Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Margaret Fuller (1810-1850)

Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical dualism. But, in fact, they are perpetually passing into one another. Fluid hardens to solid, solid rushes to fluid. There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.

  Margaret Fuller. From Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Boston: John P. Jewett, 1845.

 Dr. Charles Capper, Professor of History at Boston University, who has published a two volume biography of Margaret Fuller, suggested the above quotation.

Margaret Fuller, also known as Sarah Margaret Fuller, was a renowned journalist, pioneer feminist, and women’s rights activist. She is associated with the transcendentalist movement and taught at various girls’ schools during her younger years. Following her research at Harvard—where she was the first woman to study—she worked as a literary critic for Horace Greeley, publisher and editor of the New York Tribune, and her collected criticism is found in Papers on Literature and Art, 1846. Her chief work, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, 1845, is considered the first major feminist work in the United States. Her influence on the American feminist movement is unparalleled, and she continues to be remembered as a champion for human rights to this day.

Margaret was born on May 23, 1810, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her father, Timothy Fuller, a prominent Massachusetts lawyer, educated her scrupulously, but it wasn’t until 1819 that Fuller began her formal education at the Port School in Cambridgeport. She later attended the Boston Lyceum for Young Ladies in Groton in 1824. Fuller returned home two years later at the age of 16, and while at home she trained herself in several foreign languages, studied the classics, and read world literature. Her intellectual precociousness gained her the acquaintance of various Cambridge intellectuals. In 1833, Margaret’s father moved the family to a farm in Groton, Massachusetts. It was after this transition that she found herself isolated and forced to educate her siblings while also carrying out household tasks for her ailing mother.

 Margaret Fuller. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. Boston: John P. Jewett, 1855.

 In 1845 Margaret published her feminist classic, Woman in the Nineteenth Century.  This book, her chief work, stressed that men deliberately kept women in subordinate positions, and thus women had to help themselves toward independence. It was originally published in the transcendentalist magazine, The Dial, as “The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men. Woman versus Women,” but it was expanded and published in book form in 1845 and reprinted in 1855. In addition to writing several critical reviews and essays, Fuller became active in various social reform movements. In 1846 she went to Europe as a foreign correspondent for the Tribune, and in England and France she was recognized as an outstanding intellectual.

During her travels, Fuller made her way to Italy in 1847. It was here that she met her husband Giovanni Ossoli. They became lovers, had a son in 1848, and were wed the following year. Fuller had supported the attempt to unify Italy as a Roman republic, but after the Pope was restored to power and the short-lived political experiment had failed, Fuller, her husband and their child fled to Florence in 1849. The next year they boarded a ship set for the United States, but due to a storm off Fire Island, New York, the ship never made it to port and they were lost at sea. Sadly, their bodies were never recovered.

Margaret Fuller Ossoli, The Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli. Boston: Phillips, Sampson and Company,  1852. Two volumes.

The Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli (1852) was published posthumously by her one-time friend and colleague Ralph Waldo Emerson, with James Freeman Clarke and William Henry Channing. Because Fuller’s friendship with Emerson had deteriorated, the book was heavily edited. Therefore her myriad accomplishments took a backseat to Emerson’s portrayal of her as a cold and snobbish old maid, rather than as the warm, loving personality her friends and acquaintances knew her to be.

The Armstrong Browning Library owns eight books by Margaret Fuller published in the nineteenth century, including several first editions and rare copies. Of particular importance is Conversations with Goethe in the last years of his life, translated from the German of Eckermann. By S.M. Fuller (1839), which was the first book in which Margaret Fuller’s name appeared.

Erica Heath
Kristyan Pak
Christina Fajardo
Melinda Creech