Lead: For ten years after 1787, Mary Wollstonecraft, exercising a gentile emancipation, alternately affronted and fascinated a generation of literary cognoscenti. She helped inspire the women’s rights movement.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: After a difficult childhood, Wollstonecraft enjoyed a decade of literary success and social notoriety. She broke into the wide public imagination with an angry polemic, a vigorous critique of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. He had championed the American rebellion, she reasoned, and now was recanting his enthusiasm for liberty because of skepticism over the French experiment. She followed this Vindication of the Rights of Men, with her best known work, a companion volume, Vindication of the Rights of Women, the core of which was an attack on the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He decreed that women were tools for pleasure, moral privilege, political deference and education were wasted on women. The rights of man should actually be the rights of humanity, she asserted, and the most supreme right is that of thinking. This work made Wollstonecraft a European celebrity.