Graduation Date


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department or Program

Graduate Humanities

Department or Program Chair

Joan Baranow, PhD

First Reader

Christian Dean, PhD

Second Reader

Thomas Burke, MFA


This project examines the writings of Mary Astell (1666-1731) and Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) regarding women in light of ideas articulated by Carole Pateman (1940- ) in her book, The Sexual Contract (1988). In her work, Pateman critiques the prescriptions for the management of society suggested by classic contract theorists such as Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and John Locke (1632-1704) and cites that their solutions focus solely on men in the public sphere of society. Pateman illuminates the condition of women in the private sphere of the home, and asserts that this realm operates by mechanisms radically different from those of the public sphere. Pateman contends that the inequities experienced by women in Western society will not be eliminated by prescriptions simply reforming the operation of the public sphere, but requires solutions that address the particular circumstances of women in the home. Astell’s and Wollstonecraft’s depictions of the plight women in society are quite similar. However, as they articulate their prescriptions, their ideas diverge. Wollstonecraft’s recommendations are radical and seek to include women in the public sphere as free and equal workers and citizens. Astell, loath to criticize society’s institutions, calls for individuals to reform. Pateman’s lens exposes the limitations of Wollstonecraft’s radical reform, and reveals that Wollstonecraft, like her conservative predecessor Astell, clings to certain societal norms and structures that she believes important to the functioning of the private sphere and society.