| Sarah Margaret Fuller, who was born at
Cambridgeport, Massachusetts in May 1810, was the first of an
eventual six surviving children of Unitarian parents, Margarett
Crane and Timothy Fuller, Jr.
Timothy Fuller was an Harvard educated lawyer who was to serve
four terms in the United States Congress.
Because of the early demise of a younger sister Margaret
Fuller was effectively an only child until she was five years old
and was thus the focus of her parents attention. She learned the
alphabet and numbers by age three, began reading Virgil (in
Latin) at age six and Shakespeare at age eight. Whilst the
expectations of her parents, (her father in particular), helped
to form Margaret's life and character "The consequence was a
premature development of the brain, that made me a 'youthful
prodigy' by day, and by night a victim of spectral illusions,
nightmare and somnambulism..." Margaret's bookish habits were
such as to cut her off from the usual childhood relationships
with others of her years.
Between 1819 and 1825, Margaret variously attended the
Cambridge Port Private Grammar School, Dr. Park's Boston Lyceum,
and Miss Prescott's Young Ladies' Seminary in Groton,
Massachusetts. Overall she received a good classical education,
then most unconventional for a young girl. Margaret further
challenged convention by gaining admittance to the male-only
halls of Harvard College Library. She was eventually to become
proficient in four languages, making it possible for her to read
Margaret and some of her friends were particularly interested
in "romantic movement" authors like Rousseau, Byron and Mme. de
Although she was not really comfortable in society at this
early stage in her life her conversational powers won her the
admiration of many students. James Freeman Clarke commented that
a conversation with Margaret "could not merely entertain and
inform, but make an epoch in one's life."
Her father's sudden death of cholera in the fall of 1835 threw
the family into financial crisis. Margaret Fuller was then
twenty-five and had to give up the keenly anticipated prospect of
a European tour with some literary friends. She struggled to take
her father's place, protecting her mother's interests in an
inheritance dispute with her father's brother and also seeing to
the education and welfare of the younger children. From that time
forward, financial difficulties plagued her life, the education
of two younger brothers at Harvard College had to be funded.
In compensation for the lost trip to Europe, Eliza Farrar
and Harriet Martineau urged Emerson to befriend Fuller, and
Elizabeth Palmer Peabody suggested he invite her to Concord.
Though she had counted on the experience abroad to prepare her
for a literary career, the introduction into the
Transcendentalist circle served the purpose.
After visiting Emerson by invitation for three weeks in 1836
she became acquainted with many transcentalists including Bronson
Alcott was an educator who invited her to teach at his
innovative Temple School in Boston. She took up such a post in
December of that year.
Emerson himself at first was a little put off by Margaret
being on the plain side and being disconcertingly nearsighted. On
better acquaintance however he came to consider that she was
intellectually a most rewarding personality showing nobility of
mind and a capacity for being extremely entertaining.
In the event Bronson Alcott's Temple School lapsed towards
into a financial failure. Margaret subsequently worked for a time
from 1837 as a principal teacher in a Providence, Rhode Island,
In March 1839 the Fuller family moved to Jamaica Plain near
Boston. Margaret Fuller, the life-changingly spellbinding
conversationalist, held women only "conversation classes," in
Elizabeth Palmer Peabody's West Street bookstore in Boston in
1839 designed to emancipate women from their traditional
intellectual subservience to men. Her companions during these
conversations usually including many women influentially
connected with Unitarian and Transcendentalist circles such as
Lidian (Mrs. Ralph Waldo) Emerson, Sarah Bradford Ripley,
Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia Peabody, Abigail Allyn Francis, Lydia
Maria Child (who was a particularly close friend), Elizabeth
Hoar, Eliza Farrar, Mary Channing, Sophia Dana Ripley, Ellen and
Caroline Sturgis, and Lydia (Mrs. Theodore) Parker. This famous
series of conversations was planned for an attendance of twenty
five women committed to thirteen weeks of conversation, from noon
to two once a week.
A series of mixed gender conservational classes was also
embarked upon but these proved to be significantly less
successful in attracting continued participation and
Margaret Fuller derived a steady income from these
conversations such that they supported her for five years during
which she published her celebrated translation of Eckermann's
"Conversations with Goethe" (1839), the correspondence between
Karoline von Günderode and Bettina von Arnim (1842), and
several shorter pieces.
From late in 1839 she also shared editorial duties with Ralph
Waldo Emerson in The Dial, the newly established (by Emerson,
George Ripley and others) quarterly periodical that, from July
1840, aired the aims and opinions of New England
Transcendentalism. Besides encouraging persons including Bronson
Alcott, George Ripley, Theodore Parker, James Freeman Clarke,
Nathaniel Hawthorne , and Henry David Thoreau to make
contributions of essays and articles Margaret Fuller also wrote
much of the content of The Dial herself. The editorship was
indeed officially hers during the period 1839-2 and she continued
to perform considerable editorial duties after relinquishing the
editorship in 1842 until the Dial ceased publication in 1844.
Perhaps Margaret's most significant journalistic contribution to
The Dial was an article in 1843 entitled 'The Great Lawsuit: Man
versus Men, Woman versus Women' in which she argued for
As a Transcendentalist she was on friendly terms with, and
also intellectually respected by, Emerson, Thoreau, the Peabody
sisters, the Alcotts, and others.
Horace Greeley was a newspaper owner and editor who was
greatly impressed by Margaret Fuller's "Summer on the Lakes in
1843", (published in 1844), such that he offered her a plum job.
In December 1844 Margaret Fuller relocated to work as literary
critic for the New York Tribune (the first literary critic in any
American Newspaper). Whilst in New York Margaret Fuller became
involved in a more momentous romantic liason, with a James
Nathan, than she seems to have previously experienced. She also
became more aware of social deprivations becoming interested in
prison reform, prostitution, suffrage rights for women, slavery
abolition, and the status of minorities.
Her book, Women in the Nineteenth Century (1845), brought her
international acclaim for the enormous knowledge of literature
and philosophy it displayed and for the nobility of language with
which the rights of women as independent and rational beings were
defended. The American women's rights movement was subsequently
to have its formal beginning at Seneca Falls, New York, in
In 1846, she became a foreign correspondent for the Tribune -
an unheard of role for a young woman. She journeyed to Europe
spending time in England, Scotland, and France before basing
herself in Rome in 1847. From Rome she traveled widely in the
Italian Penisula and into Switzerland. At that time aspirations
for a more politically unified Italian Peninsula, (the peninsula
was at that time divided into eight separate states, many of them
controlled by the Austrian Empire, directly or indirectly, or by
the Papacy), under the authority of a recently installed
"liberal" Pope were strongly stirring.
The years 1848-9 proved to be "years of revolutionary unrest"
in Europe, Margaret Fuller, foreign correspondent, became an
admirer of the policies of Giuseppe Mazzini, (whom she had first
met in England), the leader of the Italian Unification Movement
and even became personally involved in the Italian revolution.
This involvement was not merely political as she also fell in
love in 1847 with one of Mazzini's lieutenants Giovanni Angelo,
the Marchese Ossoli. This relationship led to the birth of a son,
Angelo Eugene, to Miss Margaret Fuller and her Italian lover in
September 1848. Margaret at this time was in her late thirties
whilst Ossoli was in his late twenties.
She helped in the direction of a hospital during the events
that led up to the establishment of a Roman Republic and the
subsequent seige of Rome in 1849 by the French, and, after the
fall of the Roman Republic, she and Ossoli found refuge with the
English-speaking colony in Florence where they lived together
Margaret Fuller and Ossoli socialised with, amongst others,
the Brownings who themselves had a young son. She meanwhile
continued to work on a history of the Italian revolution.
Margaret claimed in some of her letters to have married Ossoli
but this has not been established as fact. Whatever their exact
marital situation Margaret and the Marchese Ossoli decided to
relocate to America with their son. They set sail on a merchant
freighter, the USS Elizabeth, from Livorno on May 17, 1850, for
the U.S. It happened however that the ships captain shortly
thereafter expired from smallpox. (Young Angelo Eugene was also
infected but managed to pull through this affliction).
The relative inexperience of the junior officer who assumed
command of the ship may have contributed to the Margaret Fuller,
Ossoli, and their young son all perishing when their ship was
wrecked in an hurricane at Fire Island just off the U.S. coast on
July 19, 1850. The mortal remains of Margaret or her Marchese
were never recovered, neither was Margaret's manuscript
describing the dramatic social and political developments in Rome
that she had recently observed.
Following this loss of life at sea the Fuller family arranged
for a memorial monument being placed on the family burial