Margaret Fuller, 1810 – 1850
Margaret Fuller was born May 23, 1810 in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts. As a young child she was taught at home by an exacting father, and did not attend school formally until the age of ten. Perhaps for this reason she was a precocious child, educated far beyond her years, schooled in Greek, Latin, German and Italian well before other children of her age.
In 1836, when her father’s death threatened to decimate the family’s finances, she went to teach in Philadelphia in a school run by Bronson Alcott (father of Louisa May Alcott). After two years she returned to Massachusetts, and became friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and his community of transcendentalists in Concord, Massachusetts. Emerson was later to say that Margaret produced the “best conversation in America.”
An early and outspoken advocate of women’s rights, in 1840 she began a series of “Conversations” in Boston, inviting women intellectuals and activists to come and discuss such weighty topics as gender roles, woman suffrage, culture of the day and abolition. Such open discussion was quite radical at the time, but Margaret believed in living life fully alive, both intellectually and spiritually, and these conversations fostered that belief. Charging $10 for a thirteen-week series enabled her to leave the teaching profession and become the first editor of Emerson’s transcendental magazine, the Dial.
Margaret was a prolific writer; in 1844 she accepted Horace Greeley’s invitation to write for the New York Tribune. The following year Greely published her seminal book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, in which she challenged the then-current social order that dictated women’s well-defined roles in society. She was able to lay claim to an impressive series of firsts: first editor of the Dial; first woman to be allowed to conduct research in Harvard; first woman journalist on the New York Tribune; first woman literary critic. In 1846 she travelled to Europe for Greely, becoming the first female foreign correspondent for an American newspaper.
In Europe she met and married Giovanni Angelo Ossoli. While returning to the United States on the ship Elizabeth in July of 1850 she and her husband and two year old son died when the ship floundered and was wrecked off the coast of Long Island near Fire Island.
Margaret Fuller enjoyed a short but unconventional life; today she would be called a “free spirit,” one who strove to live life fully dedicated to intellectual and spiritual freedom. Yet it was that free spirit that led her to campaign throughout her life for equal rights for women, including the right to vote. She was a complex and fascinating personality.
A dedication of an historical marker honoring Margaret Fuller will take place on Saturday, May 21. 2016, 11am at the Polhill Park/City of Beacon, NY Visitor’s Center. for further information log onto the website: margaretfuller.wordpress.com
And for more about Margaret Fuller see: Margaret Fuller: A New American Life, by Megan Marshall, The Margaret Fuller bicentennial celebration, margaretfuller.org.
Happy Birthday, Margaret Fuller!