Margaret Fuller was born on May 23rd, 1810 in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts and died on July 19th, 1850 at only 40 years old. Fuller is now regarded as “America’s first true feminist” for her various works in which she advocated for women and their rights.
As a child, Fuller received strict and rigorous education from her father, who was a lawyer and member of the Massachusetts Senate and U.S. Congress. Starting at the age of six, Fuller received extensive discipline in many subject areas including Latin, history and music. In 1819, when Fuller was already 9 years old, she started attending private schools irregularly up until 1925. From then, Fuller managed her own studies. Fuller’s early and notable accomplishments attracted collegians like Eliza Farrar, wife of Harvard professor John Farrar, and others like Fanny Kemble. In 1833, Fuller’s family moved to Groton, Massachusetts. Here, Fuller felt isolated and used writing as an outlet, thus beginning her writing career. Fuller published essays in the Western Messenger and Boston papers.
In 1836, Fuller met Ralph Waldo Emerson and through him also met Bronson Alcott. She worked for two schools and then moved again to Jamaica Plain in 1839. Here, Fuller began holding her famous “Conversations” for women. These conversations were gatherings in which women came together to share their knowledge and talk about different topics in a safe environment. These conversations became so popular and successful that Fuller was able to publish her first piece, a translation of Eckerman’s Conversations with Goethe. She, along with Emerson, was also able to fund a journal that she contributed to in 1840- The Dial. Fuller was an editor for The Dial up until 1842 and after, published her famous essay “The Great Lawsuit.” This essay would eventually become her famous book Women in the 19th Century which was published in 1845 and is regarded as a classic for feminist ideals. In both, Fuller argued for women’s freedom and progression in society. Women in the 19th Century was not Fuller’s first book, though.
In 1844, Fuller published Summer on the Lakes, in 1843– her first book in which she detailed a Great Lakes trip she embarked on. That same year Fuller moved to New York and worked alongside Horace Greeley for New York Tribune. She became the publications first full-time book reviewer and then the first female editor. She worked for the newspaper for 4 years and published more than 250 columns. During the course of those 4 years, Fuller moved to Europe to become the Tribune’s first female foreign correspondent. She settled in Italy where she became involved in the Italian revolution led by Mazzini. She fell in love with Marchese Giovanni Ossoli, one of Mazzini’s lieutenants and eventually had a son with him. She was working on a book about the Italian revolution when she and her husband decided to move back to America in 1850. On their way back, there were complications with the ship she was on and she drowned. Her book was never finished nor found, but Fuller was honored after her death for her contributions to American society that are still remarkable even today.
Margaret Fuller on New York’s Charities
In 1845, Margaret Fuller was in New York working for the New York Tribune. She wrote an essay titled “Our City Charities – Visit to Bellevue Alms House, to the Farm School, the Asylum for the Insane, and Penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island” in which she details her visit to the places named in the title. In this essay, readers get insight into the harsh conditions that New York was also composed of. New York was not all glamour, especially for people who had no other options but to live in almshouses or in an asylum. For all of the places she visits, Fuller expresses her sadness in seeing the conditions of those places.
The children in the farm school, for example, were not being treated humanely but rather were being given the most basic treatment needed for survival. She argued that these children needed more- they needed to have a decent education in all areas so that they would have a fair opportunity at life when they left. Likewise, the people in the penitentiary were treated with very little respect. She argues in her essay that a man treated with respect will employ respect. Fuller believed in rehabilitation rather than punishment. The women in the almshouses, some of who had just given birth, were left for strangers to stare at. They were not living under healthy conditions in any way. Fuller finally expresses how New York was supposed to be a model city for the rest of America. She urged for there to be change for the better- for the places she visited and the rest of them in New York. Fuller believed that New York could be greater than it was as it had wealth, desire and intelligence, and she detailed how it could be achieved by focusing on change for the charities she visits.