Sep 052010

What were we born to do? How shall we do it?

Great Thinker, Journalist, Teacher, Book Reviewer, First Woman Allowed To Use The Library at Harvard

Like Mary Wollstonecraft, Frances Wright, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and countless others – Sarah Margaret Fuller believed that women were intellectually equal to men and spent her life discoursing and conversing on this subject, which was still a radical idea in the 1800s. She had an Oprah-like influence on women and men of her day and is remembered as one of the most brilliant minds of the nineteenth century.  Ignorance is bliss left her decidedly unblissful.  Like many women, financial need inspired her trail-blazing career.   When she was twenty-five, her father died, and his estate was taken over by her uncles leaving Sarah feeling humiliated, helpless and financially dependent – women could not own property then.  Her seminal book Woman In The Nineteenth Century began as “conversations” designed to encourage women in self-expression and independent thinking” and were held – just for women – in private homes eventually becoming so popular that she began charging money thus making a living.

Her influence on feminism is incalculable.

She was SO educated – by the age of three and a half she could read and write – by four and half she could do math, and by the age of five she learned Latin and taught herself many more languages. Some of her influences were her teacher/father, George Sand – the famous scandalous cross dressing, sexually flouting rule breaking French novelist, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Nathaniel Hawthorne who both wrote about HER.  Feminist, trailblazer and the first gal allowed to use Harvard’s Library (the school did not admit women until the 1940s and only let them into the dorms in 1972!).  And, like Anne Hutchinson, Margaret Fuller died so ironically and tragically. Fuller became politically involved in the European Revolution and was a foreign correspondent  – the first of her sex – another trail she blazed, She was returning to America from Europe with her new husband and infant with a manuscript ready about the history of the Roman Revolution.  The boat sank – just off Fire Island.

Mar 032010

Lucretia Mott: 1793-1880.

“I have no idea of submitting tamely to injustice inflicted either on me or on the slave. I will oppose it with all the moral powers with which I am endowed. I am no advocate of passivity.”

Lucretia Coffin Mott did a lot; of vindicating of women’s rights.  Born one year after Mary Wollstonecraft’s radical A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman was published, this Major Mommy of the women’s movement inspired and guided generations of feminists from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to Lilly Ledbetter.   Abolitionist, reformer, minister, organizer, wife of fifty years to a guy who sounded an awful lot like a real partner, and mother of six, Lucretia Mott was first and foremost a Quaker. She grew up on Nantucket Island, where the men went out to sea and the women did – well – everything.  Lucretia helped her mom, who was very busy running the business, the house, raising the family – your basic nineteenth century multi-tasking Quaker woman. The peace loving spiritually guided religiously persecuted group was founded on the principles of equality and justice and did she ever practice what she preached.  And she did actually preach. The Quakers or The Society of Friends as they were called were the only religious group to allow women preachers (see Anne Hutchinson).  She was an ordained Quaker Minister at the age of twenty-eight, becoming America’s most beloved, respected and well-known advocate of abolition and women’s rights. She talked the talk and walked the walk, like not using any slavery-produced products (cotton cloth, and cane sugar) and her home was also a stop on Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad.  She formed the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society after being told No Girls Allowed in The American Anti-Slavery Society.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton (the first real Architect of The Women’s Movement) first heard her preach in 1840 when they were both on the same ship to London where they were to represent America at the World Anti-Slavery Convention.  It was there that the two women, twenty years between them, bonded after being told – again – No Girls Allowed. This of course inspired America’s first Women’s Rights Convention eight years later (see Seneca Falls). Who knew that just saying no could be so motivating?  In 1866, Mott became President of the American Equal Rights Association and spent the rest of her life peacefully fighting for equality.

Mar 022010

Frances Kemble

“To Be Or Not To  – HEY!  That Should NOT Be!!!!”

Breadwinner, Actress, Wife, Mother, Poet, Author, Playwright, Divorcee, Family Savior, Abolitionist, Bloomer-Wearing Trendsetter….

Beautiful, talented British Fanny Kemble of the famous English theatrical family, was keen on acting but when her father was facing bankruptcy, she took to the Covent Garden stage playing Shakespeare’s Juliet and saved the family from financial ruin.  A few years later, the family again fell on hard times and again she saved them when she toured America, where she thrilled the masses, became a famous beloved actress and met her future husband.   Pierce Butler was smitten.  A gentleman from a distinguished and wealthy Philadelphia family, his famous grandfather “Major Butler” was a Revolutionary War Veteran and an author of the Fugitive Slave Act.

They settled in Georgia and by the time their two daughters, Sarah and Frances were born, Mr. Butler was no longer so impressed with his wife’s artistry when instead of devoting all of her time to him, she spent some of her time writing, including a treatise on anti-slavery that HE FORBADE her to publish.  Guess he thought one author in the family was enough.  When he inherited an island full of slaves and The Butler Family went to stay (for four months) Fanny was appalled, aghast and against the inhumane treatment of the slaves. Her husband was not interested in her feelings or thoughts so like any great writer she wrote them down in her diary, which later was published.  In the meantime, she fervently protested to her husband, but “me thinks the lady doth protest too much” and the marriage ended.  Badly.  Mr. Butler sued her for her divorce on the grounds of abandonment.  Yes she abandoned a life married to slavery.  But, as was the case in those days she lost custody of her children.  Although she did gain more fame and respect and quite the honorable place in history as an abolitionist when her diary of life on an island with slaves, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation, was published, turning British sentiment against slavery during the Civil War. She is also known as the first gal to wear the pantaloons, the Turkish costume that became known as the controversial Bloomer Costume. Fanny Kemble spent the rest of her life writing and performing, choosing to be or not to be.