August 2, 2011

Alcott and Fuller: some conversation

On August 2, 1836, A. Bronson Alcott recorded in his journal that Ralph Waldo Emerson came to visit him in Boston. The two then went to Concord "to pass the day." At Emerson's house, Alcott noted, "I met Margaret Fuller (I had seen her once before this), and had some conversation with her about taking Miss [Elizabeth Palmer] Peabody's place in my school."

The school Alcott referenced was the Temple School, founded in Boston in 1834. With the help of Peabody, his assistant, he practiced an unconventional method of education using conversation with students to determine truth. He also often focused on the Gospel, which became controversial. Peabody published a book, Record of a School, in 1835 expounding on their methods. By the time their second book on the school was published, Alcott and Peabody had a falling out, and Alcott was searching for a replacement.

Fuller was a logical choice for many reasons, not merely her experience as a teacher. She also needed the money, as her father had died the previous year, leaving the family in debt. Alcott was quite impressed by her, elsewhere noting, "she strikes me as having the rarest good sense and discretion." At the Temple School, no doubt Fuller utilized her natural ability for conversation — a skill she would further develop by leading informal educational and philosophical gatherings among women in Boston which she called "Conversations."

By 1837, however, Fuller left Alcott's school and moved to Providence, Rhode Island. The Temple School closed amid the added controversy of Alcott's acceptance of an African-American student. Fuller later served as editor of The Dial and published many of Alcott's (comically absurd) "Orphic Sayings." Alcott's contributions became the most-criticized aspect of the journal.

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