Friday, September 24, 2010
FULLER, MARGARET Women's Rights Advocate (c) By Polly Guerin
Dear Margaret Fuller: You were a woman before your time and international acclaim followed with your book, “Women in the Nineteenth Century”(1845), which recognized your enormous knowledge of literature and philosophy and command of language in which the rights of women as independent and rational beings is defended. An American journalist and women rights advocate, you counted among your interests the American transcendentalism movement. Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli, (1810-1850) is better known by the name Fuller, because this was her pen name by which Americans knew her. She was fueled with incredible determination to succeed, yet Fuller’s notoriety and her bravado shocked Americans.
Fuller was a brilliant conversationalist, respected for her intellect and learning. In 1839, she began overseeing what she called “conversations” on various topics, primarily for women, discussions meant to emancipate women from their traditional intellectual subservience to men. She was a spellbinding conversationalist and held her women only “conversation classes,” in Elizabeth Palmer Peabody’s West Street bookstore in Boston. The famous series of conversations was planned for attendance by twenty five women committed to thirteen weeks of conversation, from noon to two once a week. Fuller derived a steady income from these conversations for five years which enabled her to pursue her other literary interests.
THE EMERSON CONNECTION
Margaret Fuller’s oeuvre was on the forefront of intellectualism. She was a close friend with intellectuals in Boston and Concord, particularly Ralph Waldo Emerson and was one of the few women who could command Emerson’s interest and respect. After visiting Emerson by invitation for three weeks in 1836 she became acquainted with many transcendentalists including Bronson Alcott, who invited her to teach at this innovative Temple School in Boston, which in the end lapsed in financial failure. This event propelled Fuller in another direction.
THE DIAL, LITERARY JOURNAL
Although Emerson was at first somewhat put off by Margaret’s plainness, however, with time he came to consider her a most engaging personality, an intellectual and at times extremely entertaining. A mutual alliance of admiration was formed and from 1840 to 1842 she served with Emerson as editor of The Dial, a literary and philosophical journal for which she wrote many articles and reviews on art and literature. Perhaps the most significant journalistic contribution to the Dial was an article in 1843, her essay entitled, “The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men, Woman versus Women, in which she called for women’s equality.
THE NEW YORK TRIBUNE
Margaret Fuller’s literary achievements attracted Horace Greeley, the celebrated newspaper owner and editor. He was enormously impressed with Fuller’s “Summer on the Lakes in 1843, so much so that he offered her a job that most women would never have dreamed of. In 1844 Fuller relocated to work as literary critic for the New York Tribune becoming the first literary critic in any American newspaper, this at a time when journalism was considered unfitting employment for a woman. In this role she became more aware of social deprivations becoming interested in prison reform prostitution, suffrage rights for women, slavery abolition, and the status of minorities. In 1845, as foreign correspondent for the Tribune, Fuller traveled to Europe and sent back feature articles.
THE ITALIAN REVOLUTION
During her European journalism stint this spirited young woman embarked on another major segment of her life and proclaimed herself a citizen of Italy. During the Revolution of 1848 and during the siege of Rome by French forces, Fuller assumed charge of one of the hospitals in the city. She fell in love with Marchese Giovanni Angelo d’Ossoli, a petty nobility and a fellow revolutionary, and they had a child, a son Angelo. In 1850, when the revolution failed, they decided to sail to America. It is said that she was carrying the manuscript of a book on the Italian Revolution and letters from Emerson. Sadly the ship went aground in a storm off of Fire Island, New York and Fuller, Ossoli and Angelo drowned when the ship went down. Although this event cut short Margaret Fuller’s life, her intellectual legacy lives on to challenge and inspire other women.
Book: Read MEN, WOMEN, AND MARGARET FULLER, by Laurie James, Golden Heritage Press, Inc. (1990)