Mary Wollstonecraft in Hackney

Sunday’s radical history walk around Newington Green was an excellent afternoon out – and very well attended, with over 50 people.

Past Tense have a map of radical Newington Green available (scroll about three quarters down the page). They are also now on Facebook, so “like” their page if you are interested in future walks.

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The walk reminded me that I have failed to write anything about 18th Century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft on this site.

Wollstonecraft is best known for her book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), which is often claimed to be the first major feminist work in the English language. She has a couple of significant connections to Hackney:

Mary’s family briefly moved to Hoxton in 1774, when she would have been about 15 years old.

In 1784 she opened a boarding school for girls in Newington Green along with her sister Eliza and friend Fanny Blood. She also attended the Green’s¬†radical Unitarian Church (which is still there) and befriended its minister Dr Richard Price. The freethinking community of Newington Green at that time meant that Mary was also able to debate with people like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and Joseph Priestley.

Newington Green was also where Mary started her career as a writer.

The Mary on the Green Campaign is fundraising for a statue of Mary Wollstonecraft to be built and placed in Newington Green.

It was argued persuasively on the walk that Wollstonecraft was written out of feminist history in the 19th Century because of her supposed immoral behaviour, including having children out of wedlock, having affairs etc. London is generally lacking in statues of women, too.

In the meantime there is a less traditional memorial to her on the outside wall of the Unitarian chapel by local artist Stewy:

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