Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Fuller, Margaret (1810-1850) from Encyclopedia of the Environment in American Literature

Long noted as a journalist, critic, and feminist associated with the American transcendentalism movement, Margaret Fuller remains relevant today in part because her work continues to exert a powerful influence on America's sense of, and attitude toward, the environment. Born Sarah Margaret Fuller in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1810, Margaret was the first child of Timothy Fuller (1778-1835), a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts, and Margaret Crane Fuller. Timothy Fuller believed that his daughter should have an education equal to that of a boy's of the time. Consequently, he taught her to read and write at a very young age and later included Latin, Greek, and French instruction in their lessons. Fuller's formal education began when she matriculated at Cambrigeport's Port School in 1819. From 1821 to 1822, Fuller attended the Boston Lyceum for Young Ladies, and then in 1824, the School for Young Ladies in Groton, Massachusetts.

After the death of her father in 1835, Fuller began teaching to help support her family. She taught first at Temple School in Boston and later at the private Green Street School in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1939, Fuller returned to Boston, where she began to hold conversations with the city's female elite; topics included economic, political, and social issues that affected women. During this time, Fuller became the first female member of the Transcendentalist Symposium Club, a group of intellectuals that felt that “the knowledge of reality is arrived at intuitively rather than through objective experience.” Her affiliation with this group led to Ralph Waldo Emerson offering her a position at the Transcendentalist journal, The Dial. Fuller served from 1840 to 1842 as the editor of The Dial, a publication to which she contributed much of her own writing. Because of her role at The Dial, Fuller gained recognition as a notable figure in the American transcendentalism movement. She spent time at George Ripley's Brook Farm, a communal experiment which encouraged its participants to work together as they balanced labor and leisure (Utopian Communities).

In 1843, Fuller traveled by train, steamboat, carriage, and on foot, to make a roughly circular tour of the Great Lakes region of America. After her tour, Fuller's journal of the trip was published in 1844 under the title Summer on the Lakes, in 1843. Fuller's first original book-length work, Summer on the Lakes is perhaps best described as a portfolio of sketches, poems, stories, anecdotes, dialogues, reflections, and accounts of a leisurely journey to the northwestern frontier. After reading the book, Horace Greely offered Margaret the position of literary critic and social commentator for the New York Daily Tribune.

When Fuller took the helm as the literary editor of the New York Tribune in the fall of 1844, she also began the process of publicly sharing her personal opinions on a range of political, social, environmental, and cultural issues. With each newspaper column she wrote, Fuller expressed her developing political identity as she began speaking out for women's rights and other types of reform — including abolitionism and social reform that would improve the human rights of mentally ill and prison populations. Along with these Tribune essays and her Summer on the Lakes, in 1843, Fuller is known for writing a key early feminist text called Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845), which argues for the spirituality of women. Considered by many to be her most famous work, the book we know as Woman in the Nineteenth Century first appeared in essay form in The Dial in July, 1843, under the title “The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men. Woman versus Women”; Horace Greely encouraged Fuller to expand it, and it was republished in book form in 1845.

Just one year later, Margaret Fuller went on assignment to Europe as the Tribune's first female correspondent. While in Italy, she met the Italian revolutionary Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, a man with whom she had a relationship and a son, Angelo Eugene Philip Ossoli, who was born in 1848. It is unclear whether Ossoli and Fuller ever married, and Fuller did not inform her mother about Ossoli or Angelino until 1849. On July 19, 1950, all three members of the family perished at sea just off the coast of Fire Island, New York, as they were traveling to the United States. Fuller's body was never recovered.

Within a week after her death, Horace Greeley suggested to Emerson that a biography of Fuller, to be called Margaret and Her Friends, be published. At the time of her death, Fuller had many admirers, including the early Women's rights’ advocates Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (who saw Fuller as an important influence on American women), and authors such as Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Edgar Allen Poe (who respected her writing despite personal differences). Indeed, Fuller, through her writings and the profound influence that they had on 19th-century America, managed in a “single decade to fashion herself into her generation's most famous cosmopolitan intellectual” (Capper 3). Fuller's place in American letters has been secured not only by her connections to American transcendentalism and the Women's Rights movements, but also because of the environmental concerns reflected in her important treatise, Summer on the Lakes, in 1843.

Bibliography
  • Capper, Charles; Cristina, Giorcelli eds. Margaret Fuller: Transatlantic Crossings in a Revolutionary Age. University of Wisconsin Press Madison, 2007.
  • Dickenson, Donna. Margaret Fuller: Writing a Woman's Life. St. Martin's Press New York, 1993:.
  • Murray, Meg McGavran. Margaret Fuller, Wandering Pilgrim. University of Georgia Press Athens and London, 2008.
  • Slater, Abby. In Search of Margaret Fuller. Delacorte Press New York, 1978.
  • Steele, Jeffrey. Transfiguring America: Myth, Ideology, and Mourning in Margaret Fuller's Writing. University of Missouri Press Columbia and London, 2001.
  • Heather Duerre Humann
    © 2013 Geoff Hamilton and Brian Jones

    Related Credo Articles

    Full text Article Fuller, (Sarah) Margaret (Marchesa d’Ossoli)
    Encyclopedia of Women Social Reformers

    (1810–1850) United States In 1845 the American feminist writer and journalist Margaret Fuller, an imposing and idiosyncratic intellectual...

    Full text Article Fuller, Margaret
    Germany and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History

    b. May 23, 1810; Cambridgeport, Massachusetts d. July 19, 1850; near Fire Island, New York One of the best-known female writers of her century,...

    Full text Article Fuller (Ossoli), (Sarah) Margaret 1810 - 1850
    The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English

    American journalist, critic and feminist theorist. She was born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, oldest of nine children. Her...

    See more from Credo