Sarah Margaret Fuller was born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts on May 23, 1810. Her intellectual journeys began with a rigorous education conducted by her father, a lawyer named Timothy Fuller. She had tremendous enthusiasm for classical learning, and fought for admittance to the male-only Harvard Library.
She corresponded with many of the top writers and academics of her time, and became especially smitten with the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who she sought out and eventually became close friends with. She was one of the core members of the circle of spiritual-minded Concord intellectuals that became known as the Transcendentalists, along with the educator Bronson Alcott, who hired her as a teacher at his progressive Temple School.
Fuller’s activities included conducting a series of public “conversations” on lofty philosophical subjects with other women, which generated much attention in these pre-liberated years. These sessions violated a law against organized speaking events for women, which seemed only to have increased their appeal (nobody was ever arrested). Fuller worked closely with Emerson in founding “The Dial”, the flagship publication of the Transcendentalist movement, in 1840.
She wrote book reviews for Horace Greeley’s Herald Tribune, and used this platform to promote American literature at a time when Europe completely dominated the literary scene. She published several books, including the proto-feminist classic “Woman in the Nineteenth Century.”
The first several decades of Margaret Fuller’s life were lived in the lofty realm of words and philosophy. This changed in 1847 when she fell in love with the noble-born Italian revolutionary Giovanni Angelo d’Ossoli. She became pregnant, gave birth to a son, and married d’Ossoli, who participated in the wave of violent revolutions that swept through Europe in 1848. Her husband was a Marchese, or “Marquis”, and so Margaret Fuller was now a Marchioness, though this may not have mattered much during these stormy years of political change. They remained in Rome until it fell to the French in May 1850, and then boarded a ship bound for America.
Their most primal and horrible moment awaited them. The ship floundered and was wrecked off the Long Island coast during a hurricane on July 19, 1950. A member of the crew tried to swim for safety with their three-year-old son and failed to reach shore. Both Margaret and her new husband were drowned in the wreck.
Henry David Thoreau rushed to the Fire Island beach and saw the wrecked ship where his friend had died. He tried to salvage her last manuscript but was unable to do so.
There is a Margaret Fuller Society, complete with by-laws, newsletter, and listserv, hosted at Texas A&M University.