Fuller, Margaret (1810-1850)
Margaret Fuller (1810-1850)
Journalist and reformer
Education. Margaret Fuller was a journalist and feminist whose spirited conversation and challenging literary criticism made her an important part of the Transcendentalist circle based in the Boston and Concord areas. Her father, Timothy Fuller, a lawyer and politician, insisted that his precocious daughter receive a classical education equivalent to a boy’s and tutored her in Latin, Greek, history, mathematics, and grammar; Fuller was translating Virgil at the age of six. She later attended a female seminary to learn the social graces appropriate to a young lady, and though she mingled with Harvard students and acquired a reputation for being a sharp and intelligent conversationalist, she always regretted that as a woman she was denied a formal Harvard education.
Transcendentalist Club. When her father moved the family to a farm in Groton, Massachusetts, in 1831, she resented the move and missed her city life. She spent her free time teaching her younger siblings and studying German literature and criticism. Fuller became acquainted with the intellectuals and ministers who made up the Transcendentalist Club during her time in Groton. Her interest in self-improvement, her ambivalence toward institutional religion, and her interest in the new German criticism made her an integral figure in the Transcendentalist movement, yet lacking the educational and professional opportunities of the men in the group, she was aware of being both an insider and an outsider. Her relationships with Ralph Waldo Emerson and other male Transcendentalists pushed her to redefine the nature of friendship, going beyond traditional gender expectations to call for men as well as women to behave with empathy and love toward their friends.
Conversation Club. When her father died in 1835, Fuller took up teaching to help support her family, working in Bronson Alcott’s Temple School in Boston and the Greene Street School in Providence, Rhode Island, where she experimented with interactive dialogues as a teaching method. Fuller’s teaching and her experiences with the Transcendentalists contributed to her successful Conversation Club, which began in 1839 in Boston, and continued until Fuller left New England in 1844. Fuller’s series of conversations, which drew many of the wives, fiancées, daughters, and sisters of the all-male Transcendentalist Club, encouraged women to view themselves as rational human beings rather than as weak-minded females. Fuller hoped that conversation would “lay aside the shelter of vague generalities, the cant of coterie criticism and the delicate disdains of good society and fearless [sic ] meet the light although it flow from the sun of truth.”
Vision. Fuller’s long essay, “The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men; Woman versus Women” (1843), was published in 1845 as Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Here Fuller laid out her feminist vision, challenging the gender roles demanded by American society (and by the male Transcendentalists) that limited the intellectual and emotional development of women. On a broader level Fuller argued for an essentially androgynous understanding of the intellect and emotions which would acknowledge both the feminine and the masculine in men’s and women’s minds.
Literary Critic. Fuller was the first editor of the Transcendentalists’ journal, The Dial, which published many of her essays and reviews. Objecting to the standard critical practice of measuring literary works against external standards, Fuller believed that the reviewer had to enter into the spirit of a given work and understand its central vision; only then, with that understanding, could she analyze and judge the text at hand. In 1844 Fuller left New England to work as a journalist and literary editor and critic on Horace Greeley’s progressive newspaper, the New York Daily Tribune. Greeley offered Fuller a salary equivalent to what a man in her position would have earned. Fuller was the first woman on an American newspaper’s editorial staff, and her column appeared regularly on the Tribune’s front page. She used her influence to promote then-unknown American authors—Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorn—and suggested that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poetry was overrated. She praised the work of Lydia Sigourney, Caroline Kirkland, and Anna Mowatt and championed George Sand, the radical French novelist whose behavior shocked most American readers. She also praised The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave (1845) and expressed a wish that “every one may read [Douglass’s] book and see what a mind might have been stifled in bondage.”
Revolution, Marriage, and Death. In 1846 Fuller left New York for Europe, in part to serve as foreign correspondent for the Tribune. She met the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz and the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini finding in them examples of political commitment and intense friendship she had long wished for. She became an ardent supporter of the Italian movement for unification and independence and sent the Tribune reports of the 1848 Italian revolution. In Italy she secretly married Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, a Roman nobleman who had turned republican. Fuller’s relationship with Ossoli fulfilled her long-standing dream of a friendship where two people were “two halves of one thought.” They had a child in 1848 and in 1850 set sail for the United States, but the ship wrecked off the coast of New York and all three Ossolis died. Her manuscripts for what would have been a history of the Italian revolution perished with her.
Charles Capper, Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life: The Private Years (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992);
Eve Kornfeld, Margaret Fuller: A Brief Biography with Documents, The Bedford Series in History and Culture (Boston: Bedford, 1997).
Sarah Margaret Fuller
Sarah Margaret Fuller
Sarah Margaret Fuller (1810-1850), an American feminist, cultural critic, and transcendentalist, fought for equality of the sexes.
Not long after her birth on May 23, 1810, in Cambridgeport, Mass., Margaret Fuller's father started to educate her as a wonder child. She was introduced to Latin at 6 and was reading literary classics when she might still have been playing children's games. By the time she was in her 20s, she could impress such transcendentalist leaders as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott.
Fuller loved to talk, so she seized on the lyceum as a way to support herself and put forth her ideas. When she ran into masculine protest against a woman speaking to mixed audiences, she developed what she called "conversations." These systematic discussions with some of the most intelligent women in the Boston area were held from 1839 to 1844. Fuller had already begun publishing, but her most significant book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), developed from such "conversations." It proposed plans for relieving women's social restrictions and using their abilities to the fullest.
When the transcendentalists set up a journal, the Dial, in 1840, they chose Fuller as editor. Her incisive and decisive criticism of literature and the arts attracted the attention of Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, who brought her to New York as a critic for his paper in 1844.
Fuller's reviews for the Tribune demonstrated a first-rate esthetic intelligence. Though she found these duties satisfying, a trip to Europe so impressed her that in 1847 she settled in Rome. There she met and lived with a poor but handsome young Italian marquis, Angelo Ossoli, demonstrating her belief in love and in freedom for women. When the son she had by Ossoli in 1849 was a year old, they announced their marriage.
In the late 1840s, when the people of Rome were trying to shake off papal rule to form a city-state, Ossoli fought for the Roman Republic, while Fuller worked in the military hospitals. Throughout her stay abroad she had been writing for the Tribune; her descriptions of the Roman revolution were her most vivid work. When the revolution failed, the family fled, finally settling in Florence. Here she wrote the manuscript of a history of the revolution.
In May 1850 Fuller and her family embarked for New York. The ship was wrecked off Fire Island: wife, husband, and son all drowned on July 19, 1850, and in the catastrophe her manuscript was lost.
The most recent biography of Margaret Fuller is Arthur W. Brown, Margaret Fuller (1964). It should be supplemented by Mason Wade, Margaret Fuller: Whetstone of Genius (1940). Joseph Jay Deiss, The Roman Years of Margaret Fuller (1969), illuminates one of her most important periods. □