments concerning property. In the fourth lecture, we explore Wollstonecraft’s ‘Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ (1792), emphasising that, despite its title, this work is not only concerned with women. Instead, the second Vindication posits an ambitious political project: full moral revolution. Finally, in the fifth lecture, we make the case for reading Wollstonecraft on her own terms. Here, we engage directly with the problem of applying contemporary -isms to political thinkers.


Dr Sylvana Tomaselli is a Fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge and a specialist in the political thought of the Enlightenment. She writes and lectures on the history of women’s political thought, mind-body dualism, and the long eighteenth century. She teaches the three History of Political Theory Papers at Cambridge and is an Affiliated Lecturer in the Faculty of History and of Human, Social and Political Sciences. She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and recently published ‘Wollstonecraft: Philosophy, Passion, and Politics’ (2021).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Tomaselli, S. (2022, March 22). Political Ideas – Mary Wollstonecraft - Vindication of the Rights of Woman [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Tomaselli, S. "Political Ideas – Mary Wollstonecraft – Vindication of the Rights of Woman." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 22 Mar 2022,

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