Thoughts on the Education of Daughters  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Thoughts on the education of daughters: with reflections on female conduct, in the more important duties of life is the first published work of the British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Published in 1787 by her friend Joseph Johnson, Thoughts is a conduct book that offers advice on female education to the emerging British middle class. Although dominated by considerations of morality and etiquette, the text also contains basic child-rearing instructions, such as how to care for an infant.

An early version of the modern self-help book, the 18th-century British conduct book drew on many literary traditions, such as advice manuals and religious narratives. There was an explosion in the number of conduct books published during the second half of the 18th century, and Wollstonecraft took advantage of this burgeoning market when she published Thoughts. However, the book was only moderately successful: it was favourably reviewed, but only by one journal and it was reprinted only once. Although it was excerpted in popular contemporary magazines, it was not republished until the rise of feminist literary criticism in the 1970s.

Like other conduct books of the time, Thoughts adapts older genres to the new middle-class ethos. The book encourages mothers to teach their daughters analytical thinking, self-discipline, honesty, contentment in their social position, and marketable skills (in case they should ever need to support themselves). These goals reveal Wollstonecraft's intellectual debt to John Locke; however, the prominence she affords religious faith and innate feeling distinguishes her work from his. Her aim is to educate women to be useful wives and mothers, because, she argues, it is through these roles that they can most effectively contribute to society. The predominantly domestic role Wollstonecraft outlines for women—a role that she viewed as meaningful—was interpreted by 20th-century feminist literary critics as paradoxically confining them to the private sphere.

Although much of Thoughts is devoted to platitudes and advice common to all conduct books for women, a few passages anticipate Wollstonecraft's feminist arguments in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), such as her poignant description of the suffering single woman. However, several critics suggested that such passages only seem to have radical undertones in light of Wollstonecraft's later works.

See also

Modern reprints

  • Wollstonecraft, Mary. Thoughts on the Education of Daughters. Clifton, NJ: A. M. Kelley, 1972. ISBN 0-678-0090-15.
  • Wollstonecraft, Mary. Thoughts on the Education of Daughters. Oxford: Woodstock Books, 1994. ISBN 1-85477-195-7.
  • Wollstonecraft, Mary. Thoughts on the Education of Daughters. London: Printed by J. Johnson, 1787. Eighteenth Century Collections Online (by subscription only). Retrieved on 18 July 2007.
  • Wollstonecraft, Mary. The Complete Works of Mary Wollstonecraft. Ed. Janet Todd and Marilyn Butler. 7 vols. London: William Pickering, 1989. ISBN 0-8147-9225-1.


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