Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli (May 23, 1810 - July 19, 1850) was a journalist, critic and women's rights activist.
Margaret Fuller was born May 23, 1810, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Margaret Fuller House, in which she was born, is still standing today. Her father, Timothy Fuller, a lawyer and prominent politician, gave her a vigorous classical education which shaped the bend of her mind but--according to Fuller's own testimony--also sensitized her to the personal expense of her society's masculinized values.
Read At Home And Abroad by Margaret Fuller, one of five of her works available free from Project Gutenberg.
In 1836 she taught at the Temple School in Boston and from 1837 to 1839 taught in Providence, Rhode Island. Fuller became friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and became one of the leaders of the movement known as transcendentalism. In 1839 she began organizing "conversations", discussions amongst local women, in the parlor in the home of the Peabodys in Boston. Held every Saturday at noon, Fuller intended these meetings to compensate for the lack of education for women and discussions and debates focused on a variety of subjects, such as mythology, art, education and women's rights. A number of significant figures in the women's rights movement attended these "conversations". Ideas brought up in these discussions were developed in Fuller's major works, "The Great Lawsuit" and Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), which argue for the independence of women and the necessity of changing the unequal gender relationships of nineteenth-century society.
Fuller edited the transcendentalist journal, The Dial, for the first two years of its existence from 1840 to 1842. Publishing some of her most experimental essays, Fuller was able to feminize Ralph Waldo Emerson's paradigm of "self-reliance" (founded upon the intuition of a divine energy within) by arguing that men and women contain powerful female energies as well. (Emerson had argued for the intuition of "God within.")
When Fuller moved to New York and joined Horace Greeley's New York Tribune as literary critic in 1844, she became the first full-time book reviewer in journalism and, by 1846, was the publications first female editor. In her front-page columns--signed with a '*'--Fuller discussed a wide range of topics, ranging from art and literature to the reform of society.
Fuller was viewed as especially vain among the circle of transcendentalists. She once said that she never met her intellectual equal, and when she announced, "I accept the universe!" Thomas Carlyle retorted, "By Gad, she’d better!" Also, due to her feminist beliefs, she was the source of many jokes. She used to recite a passage saying “if you ask me what offices [women] may fill, I reply--any. I do not care what case you put; let them be sea captains, if you will.” Horace Greeley used to yell "LET THEM BE SEA CAPTAINS IF THEY WILL," whenever she waited for him to open the door for her.
Assignment in Europe
Fuller was sent to Europe in 1846 by the New York Tribune, specifically England and Italy, as its first female foreign correspondent. There she interviewed many prominent writers including George Sand and Thomas Carlyle — whom she found disappointing, due to his reactionary politics amongst other things. Fuller's first-hand accounts of England, France, and Italy provided powerful analyses of societies poised on the brink of revolution (which broke out in France and Italy in 1848).
In Italy she met the Italian revolutionary Giovanni Ossoli who had been disinherited by his family. Fuller and Ossoli had a child together named Angelo and the couple moved in together in Florence, Italy, likely before they were married. They may have gotten married in 1847. The couple supported Giuseppe Mazzini's revolution for the establishment of a Roman Republic in 1849 — he fought in the struggle while Fuller volunteered to run a supporting hospital. During this period, Florence Nightingale visited Fuller and Rome to pick up lessons on hospital management.
Fuller, Ossoli, and their child were completing a five-week return voyage to the United States aboard the ship Elizabeth when, on July 18, 1850 around 3:30 a.m., the ship slammed into a sandbar about one hundred yards away from Fire Island, New York. The family did not survive.Henry David Thoreau traveled to New York, at the urging of Emerson, to search the shore but neither Fuller's body nor that of her husband were ever recovered; only the child Angelino had washed ashore. Among the articles lost was Fuller's manuscript on the history of the Roman Republic. Many of her writings were collected together by her brother Arthur as At Home and Abroad (1856) and Life Without and Life Within (1858). Her memorial is in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Fuller was the great aunt of Buckminster Fuller.
Fuller was an early proponent of feminism and especially believed in providing education to women.
Margaret Fuller was likely the inspiration for the character Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter, specifically her radical thinking about "the whole race of womanhood". She may also be the basis for the character Zenobia in one of Hawthorne's other works, The Blithedale Romance.
She was also an inspiration to poet Walt Whitman, who believed in her call for the forging of a new national identity and a truly American literature.
Fuller, however, was not without her critics. The influential editor Rufus Wilmot Griswold, who believed she went against his notion of feminine modesty, referred to Woman in the Nineteenth Century as "an eloquent expression of her discontent at having been created female".