Women writers challenged the public to think about slavery and women's equality differently through active careers in writing, publishing, and editing. Read profiles of three who promoted the abolitionist and women's rights movements via their literary efforts.
Margaret Fuller's father drove her to achieve academically from almost the day she was born. She withstood her father's grueling course of study and went on to become one of America's foremost female intellectuals. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1810, Fuller read English at age two and Latin at six. In her teens, she could discuss classic literary and philosophical works with ease.
After a brief career as a teacher, Fuller moved to Boston, where from 1839-44 she led "conversations" for women on intellectual topics. During that time, she also published a translation of Eckermann's Conversations with Goethe. Impressed by her writing abilities, Ralph Waldo Emerson and his Transcendentalist colleagues invited her to edit their magazine, The Dial.
In 1844, Horace Greeley asked Fuller to join his New York Tribune as a literary critic. Later, she served as European correspondent for the Tribune. In each case, she was the first woman to hold such a position. In 1845, Greeley published Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century, which argued for women's equality in all aspects of life.
When the Italian revolution began in 1847, Fuller married the Marchese Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, a young republican, and headed to the battlefront. On her return to America in 1850, the ship carrying her, her husband, and her son sank in heavy seas. Neither Fuller's body nor her manuscript about the Italian Revolution were ever found.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Hailed as an abolitionist hero in the North and condemned as a virulent propagandist in the South, Harriet Beecher Stowe defined the world's image of slavery with her international bestseller, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Born the daughter of prominent minister Lyman Beecher in 1811, Harriet began her career as a teacher. But after her marriage to Calvin Ellis Stowe, she started to write seriously.
Uncle Tom's Cabin was first published in 1851-52 as a serial in an abolitionist newspaper called the National Era. It told the story of a slave family visited by all the cruelties of the "peculiar institution." The story was both a heartbreaking portrayal of the suffering of the slaves and an eloquent plea for whites to assume their Christian duty and end slavery forever.
Published in book form in 1852, Uncle Tom's Cabin sold 300,000 copies in the first year after publication. Soon Harriet Beecher Stowe was touring England as a bona fide celebrity. But if she was regarded as an abolitionist hero in the North, Southerners reserved for her their deepest hatred. Uncle Tom's Cabin would contribute significantly to the partisan sentiment between North and South. Abraham Lincoln himself even referred to Stowe as "the little woman who made this great war."
Lydia Maria Child
As a young woman, Lydia Maria Child wrote diversely, on topics ranging from historical novels and domestic tips for housewives to a magazine for young children. Most popular of her early works was The Frugal Housewife, an international bestseller she published in 1829. But after meeting abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison in 1831, Child dedicated her talents to one cause: ending slavery.
Child's An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans, published in 1833, presented a history of slavery and called on society to dismantle the slave system. From 1841-43, Child served as an editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, an abolitionist newspaper. She also edited Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, one of the most renowned first-person accounts of slave life.
Child promoted abolition not only by writing and editing. Her home in Medford, Massachusetts, was a stop on the Underground Railroad. And after John Brown's abortive raid on Harpers Ferry, Child wrote letters on Brown's behalf to the Virginia governor and helped raise money for the family of Brown and his men. After a long career promoting abolition and freedmen's rights, Child died in 1880, at age 78.
My American Experience
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