The wider struggle
The campaigns of early feminist pioneers like Wollstonecraft went hand-in-hand with other political causes of the era like the abolition movement. Professor Midgley’s research has helped bring this to a wider audience.
For example, she demonstrated how the Eighteenth Century feminists linked the rights of British women to their opposition to colonial slavery. They also engaged women with abolition by making it relatable to the domestic sphere — leading successful boycotts of slave-made products like sugar.
In other studies, Professor Midgley highlighted the differences between the British and American anti-slavery campaigns, and wrote the programme note for a Royal Shakespeare Company production about the struggle for abolition, The Whip.
She also analysed the key role of religious groups in Eighteenth Century radicalism — in particular, Quakers and Unitarians.
At the Newington Green Unitarian Church
Wollstonecraft formed her ideas at the Newington Green Unitarian Church in North London.
She joined a radical community led by the Welsh nonconformist preacher Richard Price, who was at the centre of the global movement against slavery, colonialism, the subjugation of women and monarchy. He had considerable influence and connections — welcoming visitors including the American founding fathers Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin.
In 1790, Wollstonecraft anonymously published A Vindication of the Rights of Men, attacking hereditary peerage. This work escalated the so-called 'pamphlet war' sparked by the French Revolution, which Wollstonecraft and Price both passionately supported.
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was her next work, this time published boldly in her own name. She argued that, as human beings, women deserved the same fundamental rights as men and should no longer be treated as mere ornaments or property.