When she lived, women could not study at Harvard. Her gaining admission to use its libraries was a first. So when Margaret Fuller's Bicentennial was launched last Thursday in Harvard's Houghton Library, the event all but sank with meaning.
The Houghton is the Little Library that Corning Glass Works built. It's where Harvard houses its rare books and manuscripts. It's gorgeous. The room where Margaret's exhibit is laid out (it's on display until March 25) is the Amy Lowell Room, which houses Lowell's personal library. (I noticed her paperback edition of Typee.) Across the hall is an extraordinary collection of the work of Samuel Johnson, amassed over sixty years by Donald and Mary Hyde (principally by her as she outlived her first husband by nearly forty years) in another spectacular room. And on it goes. I felt as if I were back at Oxford. (Which, of course, was pictured in the Johnson room, a ceiling painting of Pembroke College, attended, naturally, by my hubby.)
Now for the program itself: Heather Cole, assistant curator at the Houghton, welcomed an astonishingly large crowd. Imagine ninety people showing up in the year 2147 (when mine will be--get ready) without benefit of much publicity on a very cold winter night. Dorothy Emerson, co-chair of the MF Bicentennial in New England, followed, explaining the year of activities we have planned. I, as the other co-chair, was up next, and I'm not sure what I said except there was a lot of smiling involved, including my being able to mention that I'd named Daughter #1 for a character in Margaret's writing and that I could point out said daughter as she happened to be standing in the doorway as she was visiting from New York with her tiny twin sons, who also came to honor Margaret (they reclined for the festivities...).
Then the main performance, a brilliant, funny, and insightful talk by guest curator, Rob Velella, on Margaret as more than a feminist. It's my favorite view of her. Feminist, without doubt, but any hackneyed, misguided view of "women first" feminism does not square with Margaret's view (never mind that of most thoughtful people writing about women). Rob managed to capture the very best of Margaret in a quite succinct way, while lobbing in some of my very favorite of her quotes (for example, bloggers, "If you have knowledge, let others light their candles with it") and, all the while, explaining why he'd chosen the pieces he had for the four-cabinet exhibit. Rob, please publish your talk--and give it many times more. You get Margaret.
Now the exhibit: The Dial issue in which Margaret's signature essay, "The Great Lawsuit: Man vs Men, Woman vs Women," along with the first edition of the essay as the book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century; a letter she wrote; an essay (or something, sorry for imprecision) from her diaries where Emerson scribbled some, as I recall, admonishing words across the top; a lock of her hair, in a curl, lighter brown that I'd ever imagined.
And more. I need to go back and commune with this extraordinary display of certain remarkable bits from the life of this woman who has no peer.
NB: There are no pictures with this post because the Houghton doesn't allow pictures to be taken. I understand but I wish it had been different.