Sarah Margaret Fuller
(May 23, 1810 – July 19, 1850)
Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli was an American journalist, editor, critic, translator, and women’s rights advocate associated with the American transcendentalism movement. She was the first American female war correspondent, writing for Horace Greeley’s New-York Tribune, and full-time book reviewer in journalism. Her book Woman in the Nineteenth Century is considered the first major feminist work in the United States.
Born Sarah Margaret Fuller in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she was given a substantial early education by her father, Timothy Fuller, who died in 1835 due to cholera. She later had more formal schooling and became a teacher before, in 1839, she began overseeing her Conversations series: classes for women meant to compensate for their lack of access to higher education. She became the first editor of the transcendentalist journal The Dial in 1840, which was the year her writing career started to succeed, before joining the staff of the New York Tribune under Horace Greeley in 1844. By the time she was in her 30s, Fuller had earned a reputation as the best-read person in New England, male or female, and became the first woman allowed to use the library at Harvard College. Her seminal work, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, was published in 1845. A year later, she was sent to Europe for the Tribune as its first female correspondent. She soon became involved with the revolutions in Italy and allied herself with Giuseppe Mazzini. She had a relationship with Giovanni Ossoli, with whom she had a child. All three members of the family died in a shipwreck off Fire Island, New York, as they were travelling to the United States in 1850. Fuller’s body was never recovered.
Fuller was an advocate of women’s rights and, in particular, women’s education and the right to employment. She revolted against Boston-Cambridge’s learned professions because she was barred from entering as a girl. Fuller, along with Coleridge, wanted to stay free of what she called the “strong mental oder” of female teachers. She also encouraged many other reforms in society, including prison reform and the emancipation of slaves in the United States. Many other advocates for women’s rights and feminism, including Susan B. Anthony, cite Fuller as a source of inspiration. Many of her contemporaries, however, were not supportive, including her former friend Harriet Martineau. She said that Fuller was a talker rather than an activist. Shortly after Fuller’s death, her importance faded; the editors who prepared her letters to be published, believing her fame would be short-lived, censored or altered much of her work before publication.
Margaret Fuller wrote Summer on the Lakes based on her travel journals while visiting the Great Lakes region and places like Chicago, Milwaukee, Niagara Falls, and Buffalo, New York. Along the way, she interacted with several Native Americans, including members of the Ottawa and the Chippewa tribes, which she considered anthropologically in the book and, ultimately, presented as people in need of sympathy. During her trip, she was accompanied by Caroline Sturgis Tappan, a close friend and confidante who also was a catalyst to many of Fuller’s ideas about art, women, and mysticism