This author went in search of the life and legacy of 'the first celebrity feminist'

The World
Mary Wollstonecraft. Painting by John Opie (c.1797)

Mary Wollstonecraft. Painting by John Opie (c.1797)

Creative Commons

Bee Rowlatt was a literature student when she first read a text by Mary Wollstonecraft — a trailblazer for women's rights in the UK.

She says she had heard about "this crazy, mad cat woman" who had written a travel book that had influenced the Romantic Movement, but she had never actually read her work.

"I read it and was utterly gripped by it," she recalls.

What stunned Rowlatt, was the story behind Wollstonecraft's travels across Europe.

A hot-headed, idealistic Enlightenment figure living in the 1700s, Wollstonecraft had gone to France to be involved in the revolution and, while there, she fell in love with an American by the name of Gilbert Imlay.

"I'm sure he was very sexy and all but he's bad news for Mary Wollstonecraft," says Rowlatt, "and to be honest, she was bad news for him. She was a very intense and persistent person."

Imlay eventually lost interest in Wollstonecraft but the relationship produced a baby girl.

"Imlay all the meanwhile had been smuggling head-chopped aristocrats' silver out of revolutionary Paris ... north to neutral Scandinavia and one of his ships goes missing," Rowlatt explains.

What does he do? He sends Wollstonecraft in search of the missing ship. Surprisingly she agrees and in 1795, she sets off with her toddler daughter in tow. "She writes a best-selling travel book and she travels with a baby and she's on a treasure hunt," Rowlatt says.

Wollstonecraft wrote in detail about the hardship she faced on her journey. She comes across some questionable figures on her trip but she manages to complete it.

Wollstonecraft's determination got Rowlatt thinking. She had a toddler of her own and was ready to try something new and adventurous like what Wollstonecraft did.

"I looked at what she had done 216 years before and couldn't fathom how she could have done it," she says. "I just thought, how did she do that? I want to do it."

And so Rowlatt began an adventure of her own. She wanted to retrace the footsteps of the woman who ended up doing a lot for the improvement of women's rights in the UK.

Her travels with her own toddler son became the base of a new book called "In Search of Mary, The Mother of All Journeys."

Rowlatt says her journey taught her things are a lot more complicated.

"For example, Wollstonecraft proclaims in her 'A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,' 'I demand justice for one half of the human race,' Rowlatt explains, "but ... when you factor in race, class or the caste system, one half of the human race, it's just not so simple any more."