March 19, 2010

Fuller and Child have dinner

According to a letter, Margaret Fuller dined with Lydia Maria Child on March 19, 1846. Both women were journalists, authors and — perhaps the subject of their conversation that day — reformers, particularly advocating for the rights of Native Americans and for the abolition of slavery.

Each must have admired the other — Child had been the editor of the Liberty Bell at the same time that Fuller was editing The Dial. Both had a great appreciation for writing of all kinds, be it fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. Child once said that Fuller referred to the world as the "literature of God."

Child, older than Fuller by eight years, had published her book An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans in 1833. In it, she argued that people of African descent were just as intelligent as those of European descent and called for the immediate abolition of slavery (she called it "the sacred cause of emancipation"). Fuller's more-recently published book, Summer on the Lakes, 1844, was not directly about slavery but, in it, she discussed both Africans and Native Americans. Child had already advocated for that group, too; her novel, Hobomok, was published anonymously in 1824 and featured a white woman marrying a Native American man.

Likely, both reform ideas were the topic of their discussion the day the two women dined. In fact, they were meeting at the New York home of Isaac Hopper, credited by some as the founder of the Underground Railroad. In his 70s at the time he offered his table to Child and Fuller, Hopper began organizing a system for slaves to escape to freedom when he was 16 years old — at least, according to legend. A year after he died, Child published a biography of him.

At the time they were meeting, each had already published her most enduring work. Fuller's Woman in the Nineteenth Century (considered the first major book on women's rights in the United States) had been published in 1845; though still in print, it doesn't seem to be required reading in most schools or colleges (it should be). Child's most famous work was published as a Thanksgiving poem in 1844. Though certainly not as important, daring, or literary as her other works, "Over the river and through the wood, to Grandfather's house we go..." seems much more familiar

*On a personal note: the image of Fuller, above, is from an original daguerreotype in the collection of Houghton Library, Harvard University. The exhibit "Margaret Fuller: Woman of the Nineteenth Century" is open to the public through March 26; as guest curator, I highly recommend a visit.


  1. Thanks, Rob, for your entry on these two trail-blazing women. What a historic dinner that March 19, 1846, night must have been. Reading your entry--and thinking about it--sends chills.

  2. Actually the two women already knew each other pretty well. They had studied together when Margaret was only 15 and Lydia Maria Francis had not yet married David Child. They were reading and discussing European authors such as Madame de Stael. In 1846, Child was editing an anti-slavery newspaper in New York. Margaret, who had taken a job at the New York Tribune, was living at the Greeleys' house, far from the center of things, and sometimes went to the opera with Child and stayed overnight at her place.

  3. Sorry, Polly, I didn't mean to imply that this was the day that they met for the first time or that they didn't really know one another; I was trying to bring to light the little-discussed (that I've seen) connection to Isaac Hopper. This strikes me as a power meeting, worth remembering!

  4. Makes me wish time travel were possible. That's a dinner I'd like to sit in on!

  5. I'll be they were talking about what a jerk Edgar Allan Poe was.