Sarah Margaret Fuller

Sarah Margaret Fuller (1810-1850), an American feminist, cultural critic, and transcendentalist, fought for equality of the sexes.

Not long after her birth on May 23, 1810, in Cambridgeport, Mass., Margaret Fuller's father started to educate her as a wonder child. She was introduced to Latin at 6 and was reading literary classics when she might still have been playing children's games. By the time she was in her 20s, she could impress such transcendentalist leaders as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott.

Fuller loved to talk, so she seized on the lyceum as a way to support herself and put forth her ideas. When she ran into masculine protest against a woman speaking to mixed audiences, she developed what she called "conversations." These systematic discussions with some of the most intelligent women in the Boston area were held from 1839 to 1844. Fuller had already begun publishing, but her most significant book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), developed from such "conversations." It proposed plans for relieving women's social restrictions and using their abilities to the fullest.

When the transcendentalists set up a journal, the Dial, in 1840, they chose Fuller as editor. Her incisive and decisive criticism of literature and the arts attracted the attention of Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, who brought her to New York as a critic for his paper in 1844.

Fuller's reviews for the Tribune demonstrated a first-rate esthetic intelligence. Though she found these duties satisfying, a trip to Europe so impressed her that in 1847 she settled in Rome. There she met and lived with a poor but handsome young Italian marquis, Angelo Ossoli, demonstrating her belief in love and in freedom for women. When the son she had by Ossoli in 1849 was a year old, they announced their marriage.

In the late 1840s, when the people of Rome were trying to shake off papal rule to form a city-state, Ossoli fought for the Roman Republic, while Fuller worked in the military hospitals. Throughout her stay abroad she had been writing for the Tribune; her descriptions of the Roman revolution were her most vivid work. When the revolution failed, the family fled, finally settling in Florence. Here she wrote the manuscript of a history of the revolution.

In May 1850 Fuller and her family embarked for New York. The ship was wrecked off Fire Island: wife, husband, and son all drowned on July 19, 1850, and in the catastrophe her manuscript was lost.

Further Reading on Sarah Margaret Fuller

The most recent biography of Margaret Fuller is Arthur W. Brown, Margaret Fuller (1964). It should be supplemented by Mason Wade, Margaret Fuller: Whetstone of Genius (1940). Joseph Jay Deiss, The Roman Years of Margaret Fuller (1969), illuminates one of her most important periods.