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Margaret Fuller: Facts & Accomplishments

Instructor: Lindsey Coley
Often thought of as a first-wave feminist, Margaret Fuller inspired the intellectual peers of her time and generations of thinkers to come. Her many accomplishments include being the first female foreign war correspondent who wrote from inside the combat and writing the first American book about women's rights for equality.

Hey There, Miss Margaret

Margaret Fuller

Margaret was born Sarah Margaret Fuller on May 23, 1810, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Timothy and Margaret Crane Fuller. Her father, a lawyer and politician of the time, would play a large role in her education by seeing to it that she was taught as strictly and fully as a boy would be. He started her with reading and writing at the early age of three and a half, and progressed to Latin around her fifth year. At age ten, she began learning French, and over the years would also conquer Greek and German. Her father kept her from anything that would be overly feminine or sentimental during those formative years.

When she was 9, Margaret started attending the Cambridge Port Private Grammar School which allowed girls, but focused primarily on prepping young men for Harvard College. Margaret proved herself to be precociously intelligent among the staff. She would go on to become the first woman allowed to use Harvard Library for research.

She also attended Dr. Park's Boston Lyceum for Young Ladies at the age of 11, and then Miss Susan Prescott's Young Ladies' Seminary in Groton, Mass., due to her parents worries that she may not be marriageable if she didn't get a little more traditional feminine education. However, that was not meant for Margaret who viewed herself as ''not born to the common womanly lot,'' and she returned to her original Port School to finish her education. All of these educational experiences and factors made her a strong critical thinker and brave feminist.

Taking on Transcendentalism

Every great thinker needs someone with whom she can discuss and develop her ideas. Margaret Fuller was lucky enough to come of age around the time of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalists. The Transcendentalists believed that the core of man and nature was good, and it was society with its institutions and boundaries that corrupted that original goodness. She was one of the first women accepted into the Transcendentalist Club, a group of New England intellectuals that included great thinkers such as Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who gathered regularly to discuss and expand upon Transcendentalist ideals. Emerson said of her, ''she was an active, inspiring companion and correspondent, and all the art, the thought, the nobleness in New England seemed at that moment related to her and she to it. She was everywhere a welcome guest.'' (1852).

With the Transcendentalist Club, Margaret became a writer and editor for The Dial, a journal that, according to Emerson, hoped to bring ''one cheerful rational voice amidst the din of mourners and polemics.''

Infamous Conversations

Around the late 1830s to the early 1840s, Margaret began to really share her knowledge with others. She believed that if you had knowledge you should ''let others light their candles in it.'' She had been previously teaching her younger siblings and, of course, constantly continuing her education. But now, she began to teach a series of language classes for young women, and also to teach at the Temple School in Boston. She soon left to receive a larger paycheck at Hiram Fuller's Greene Street School in Providence, Rhode Island, where she was a beloved teacher who focused on female culture throughout history.

One of the most important moves of her career that cemented her reputation as an intellectual feminist, or one who raises the awareness of women's rights, was to begin her series of 'Conversations'. Imagine this: it's 1839 in a small book store on a side street in Boston with a chairs pulled up in a circle and two dozen women sitting and discussing what advantages men have educationally over women. It was an open door, a stimulus, a moment in time that allowed women to share their minds and ideas. It had not happened before, and Margaret had brought it to life. She believed ''the especial genius of women… to be electrical in movement, intuitive in function, spiritual in tendency.'' These women met for two hours once a week for thirteen weeks to discuss pre-specified issues of importance to them and their time.

Margaret continued this work for almost 5 years and allowed dozens of intellectual women to discuss everything from art to religion to suffrage rights without the boundaries of discussion that were normally placed on women of the time.

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