Mary Collier

Mary Collier (c. 1688 – 1762) was an English poet, perhaps best known for her poetic riposte to Stephen Duck, The Woman's Labour.


Little is known of Collier's early life other than what she wrote in ‘Some remarks on the author's life drawn by herself’, prefaced to her Poems on Several Occasions that were being republished in a 1762 edition. She was from Hampshire, born to poor parents, educated at home, and worked as a washer-woman, brewer, and at other manual labour. It was in this preface to the 1762 edition that she expressed outrage at Stephen Duck's portrayal of working-class women, which inspired Poems on Several Occasions. A family that had employed her encouraged Collier to publish her poetry. Collier initially wrote poems for her own amusement, not planning on their publication; she would recite the poems to entertain her listeners, and thus brought attention to her talents.[1]


She read Stephen Duck's The Thresher's Labour (1730) and in response to his apparent disdain for labouring-class women, wrote the 246-line poem for which she is mainly remembered, The Woman's Labour: an Epistle to Mr Stephen Duck. In this piece she catalogues the daily tasks of a working woman, both outside the home and, at the end of the day, within the home as well:

You sup, and go to Bed without delay,
And rest yourselves till the ensuing Day;
While we, alas! but little Sleep can have... (111-113)

A second poem was printed with the Epistle to Mr. Duck.[2] The Three Sentences is a paraphrase of the tale of the Darius contest told in 1 Esdras. Laundry (1990) asserts that Collier “tends to couple moral reformism with a certain amiable accommodationism, or compliance with the will of fathers” .[3]:71 Keegan claims this poem “suggests yet denies feminist and democratizing class politics. . . . and indeed the poem as a whole ends with a pious expression of the poet's submission to divine will:”[4]

Collier is an important figure in the self-taught, laboring-class tradition in eighteenth-century poetry, a tradition which also includes Duck, as well as Ann Yearsley and Mary Leapor. Collier, Duck, and similar working-class poets from rural Great Britain were responding in part to the economic upheaval in the countryside, brought about by the enclosures of agricultural land and growing unemployment. Duck's depiction of female labourers as lazy and feckless characters in particular infuriated Collier, during a period when women field labourers often lost out to men in tight employment markets in the countryside.[1] Collier worked as a washer-woman until she was sixty-three. She continued working for seven more years until, in poor health, she retired at age seventy and died shortly thereafter.



  1. 1 2 Ferguson, Moira (1995). Eighteenth-Century Women Poets: Nation, Class, and Gender. SUNY Press. pp. 8–9. ISBN 9780791425114.
  2. Mary Collier (1739). The Woman's Labour: an Epistle to Mr. Stephen Duck: in Answer to His Late.
  3. Donna Landry (1990). The Muses of Resistance: Laboring-Class Women's Poetry in Britain, 1739-1796.
  4. Bridget Keegan (1 October 2005). "Mysticisms and Mystifications: The Demands of Laboring-Class Religious Poetry". Criticism (47.4): 471–491.


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