May 23rd in (Feminist) History

fullerdaguerreotypeToday in 1810 was the birth of Margaret Fuller, an American women’s rights activist and journalist who was also a part of the transcendentalism movement. Margaret’s book, Women in the Nineteenth Century, is considered the first major feminist work within the U.S., and she was also the first full-time female book reviewer in American journalism. She was educated by her father and became a teacher, later holding what she referred to as “conversations” for women, which were essentially discussions among women that helped to compensate for their inability to access higher education.

Margaret edited a transcendentalist magazine The Dial in 1840, before joining the staff of the New York Tribune in 1844. She was known as the best-read person (male or female!) in New England by her 30s, and was the first woman allowed to use Harvard’s library (wow– at Harvard tbh). Margaret Fuller was a big advocate for prison reform, and the emancipation of slaves (she also supported the rights of Native Americans), but especially for women’s rights– particularly women’s right to employment, and education. On the subject of women’s employment, she once said, “If you ask me what office women should fill, I reply—any … let them be sea captains if you will. I do not doubt that there are women well fitted for such an office”.

She was cited as an inspiration by Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda Gage,, but after her death, much of her importance as well as her voice became lost, as those who published her letters censored or altered her work. However it is rumored that she (or her personality anyway) were the inspiration for Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter.

Also on this day…

• In 1846, the birth of Arabella Mansfield, the first female lawyer in the U.S. who took the bar exam (despite it being restricted to men only) and then challenged the state court to earn women the right to be accepted to the bar.
• In 1926, the birth of Aileen Hernandez (still alive today!), an American union organizer and civil rights activist, as well as the second national president of the National Organization for Women and co-founder of Black Women Organized for Action in San Francisco.

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