On this day in 1810 and not far from where these photos were taken, Sarah Margaret Fuller was born. In forty short years, the journalist-philosopher-linguist-futurist-feminist accomplished more writing by hand and traveling by carriage, train, and ship than a dozen jet-fueled, digitally equipped people combined today might. Although her name was among the handful of "most admired women" at the end of the 1800s (astonishing given that she'd already been dead for half a century), she remains relatively unknown today, except among the "Fullerenes," those for whom Margaret has gotten under their skin. That turns out to be a lot of people, including...me.
Since 1973, the year I discovered Margaret's work, I've made an annual pilgrimage to the Fuller Family plot at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Margaret's father, Timothy Fuller, a lawyer who served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and in the US Congress, and mother, Margarett Crane Fuller, along with their other children, are all buried there, as is their most famous relative, Bucky Fuller, and his wife, Anne Hewlett Fuller. Bucky's grandfather was Margaret's brother. Re: me, insofar as this is my blog, Bucky wrote the Foreword to Jeff Stamps' and my second book, The Networking Book. There, Bucky makes the link between the seemingly overwhelming challenges we face and their resolution lying largely in the work required to build networks among nations, people, and ideas.
A memorial stone, bearing a 25-line inscription, stands above the grave of Margaret and her husband, Marquis Giovanni Angelo Ossoli's, little son's body. All three of them drowned in a shipwreck in sight of land off the coast of Fire Island. Only little Nino's body was found; Margaret's and Giovanni's bodies were swept out to sea, along with a treasured trunkful of her European writings.
Why is Margaret so important, even today? She did things that women simply didn't do in her day--and that many still find it difficult to do. She supported her mother and siblings after her father died suddenly when she was 25. A contemporary of Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne, she was the editor of The Dial, arguably the first literary/political journal in the US. She was the first woman in the US to have a byline on the front page of a newspaper (Horace Greeley's New York Tribune)--and she had plenty, more than 250 in 18 months. She was the first American woman to serve as a foreign correspondent for a US newspaper, covering, among other topics, the Roman Revolution (1848-1849). She traveled alone both domestically and in Europe. And, among other books including translations of Goethe, she wrote the treatise that would serve as the principal manifesto undergirding the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848: Woman in the Nineteenth Century.
In that short book, Margaret did something that few (if any?) have managed to do: she laid out what it means to be fully human, declaring that no woman could be fully realized until man too was realized, a break with conventional Western thinking that polarizes opposites. Margaret integrated them:
There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.
Male and female represent the two sides of the great radical dualism. But in fact they are perpetually passing into one another. Fluid hardens to solid, solid rushes to fluid. There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman... Nature provides exceptions to every rule.
No writer has inspired me more with their thinking or their example. Margaret Fuller has set me off on many paths over the years, including most recently lighting fire to a trio of novels ("Woman in the 21st Century") where I seek to reprise Margaret's thinking for our current predicament.
And, no quote of hers touches down more deeply than this:
Let every woman, who has once begun to think, examine herself.
I try, especially each year on the day of Margaret Fuller's birth.