Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Margaret Fuller


Margaret Fuller, the first female foreign correspondent and the first book review editor in the U.S.A., was born May 23, 1810 in Cambridgeport (now part of Cambridge), Massachusetts, U.S.A. She was educated at home by her father, the American lawyer and legislator, Timothy Fuller and by age ten she was reading classics in Latin. Later, she attended a finishing school in Groton, Connecticut. Margaret learned several modern languages and was familiar with the literature of other cultures. When she was in her mid-twenties, she was hired by Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May Alcott, as a teacher in his progressive Temple School. A year later, she moved to Providence, Rhode Island, and was the principal teacher in the Green Street School for two years. In 1839 she returned to Boston, where she started holding so-called "conversations" in her home on various topics and many renowned women and men attended these seminars. Since there was a ban on public speaking by women for pay at that time, this was done in violation of the law. She was also a member of the Transcendental Club along with Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, W.E. Channing, Jones Very, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody and other New England intellectuals.

From 1840 to 1842, she served as the editor of a quarterly literary publication The Dial which she co-founded with the poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson and the critic and reformer George Ripley and for which she also wrote numerous art reviews, as well as articles on other subjects. In 1843, The Dial published her essay The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men, Woman versus Women in which she called for women's equality.

In 1844 she published her first book, Summer on the Lakes. Shortly ofter that, she was invited by the publisher Horace Greeley to join the staff of his paper, the New York Tribune as a book review editor. The paper had nationwide circulation and Fuller was able to encourage readers' interest in American writers. Until then, America looked to London for their reading material. In addition to American literature, she showed continuing support for feminist philosophies. In 1845 she published a book Woman in the Nineteenth Century, which became a classic of feminist thought and helped bring about the Seneca Falls Women's Convention three years later.

In 1846, Greeley named her a foreign correspondent for the Tribune. Fuller traveled to Europe and sent back articles about life in the European cities. Those articles were published in 1856 as At Home and Abroad. Her literary renown had reached the continent and helped her meet many European writers and artists.

While visiting Rome in 1847 she fell in love with Marchese Giovanni Angelo d'Ossoli, a nobleman involved in revolutionary activities. They had a child a year later, a son named Angelo, and married the following year. During the of Revolution of 1848 and during the siege of Rome by the French forces, Fuller assumed charge of one of the hospitals of the city, while her husband took part in the fighting. The city fell in 1850 and the Ossolis were forced to flee. In May 1850, they sailed to America. They were almost there, when off the coast of New York, near Fire Island, their ship ran aground in a storm and was wrecked on July 19, 1850. Her friends, among them Thoreau, initiated searches, but only the body of their two-year-old son was recovered. A plaque at the Margaret Fuller Memorial on Pyrola Path in Cambridge, Massachussets says the following: "By birth a child of New England; by adoption a citizen of Rome; by genius belonging to the world. In youth an insatiable student seeking the highest culture; in riper years teacher, writer, critic of literature and art; in maturer age companion and helper of many earnest reformers in America and Europe."

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1998.

1. American Women's History by Doris Weatherford, Prentice Hall General Reference, 1994
2. The Book of Women's Firsts: Breakthrough Achievements of Almost 1,000 American Women by Phyllis J. Read and Bernard L. Witlieb, Random House, 1992
3. Susan B. Anthony Slept Here. A Guide to American Women's Landmarks by Lynn Sherr and Jurate Kazickas, Random House, 1994
4. Microsoft Encarta 98 Encyclopedia

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