Etching by William Blake for Mary Wollstonecraft’s book, Original Stories from Real Life.

This etching at the British Museum caught my eye. I liked the title.

Be calm, my child, remember that you must do all the good you can the present day.

Is this an important message for girls of the world? Could this be a good motto for your life? With everything that has been going on in the world recently, I’ve been feeling angry, upset and helpless. Perhaps this is all we can do, keep calm and ensure we do as much good as we can each day.

Initially I felt the etching didn’t go with the title. All I see is a wealthy trio out taking a stroll in the park – a mother with her two girls, perhaps. They look quite calm and they don’t look like they are particularly doing any good in the world – no litter picking or helping at a soup kitchen here.  But on further exploration, I realised that the etching was used to illustrate a children’s book by Mary Wollstonecraft. I’d heard of her!

I knew she was an important early feminist, but I didn’t know she had written books for girls. The book (warning – extremely long title alert) is called Original Stories from Real Life; with Conversations Calculated to Regulate the Affections, and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness. In the book the mother of two young girls dies and they are sent off to live with Mrs Mason. The girls are greedy and selfish and the book is Mrs Mason’s attempt to make the girls more virtuous with moral stories and real-life demonstrations.

The etching and its title comes from a story about Charles Townley, and is in fact a warning against procrastination. You can make out Townley’s ruined mansion in the background of the etching. Mrs Mason takes the girls there, so that they can see for themselves what happens when you procrastinate like Mr Townley.

Wollstonecraft believed that if you educated young girls they would become rational adults, which wasn’t the norm in her day. She felt educating women from a young age could change society. She directly challenged philosophers of the time like Rousseau, who said, “a woman’s education must…be planned in relation to man”.

In many parts of the world things have thankfully moved on from the time of Wollstonecraft, but this sadly isn’t true for too many girls. According to the Global Partnership for Education, girls are more likely than boys to never enroll in school, and two thirds of illiterate people around the world are women. Want to seize the day and help? There are heaps of organisations that help girls get educated, such as The Malala Fund  and Room to Read.

So how relevant is Wollstonecraft’s message against procrastination today for girls? Do you have a modern message or story that you would pass on to the next generation of girls? I would love to hear it, leave it in the comments below.

-Elisa Jones
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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