23 May 2018 Blogs

10 Facts About Margaret Fuller

Intro Copy

Margaret Fuller was born on this day--May 23, 1810. She is best known as an American journalist, editor, writer, literary critic, feminist, and women's rights advocate whose ideas were ahead of her time. She corresponded with transcendentalist writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, wrote for the New York Tribune, traveled to Europe to promote Italian nationalism, fell in love with an Italian aristocrat and had his child, and perished in a shipwreck off the coast of Long Island, NY at the age of 40. She insisted on living in a way that would not betray her beliefs about women's equality during a time when women were expected to marry, raise families, and do little else. Transcendentalism was a major literary and philosophical movement that emphasized the power of the individual and the inherent goodness of people. Transcendentalists celebrated personal freedom, promoted a deep appreciation for nature as well as utopian social change, and saw little value in organized religion, social institutions, and government. By questioning gender roles, critiquing social injustices, and surrounding herself with people who valued her intellectual ideals, Margaret Fuller sought to transcend the expectations placed on women in the 19th century.

Here are 10 facts about the remarkable life of Margaret Fuller:

  1. She was extremely well-educated. Margaret Fuller's father, Timothy Fuller, was a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts and insisted on personally educating his daughter. He cut out traditional feminine instruction, such as learning womanly etiquette and instead taught her languages, grammar, mathematics, and history. As an adult, Margaret was fluent in Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and German.
  2. She was the "first female editor of a major intellectual journal," America's "first avant-garde magazine," The Dial. Ralph Waldo Emerson approached Margaret and offered her the position of editor, which she accepted in 1839. She maintained this role for two years, using the transcendentalist periodical to publish her work in the serial form. The Dial ceased publication in 1844 and was revived in 1920 when it featured modernist writings by T.S. Eliot, E.E. Cummings, and Ezra Pound as well as art by Henri Matisse and Georgia O'Keeffe.
  3. She was the first woman to use Harvard's library for research purposes. Margaret lived long before women were admitted to Harvard University, let alone permitted to graduate. It is highly unusual and noteworthy that her prominence in Boston intellectual circles afforded her this level of hard-earned prestige.
  4. She wrote the first major feminist work in the United States. Her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century, published in 1845, criticized society's then-current view that women were equal to children and inferior to men. It insisted that women and men were intellectually equal, and urged women to become self-dependent and free themselves from male dominance. One radical line in particular: "There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman."
  5. Her work inspired Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Woman in the Nineteenth Century was a radical text that had a profound influence on the women's rights movement. The first women's rights convention, the Seneca Falls Convention, took place in 1848, just three years after Woman's publication. In the 1881 book History of Woman Suffrage, famous suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton write fondly of Margaret Fuller, noting that she "possessed more influence on the thought of American women than any woman previous to her time."
  6. She visited women in prison as part of her research. Breaking with the transcendentalism of her peers, Margaret thought that the status of women in society could be improved not merely by a liberation of the self, but through social reform. She interviewed prostitutes and other female prisoners at Sing Sing prison in New York in order to understand 19th-century prison rehabilitation efforts.
  7. She cared deeply about the Italian revolution. Italy in the 1840s was a disjointed collection of independent city-states, each with its own rulers, languages, and customs. Margaret believed that the Italian people could take a lesson from the birth of the United States and its democratic ideals and she became a fierce advocate for Italian reunification. While traveling in England, she met the exiled Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian activist and proponent of women's rights known for his strong sense of nationalism, who no doubt inspired her to get involved in the cause.
  8. She was the first female foreign correspondent. Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, invited Margaret to work for his newspaper. She accepted and moved to New York City where she began writing literary reviews--Edgar Allen Poe dominated the New York literary scene at the time--and social criticism. When friends invited her to Europe, Greeley offered to pay her to report on international news, art, and politics. Her writings have been digitized and can be read here.
  9. She was the first woman hired as an international war correspondentWhile living in Rome in 1848 and 1849, Margaret witnessed war activities and the invasion of French troops to restore Pope Pius IX to power. She directed a hospital at the request of Italian Princess Cristina Trivulzio di Belgiojoso (who was also a journalist) and even worked as a nurse. Margaret reported regularly on deteriorating conditions as the Italian revolution failed, going so far as to call on American support for Italian nationalism.
  10. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1995.
Learn more about Margaret Fuller in this timeline of Margaret Fuller's life and accomplishments as well as her eLibrary Research Topic page.