FROM OUR ARCHIVES: ORIGINALLY POSTED FRIDAY, MAY 23, 2011 ON WEWALK: BEHIND THE SCENES OF OPENING THE WAY. EDITED AND UPDATED ON 5/23/2016.
On this day in women’s history, we celebrate the birth of Margaret Fuller, a woman whose name is associated with several important contributions to American history.
Fuller was born on May 23, 1810 in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts to Unitarian parents, and received a strong classical education from an early age, becoming well-versed in languages such as French and German. She became a passionate advocate for transcendentalism, a philosophy that developed as a critique to the state of ideas in society and at Harvard in particular. A core belief of transcendentalist philosophy was the belief in an ideal spirituality that goes beyond the physical and empirical and is fulfilled only through a person’s intuition rather than organized religious doctrine. It affected literature, poetry, art and music from about 1835-1880. Fuller worked with prominent figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman, and gained a respected reputation in this field, becoming the first editor of the transcendentalist journal The Dial in 1840.
In 1844, Fuller came to New York to work for Horace Greeley’s New-York Daily Tribune, one of the most influential newspapers in the country. There, she became the first full-time female book reviewer in America. She was considered one of the most well-read people in New England, and became the first woman admitted to use the library at Harvard College. In 1845, she published Woman in the Nineteenth Century, which is considered the first major feminist work in the United States. The book was based in part on a series of “Conversations” or seminars she had held for women social reformers while in Boston, to compensate for their lack of access to higher education.
In 1846, Fuller left for Europe as the Tribune’s first female international correspondent. She settled in Rome and covered the Italian revolution. She had a son with Giovanni Ossoli, whom she married; and the three of them left on a ship on May 17, 1850 to return to America. But en route to New York, their ship was wrecked in a storm and the family tragically perished.
Margaret Fuller died at only 40 years old, but left a legacy in which she is considered one of America’s first feminists. She fought fiercely for women’s rights, particularly in the areas of education and work. On May 25, 2011, she was celebrated through the Margaret Fuller Bicentennial Celebration, in Boston.