Fuller, Margaret

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Fuller, Margaret

Fuller, Margaret, 1810–50, American writer, lecturer, and public intellectual, b. Cambridgeport (now part of Cambridge), Mass. She was one of the most influential personalities in the American literary circles of her day. A precocious child, she was forced by her father, a Massachusetts congressman, through an education that impaired her health but nonetheless gave her a broad knowledge of literature and languages. A stimulating talker, she conducted (1839–44) a series of conversation classes for society women in Boston on social, literary, historical, and philosophical topics. She was an ardent feminist, and her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845) treated feminism in its economic, intellectual, political, and sexual aspects. A leader of transcendentalism, she edited its premier journal, the Dial, for its first three years (1840–43). Although she has been identified as Zenobia in Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance, she was never in sympathy with the Brook Farm experiment upon which the book is based. More recognizable is James Russell Lowell's caricature of her as Miranda in the Fable for Critics. Horace Greeley, attracted by her writings, including Summer on the Lakes in 1843 (1844), called her (1844) to New York City as the first literary critic of the New York Tribune, from which her Papers on Literature and Art (1846) were republished. While working for Greeley, she also wrote essays on the unfairness of marriage, abuses in asylums and prisons, and African-American and woman suffrage.

She sailed for England in 1846, and there became the first American female foreign correspondent. She also met and impressed such eminent writers as George Sand, George Eliot, Matthew Arnold, and William Wordsworth. In 1847, Fuller went to Rome, where she married the Marchese Ossoli, a follower of Mazzini, and with him took part in the Revolution of 1848–49, writing letters home describing the situation for Tribune readers. In 1850, while sailing home to the United States, she and her husband and 20-month-old son were drowned when the ship was wrecked off Fire Island, N.Y. Also lost in the wreck was the manuscript of her history of the Roman Republic. Her works were republished incompletely by her brother, Arthur Fuller; her love letters were edited by Julia Ward Howe; and three of her transcendentalist friends, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Henry Channing, and James Freeman Clarke, created an anthology of her works and reminiscences of her life entitled The Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli (1852, repr. 1972) that for a few months was America's best-selling book.


See her selected writings, Woman and the Myth, ed. by B. G. Chevigny (1977); her letters (ed. by R. N. Hudspeth, 4 vol., 1983–87); J. Myerson, ed., Fuller in Her Own Time (2008); biographies by J. W. Howe (1883, repr. 1969), T. Higginson (1884), M. Wade (1940, repr. 1973), P. Blanchard (1987), C. Capper (2 vol., 1992 and 2007), B. G. Chevigny (1976, rev. ed. 1994), J. v. Mehren (1995), M. M. Murray (2008), J. Matteson (2012), and M. Marshall (2013); studies by P. Miller, ed. (1963), J. Myerson, ed. (1980), D. Watson (1989), F. Fleischmann, ed. (2000), and J. Steele (2001).

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Fuller, (Sarah) Margaret

(1810–50) feminist, literary critic; born in Cambridgeport, Mass. Her father, Timothy Fuller, was a prominent Massachusetts lawyer-politician who, disappointed that his child was not a boy, educated her rigorously in the classical curriculum of the day. Not until age 14 did she get to attend a school for two years (1824–26) and then she returned to Cambridge and her course of reading. Her intellectual precociousness gained her the acquaintance of various Cambridge intellectuals but her assertive and intense manner put many people off. Her father moved the family to a farm in Groton, Mass. (1833), and she found herself isolated and forced to help educate her siblings and run the household for her ailing mother. From 1836 to 1837, after visiting Ralph Waldo Emerson in Concord, she taught for Bronson Alcott in Boston, and then at a school in Providence, R.I. All the while she continued to enlarge both her intellectual accomplishments and personal acquaintances. Moving to Jamaica Plain, a suburb of Boston, in 1840, she conducted her famous "Conversations" (1840–44), discussion groups that attracted many prominent people from all around Boston. In 1840, she also joined Emerson and others to found the Dial, a journal devoted to the transcendentalist views; she became a contributor from the first issue and its editor (1840–42). Her first book, based on a trip through the Midwest (1840–42), was Summer on the Lakes (1844) and this led to her being invited by Horace Greeley to be literary critic at the New York Tribune in 1844. She published her feminist classic, Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845). In addition to writing a solid body of critical reviews and essays, she became active in various social reform movements. In 1846 she went to Europe as a foreign correspondent for the Tribune. In England and France she was treated as a serious intellectual and got to meet many prominent people. She went on to Italy in 1847 where she met Giovanni Angelo, the Marchese d'Ossoli, ten years younger and of liberal principles; they became lovers and married in 1849, but their son was born in 1848. Involved in the Roman revolution of 1848, she and her husband fled to Florence in 1849. They sailed for the U.S.A. in 1850 but the ship ran aground in a storm off Fire Island, N.Y., and Margaret's and her husband's bodies were never found.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.