Margaret Fuller: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

In this lesson we will learn about the personal and professional life of Margaret Fuller, a women's rights activist in the 1800s. We will also look at some of her quotes.

Women in the 1800s

Today a woman can not only vote but she can also do just about anything she wants. A woman can be a top executive of a global company or a woman can stay at home with her children. A woman can hold the highest positions in government or a woman can feed homeless people soup. Or she could do all of the above.

This isn't always the way it was: a woman used to have a very distinct role and had to do what her husband wanted her to do. Many women's rights activists such as Margaret Fuller helped change this way of life.

In the 1800s a woman's place was in the home. A woman was typically educated in homemaking skills. Only the men were classically educated. It was seen as unnatural for a woman to do anything outside of the home. A woman had very few choices and typically had to defer to the choices of her husband. In the United States women didn't even have the right to vote until 1919.

Margaret Fuller was a women's rights activist during the 1800s. She was well-respected for her knowledge. Yet she fought for the rights of all women to be able to have the respect and opportunities that she had.

Early Life

Margaret Fuller was born in Massachusetts on May 23, 1810. Timothy Fuller, her father, was a prominent Massachusetts lawyer and politician. He ensured that she received the best education of the day. He personally taught her the best that he could find. She attended formal school from the ages of 14-16, but other than that she was educated by her father. Growing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she came in contact with many of the great intellectuals and was able to further discuss many of these things she learned with her father.

She later said, 'Very early, I knew that the only object in life was to grow.' The education that her father gave her helped her throughout her life to accomplish great things. And she knew that this knowledge was one of the main reasons she was able to succeed. Most women were not given this opportunity. They were taught how to cook, sew, and entertain. A 'well-educated' woman in those days meant she also knew how to play instruments. Margaret Fuller wanted all women to be granted the same opportunities that she had.

Professional Life

Margaret Fuller taught at a school in Boston and then in Providence, Rhode Island for a few years. She continued to meet many of the great intellectuals of her day. This led her to starting her 'conversations' in 1840. These discussions covered many topics, but were primarily a place for women. It was a place that attracted many of the prominent people of her day and led her to many more friendships with the great intellectuals.

Margaret Fuller knew that she had a unique experience, as a woman, to not only talk with and be friends with renowned intellectuals but also to be respected by them. These 'conversations' were an opportunity not only for her to meet other prominent people but also to give other women the chance to speak out and be heard.

She also started a journal, 'The Dial,' with others such as Ralph Waldo Emerson. The journal became well-known for the great ideas that it contained. After writing her first book, Summer on the Lakes, she became a literary critic.

In 1845 she wrote Woman in the Nineteenth Century. This book became the foundation for feminist thought of her day. In this book she explores the idea of equality and how equality will make America a better country. She explains that in order to do this women need to become individuals and self-dependent.

She wrote in this book, 'There is no fully masculine man, no purely feminine woman… nature provides exception to every rule.' She didn't believe that there was a specific role for men and woman; each person could be their own individual as a man or as a woman. She also said, 'Let it not be said, whenever there is energy or creative genius, 'she has a masculine mind.'

In 1846 she became a correspondent for the Tribune. In this capacity she traveled frequently to Europe and met many of the European intellectuals.

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