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Islington Tribune - by PETER GRUNER
Published: 17 April 2009

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97)
Festival for ‘first feminist’

MARY Wollstonecraft, one of Britain’s early feminists, is being celebrated in a series of events later this month.
Mary (1759-97) ran a school in Newington Green and was the mother of Mary Shelley who wrote Frankenstein.
The 250th birthday celebrations are being organised by Newington Green Unitarian church where she worshipped in the 18th century.
Events include a lecture on April 24 by Barbara Taylor, author of Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination.
Islington South and Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry, Hackney MP Diane Abbott, and London’s Green MEP, Jean Lambert, join in a debate on April 25. Award-winning journalist Suzanne Moore will act as moderator, when the three politicians address the topic: Political Power for Women: How Far Have We Come? Why Does It Matter?
A ceremony at Wollstonecraft’s tombstone in St Pancras cemetery is being held on April 26 and the Mother of Feminism art exhibition is being held at the church. A benefit concert featuring Carol Grimes and Adey Grummet is being held on May 2.
Wollstonecraft’s influence is stronger than ever. She was author of the classic 1792 text Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
Andy Pakula, minister at the church, said: “She lived a highly unorthodox life and her reputation was destroyed by a post-mortem memoir that revealed her two affairs and a child born out of wedlock. In the past century, however, she has been embraced by human rights advocates and recognised as a founder of the movement toward equal rights for women. Wollstonecraft has fittingly been called The Mother of Feminism.”
The pew where she worshipped, number 19, has now become something of a pilgrimage destination for feminists and other admirers of the pioneering author.
Although she remains a feminist icon, Wollstonecraft’s writings made a strong case for human rights in general and her inspiration has made itself felt well beyond the arena of women’s rights.
In 2008, the Newington Green Unitarian church and its sister church in Islington took a unique step in support of same-sex marriage rights: they became the only church in the UK to refuse to perform legal weddings for any couple until they could do the same for all couples.
Minister Pakula, feels sure that Wollstonecraft’s spirit was involved: “I have never seen a group of people act so rapidly and decisively in support of human rights. Once they learned the details of the 2004 Civil Partnership Act, they recognised the injustice of its ban on associating religion and civil partnerships, and moved ahead confidently without ever looking back.”

• Details of the events are listed on the congregation’s website:
All profits of the events are being donated to Stop The Traffik, to support their efforts in fighting modern-day trafficking of women.

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