'Margaret Fuller' Explores the Life and Accomplishments of the 19th Century Intellectual

Oct 7, 2016

Journalist and author Margaret Fuller was one of the most famous women of the early 19th century. Her life was an extraordinary mix of pioneering accomplishments. She was the first female correspondent in the U.S., the first book reviewer for a U.S. paper and an activist for a myriad of causes.

Daguerreotype of Margaret Fuller, dated July 1846,
Credit John Plumbe/Midnightdreary / Wikimedia

Fuller’s seminal book Woman in the Nineteenth Century is widely considered the first major feminist work published in the U.S. Yet, so much of her life remains a mystery.

Author Megan Marshall explores those mysteries and Fuller’s body of work in her novel, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life. Fuller's accomplishments were particularly unusual for her time, which Marshall describes as being particularly unfriendly to ambitious women. 

"Everyone was telling her she had the mind of a man, but she knew she was a woman," says Marshall. "How was she going to cope with this? ...To be brilliant, to be a great conversationalist."

Fuller's book Woman in the Nineteenth Century explored many of these themes, the meaning of femininity and the concept of gender fluidity.

Fuller's life was full of anomalies, including her professional successes. She was the editor of the transcendentalist journal The Dial, she traveled the Midwest to learn from Native American tribes and then later moved to Italy as a war correspondent. There, she had her first and only child and was married shortly after, at the age of 37. She died just a few years later with her husband and son in a shipwreck in 1850. Fuller was set to speak at the first National Women's Rights Convention in Worcester. 

"I think she really wanted women to be able to realize their intellectual capabilities and not to have to feel that was not a womanly thing to do."

By the time she was returning from Italy, she had left behind the burgeoning feminist movement to focus on the cause of revolution and independence, which was sweeping through Europe. "I don't know if she would have stayed with that had she survived the shipwreck and set foot on American soil and gone to that National Women's Convention," says Marshall. "She might well have been drawn back into that cause, but she was not so much one for just single-cause advocacy."

Author Megan Marshall will be in Milwaukee for the celebration of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee’s 175th anniversary this Sunday, October 9. She will discuss Fuller’s involvement with Unitarian churches throughout the Midwest.