(Champion of women's rights, teacher, editor, foreign correspondent, first American feminist)
She was born Sarah Margaret Fuller on May 23, 1810, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was the first child of Timothy Fuller and Margaret Crane. Her father taught her to read and write at the age of 3 1/2. By the age of 6, she could read fluently in Latin and by 12, she was reading Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Moliere. She loved the study of Locke's metaphysics and enjoyed reading everything she could on Plato.
In 1833, the family moved to Groton, Massachusetts, and by 1835, both her mother and her father were ill. When her father died of cholera, Margaret took over the household duties and became the head of the family, forced at a young age to support her siblings and her ailing mother. She was deeply affected by her father's dath and once said, "My father's image follows me constantly." She taught school in Boston from 1836 to 1837 and then moved on to Providence, Rhode Island. It was also during this time she met Ralph Waldo Emerson who became her teacher and her mentor.
In 1839, Margaret returned to Boston where she began holding a 'conversation' in her home on various topics each week, and many renowned men and women attended her seminars. Since there was a ban on public speaking by women for pay at that time, this was all done in violation of the law. From 1840-1842, she served as editor of the literary publication, "The Dial" which she had co-founded with Emerson and the reformer, George Ripley. In "The Great Lawsuit: Man vs Men and Woman vs. Women" she examined the problems of women's rights and sexual roles. Her book, "Women in the Nineteenth Century" was the first detailed statement of feminism in the United States and inspired the first women's rights conference in Seneca Falls.
In 1844, she accepted an offer from Horace Greeley and began writing reviews for the New York Tribune and became one of the first women to earn a living at full-time journalism. In 1846, she sailed to Europe as America's first female foreign correspondent, and in England she met Guiseppe Mazzini who had been in exile from Italy since 1837. In 1847, Margaret settled in Italy and took part in the revolution of 1848-1849 where she played an active role in the Siege of Rome. It was during this time that she met and fell in love with the 26 year old Italian revolutionary, Giovanni Ossoli, and the two moved in together in Florence, Italy. She was 38 years old when she gave birth to their only son.
It was 1850 when the family set sail for America on the USS Elizabeth. On the way, the ship's master died of smallpox, and their young son also caught the disease, but they were able to nurse him back to health. Fuller had written a manuscript on the history of the Italian Revolution and had it on board with her, but on July 19. 1850, the ship hit a sandbar off Fire Island, New York. Margaret, Giovanni, and their son drowned after clinging onto the boat wreckage for twelve hours; she had refused to leave Giovanni. Survivors say that she sang songs to the baby to keep him calm. Only her son's body was recovered along with a trunk full of letters and some of the baby's clothes. Henry Thoreau searched the shore in vain for Margaret, Giovanni, and her last manuscript were lost to the world forever. The Fuller family erected a monument to Margaret on their plot at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.
Margaret Fuller was truly America's first feminist and holds a distinctive place in the cultural life of the American Renaissance. The powerful plaque her family had placed at her grave site truly brings tears to my eyes.