Sarah Margaret Fuller (1810-1850)

Margaret Fuller

Sarah Margaret Fuller was born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts on May 23, 1810. Her father Timothy Fuller, who was a lawyer, held high expectations for his daughter and arranged for her to learn Greek and Latin at a very early age. Margaret had a natural thirst for knowledge, and after she left school at 15, she spent her days studying French and Italian literature, English philosophy and metaphysics, Greek and music. She was especially interested in language, later adding German to her linguistic repertoire. Not only was Margaret well versed in a broad range of topics, she was also well spoken, entertaining her intellectual circle which included the likes of W.H. Channing and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Much to Margaret’s dismay, she had to leave her friends in Cambridge behind when her father, suffering from financial ruin, uprooted the family and moved them to Groton, a town outside of Boston. She took on the responsibility of educating her four younger siblings, and upon her father’s early death, she moved the family to Boston. Fuller spent her summers visiting Emerson and immersing herself in transcendentalist culture. Through him she met Bronson Alcott, who offered her a position at his school in Providence, Rhode Island. After two years, she returned to Boston in 1839 and began to host lectures and seminars in her house to earn money. Her lectures, called “Conversations” which both men and women attended, covered a variety of subjects including classical mythology, education, the fine arts, and women. Rather than teach, she provided a safe environment for women to openly discuss issues that were banned from polite society.

From 1840 to 1842, she worked with Ralph Waldo Emerson as editor of The Dial: a small, quarterly, transcendentalist literary journal. She also wrote many articles reviewing literature and art. In 1843, The Dial published her essay The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men, Woman versus Women in which she called for women's equality. After the paper collapsed in 1844 she set out to travel and published her first book, Summer on the Lakes.

After reading her published works, publishing tycoon Horace Greenley hired Fuller as a literary critic for his New York Tribune. She used this position to promote the works of American authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and her friend Ralph Waldo Emerson. Fuller believed that the public should not rely on British culture, rather, she hoped to foster the growth of an American literary school. In 1845 she published a feminist work called Woman in the Nineteenth Century. This was an expansion of her Dial submission, The Great Lawsuit. A year later some of her literary criticism was compiled and published as Papers on Literature and Art.

In 1846, Greenley made Fuller a foreign correspondent and she traveled to Europe. She worked out of Paris and London, and a year later she found herself in Rome. It was here she fell head over heels for a charming Italian, Marchese Giovanni Angelo d'Ossoli. He was a soldier and member of the nobility and, like Fuller, a revolutionist. She was inspired by the promise of freedom and actively worked to support the revolution in Italy. Fuller and d’Ossoli had a little boy named Angelino and married soon after. After the revolution’s failure, they were forced to flee, and they lived in Florence for a little over a year. There Fuller began to write a history of the Italian revolution. The young family set sail from Livorno on May 17, 1850 to return to the United States. However, upon reaching the waters off Fire Island on June 19, the ship struck a sandbar and slowly sank. Fuller drowned with her husband and two year old son.

 

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Books:

  • Balducci, Carolyn Feleppa. Margaret Fuller: A Life of Passion and Defiance.
  • Lazarus, Josephine. Notable Women: Margaret Fuller
  • von Mehren, Joan. Minerva and the Muse: A Life of Margaret Fuller.

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