Inspired by her governess, the radical feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft, Margaret King cast aside her immense privilege, cross-dressed as a man to go to medical school, and inspired a new generation of women to push against the rigid conventions of their era.
Emma Garman | Longreads | May 2016 | 16 minutes (4,200 words)
In October 1786, 27-year-old feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft journeyed from London to her new temporary home: an imposing Palladian-style mansion in County Cork, Ireland. Set in 1,000-plus acres of woodland, flanked by colonnades leading to outbuildings, and featuring statued terraces, vineyards, and conservatories, Mitchelstown Castle was the seat of Robert and Caroline King, who as Lord and Lady Kingsborough were the country’s largest landowners.
To Wollstonecraft’s radical sensibilities, such aristocratic excess was anathema. (As, no doubt, was the depiction of The Rape of Proserpina that graced the mansion’s entrance hall ceiling.) Still, she needed to financially support herself, as well as her two sisters, so had agreed to join the Kingsborough household’s 80-strong staff as governess to three girls. Caroline, it was rumored, had dismissed Wollstonecraft’s predecessor for sleeping with Robert. But she viewed the new hire as trustworthy, a principled woman of intellect unlikely to catch her husband’s eye. And Wollstonecraft, who had already written her first book—the soon to be published Thoughts on the Education of Daughters—wasn’t about to start batting her eyelashes at his lordship. His “countenance,” she wrote sniffily to her sister Eliza, “does not promise much more than good humour.”Continue reading “A Liberated Woman: The Story of Margaret King”