Margaret Fuller was born in Boston and pushed hard at a young age by a father who, when she was just four years old, recognized her high level of intelligence and sought to instill in her a thirst for knowledge. Her father, Timothy Fuller, a Unitarian rationalist, treated her “not as a plaything, but as a living mind,” she explained (Gornick, 2012, p. 2). While it is true she later wrote at length about how much she appreciated being induced by her intellectual father to study literature, philosophy and to learn languages even before her teens, she reportedly suffered “lifelong migraines, permanent insomnia and impaired eyesight” as a result of the intensity of the pedagogic pressure from her father (Gornick, p. 2). She also had a constant worry that “her intellectual output was insufficient,” Gornick writes in The Nation; this was ironic because she was such an intellectual powerhouse and so given to voicing her august opinions that some of America’s greatest literary icons (Nathaniel Hawthorne, for example) could barely stand to be in the same room with her (Cornick, p. 2).
Fuller’s arguments for equal treatment of women
In her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century, Fuller contributed to the emerging feminist movement by arguing that “a good world could only be achieved” when women were fully recognized “as citizens in their own right” (Cornick, p. 3). Fairness in the world could only come, Fuller asserted, through the “intellectual and spiritual elevation of each and every human being” — and this intellectual / spiritual achievement for women could only be manifested through “a wealth of literary, philosophical and historical references” (Cornick, p. 3). Horace Greeley, publisher of the New York Tribune, responded to her book by commenting that it was:
“The loftiest and most commanding assertion yet made of the right of Woman to be regarded and treated as an independent, ration, being entitled to an equal voice in framing and modifying the laws she is required to obey” (Cornick, 3-4).
Meanwhile, a biography on Fuller published by the reports that Woman in the Nineteenth Century was “her major gift to the times,” a “manifesto for the women’s rights movement” (UUA, 2002, p. 4). In the book Fuller depicted the “oppression of the female sex through history and advocated equal status for women” (UUA, p. 4). Fuller, who was raised a Unitarian, attended the Unitarian church headed by antislavery activist Rev. Edward B. Hall and in 1842 she adopted her faith in Christianity to “her own needs” (UUA, p. 4). She justified her faith by writing that Christianity should include “the deep consciousness of a Moses with the holy love and purity of Jesus”; but she added that the “blue sky” preached to her “better than any brother” (UUA, p. 4).
While in Italy in 1848, Fuller, who was sending essays back to New York to Greeley’s publication, became “an ardent supporter” of the revolution in Italy. She advocated in that regard that “revolution meant freedom and human rights for the laboring class and for women” (UUA, p. 5). That is the second major argument referenced in this paper.
A biographical sketch about Fuller in the Gale Biography In Context (“Feminist Writers, 1996) reports that Fuller’s very successful lectures (from 1839 to 1844) in Boston “contributed to the growth of organized American feminism” (Gale, 1996, p. 3). They were called “Conversations” and they advocated for women’s rights. Fuller explained:
The intent of “Conversations” was “to systemize thought and give precision and clearness in which our sex are so deficient, chiefly, I think, because they have so few inducements to test and classify what they receive. To ascertain what pursuits are best suited to us, in our time and state of society, and how we may make the best use of our means for building up the life of thought upon the life of action” (Gale, p. 2)
Fuller argued that the key challenge for leadership within the women’s movement was to “encourage women, who were not traditionally challenged intellectually, to develop their thinking skills and speaking skills,” the Gale biography continues. Fuller had learned certain tools useful for education from Louisa May Alcott, and with Fuller’s powerful personality and her “commanding presence,” she made “Conversations” into a program that had “a lasting impact” (Gale, p. 3). That is the third major argument put forward by Fuller and referenced in this paper.
The Gale biography (like every biography of Fuller) extolled the merits of Woman in the Nineteenth Century; in the book Fuller’s “primary argument revolved around the fact that neither men nor women should be confined into stereotyped gender roles” (Gale, p. 3). Instead, Fuller insisted that women don’t need to “act or rule” but instead “as a nature to grow, as an intellect to discern, as a soul to live freely and unimpeded” because she believed women possess “intuitive intellect” the same as men (Gale, p. 4). This is another value argument she made: that all people, male and female, should not be stereotyped.
Fuller also argued for women to be given the right to receive the same education as men, to vote, and to own property (which they could not at that time): her notion of basic rights included getting “every privilege already acquired for himself — elective franchise, tenure of property, liberty to speak in public assemblies” (Fuller, 1999, pp. ix-x). She also argued that women and “all oppressed people, whether male or female, black, yellow, or red,” were “worthy of & #8230; entitlement for the simple reason that they were human” (Fuller, x).
On myriad occasions — through many columns, letters and books that Fuller left for posterity — she insisted that the “development of one [male] cannot be effected without that of the other [woman]” (Fuller, 1). Moreover, her “highest wish” was that the truth of fairness between the genders “..should be distinctly and rationally apprehended” (Fuller, 1).
Fuller, Margaret. Woman in the 19th Century. North Chelmsford, MA: Courier Dover
Gale Biography in Context. “(Sarah) Margaret Fuller / Feminist Writers.” Retrieved November
29, 2012, from http://0-ic.galegroup.com. 1996,
Gornick, Vivian. “A Double Inheritance: On Margaret Fuller.” The Nation. Retrieved November
29, 2012, from http://www.thenation.com. 2012.
Unitarian Universalist Association. “Margaret Fuller.” Retrieved November 29, 2012, from http://www25.uua.org/uuhs/duub/articles/margaretfuller.html. 2002.