Activity 2: Introducing Margaret Fuller

Activity 2: Introducing Margaret Fuller
Activity 2: Introducing Margaret Fuller

Activity time: 20 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Review the story so you can present it effectively.
  • Copy Handout 1 and the story for all participants.
  • Prepare to project or make copies of Leader Resource 1.
  • Arrange for two volunteers to read the story, one serving as the narrator and the other reading the excerpts from Fuller's own writings. If possible, provide the story to volunteers before the workshop.

Description of Activity

Project or distribute copies of Leader Resource 1. Introduce Margaret Fuller, using these or similar words:

Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) was a prolific and talented writer, a creative thinker, and one of the pre-eminent United States human rights advocates. She was the first editor of The Dial, the Transcendentalist's literary magazine. She was the first major American foreign correspondent and the first literary editor of a major U.S. metropolitan newspaper (the New York Tribune).

Margaret's upbringing sheds important light on her later work. Her father, Timothy Fuller, Jr., was also her tutor. He was a staunch, old line Unitarian rationalist and a public figure. He tyrannically ruled over every aspect of Margaret's life and endeavored to educate her as the boy he had wanted in his oldest child. Paternal love from this man was earned rather then freely given. Fuller conformed. Biographer Joel Myerson notes that by age fifteen, her scholarly routine, including reading literary and philosophical works in four languages, lasted from five in the morning until eleven at night. The result: extreme achievement.

Like father, like daughter. As she grew up, she was popularly stereotyped as "habitually sneering, scoffing, and arrogant."

Fuller was a person with a brilliant mind who struggled with cultural notions that women could not be intellectual. As she matured, her life experiences led her both to feel compassion for others and to understand the ways in which she needed to embrace both her emotional life and her intellectual gifts. She was keenly aware of the limits placed on women in the society in which she lived and in 1845 published the feminist classic, Women in the Nineteenth Century. As Fuller succeeded in joining head to heart through mystical experiences, she became an international advocate for human rights. She called for a new humanity for her colleagues and peers, the hyper-rational Boston Unitarian elite. A critic of both traditional and transcendental Unitarian dogma, Fuller preached liberal religious freedom, saying "I have pledged myself to nothing. God and the soul and nature are all my creed, subdivisions are unimportant.... I act for myself, but prescribe for none other."

Fuller had heartfelt hope, transformed into action. And so she said, "the soul says to us all: Cherish your best hopes as a faith, and abide by them in action. Such shall be the effectual fervent means to their fulfillment."

Distribute Handout 1, which contains more detail about Fuller's life, and invite participants to read it at home.

Distribute the story and invite participants to listen as the two volunteers read it aloud. After the reading, ask participants to reflect in silence on the events of Fuller's life and her account of her mystical experience. Ask them to consider these questions in the silence of their own thoughts or to respond in their theology journals:

  • Which parts of the narrative resonate for you?
  • Which parts challenge or trouble you?
  • Have you ever had what you would describe as a mystical experience?
  • Have you ever experienced a moment that changed the direction of your life?

Allow five minutes for this reflection.

Now explain to participants that the stage had already been set for Fuller to look to her heart for her religion, using these or similar words:

By the time she recounted her earlier mystical experience, Fuller had already rejected the cold rationalism of the traditional Unitarian religious services as well as the ungrounded sentiments of her Transcendentalist friends who seem to have little sympathy with mere life and did not "seem to see the plants grow, merely [to] rejoice in their energy." She had also stripped away the theological overlays of the revivalist preachers and Baptist enthusiasts. What remained for Fuller was a profoundly personal sense that feelings were not criminal. She knew that thoughts and feelings are linked.

Her writings including Women in the Nineteenth Century, and the life experiences into which she threw herself reflected her new understanding. She brought both her intellectual gifts and her compassion to her writing and speaking, becoming a strong advocate for liberation and civil rights for all.

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