Combine Women’s History Month with Twisting the Plot for a good dose of insight and inspiration.
Twisting the Plot is a platform for women in their 50s to explore creative ways to live their lives. One approach is to uncover examples of women who lived their later years creatively. Margaret Fuller (1810-1850), one of hundreds of women traditionally excluded from history, is one such model. Margaret cleverly wrested her life from the clutches of a culture that offered her limited, demeaning choices. Instead, Margaret twisted the plot and we continue to be the beneficiaries of her bravery.
“Very early, I knew that the only object in life was to grow”
— Margaret Fuller
You might ask what a woman who died at the age of 40 has to offer in terms of navigating the middle part of life, but keep in mind the life expectancy now is twice what it was then. In 1850, the average life expectancy was 37 years and now it’s 80 for women in the US.
Author, journalist, literary critic, educator, Transcendentalist, activist and women’s rights advocate, Margaret’s innovative design for living a meaningful life still resonates today.
Margaret said, “Very early, I knew that the only object in life was to grow,” and she clearly believed growth of all kinds did not stop when you reached a particular age. Margaret’s aim was to improve upon herself every day and it’s a goal she adhered to her entire life.
In her recent biography of Margaret Fuller, A New American Life, Megan Marshall quotes Margaret as proclaiming in her thirties that she had become, “strong, resolute and able”(210). Bolstered with confidence and conviction, Margaret moved forward when society, friends and family cautioned her to stay put.
To this I say, Margaret, how right you were! Women in mid-life are stronger for all we have managed and endured. We are focused because we have a firmer grasp on what matters to us and how we want to spend our time. We are more able than we’ve ever been, having built skills, expertise and connections throughout the earlier phases of our lives.
On the last page of her feminist tract, Women in the Nineteenth Century, at the age of 34 and single, Margaret proclaims, “I stand in the sunny noon of life”(Fuller 178).
“Atop this mound of moments, days and years, we take in a vivid view, a view of ourselves, the world and our place in it”
Margaret, to this I say, yes! In our 50s, we do stand in the sunny noon of life. We see more clearly than ever before. Atop this mound of moments, days and years, we take in a vivid view, a view of ourselves, the world and our place in it. We make informed decisions and set pertinent goals from this enhanced vantage point. Like the sun at noon, we may be at our highest point.
Margaret believed a “noble career” awaited her, “if I can be unimpeded by cares”(Marshall 210), so when her youngest brother graduated Harvard and her younger sister was available to monitor their widowed mother, she took Horace Greeley up on his offer of a editorial position at the New York Tribune. Margaret left Boston for New York City.
Fulfilling a postponed dream, Margaret then traveled to Europe in 1846, sending regular dispatches to the Tribune from abroad. Soon she was covering the Roman Revolution, becoming the first female war correspondent. While there, she became involved with a man, Giovanni Ossoli, and at age 38, birthed their son, Nino. She continued her columns home and worked on her manuscript about the Italian Revolution. She confided in her friend Ralph Waldo Emerson that she believed it would be her best work to date. As the fighting intensified, with no experience except caring for sick family members and neighbors, Margaret became head nurse in a makeshift army hospital.
Margaret rejected the narrative of the old maid, the spinster, voiceless and powerless. Instead she chose a challenging and fulfilling life, with its ups and downs, sunny and dark days. Before her decision to leave Boston for New York, she penned the words, “but what concerns me now is, that my life be beautiful, powerful, in a word, a complete life”(Fuller 177).
When Margaret planned to return to the states, many of her friends warned her that it might be better if she stayed in Italy. They believed she would not receive a warm welcome due to scandal and unconventionality. But Rome had been defeated and it was time to return home with her family. She was eager to continue work on her manuscript and would most likely have continued writing her columns for the Tribune. It’s also likely Margaret would have continued her involvement with all sorts of social activism, especially where women’s rights were concerned.
Margaret and her family did not make it home; their ship went down just off Fire Island, NY. We are grateful to Margaret and so many other women for their contributions and look to them as we map our mid and later lives in what is still relatively unchartered territory.
By all accounts, Margaret did live a beautiful, powerful and complete life. She is my guide and inspiration as I traverse the sunny noon of my life, my mantra now, I am strong, resolute and able.
- Fuller, Margaret. Woman in the Nineteenth Century. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1971.
- Marshall, Megan. A New American Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
Maria Dintino has worked in higher education full time for twenty-six years, first twenty-four at Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire and currently at Flagler College in St Augustine, Florida. For most of those years, she also instructed first year writing part time. While in graduate school she became enamored with the Transcendentalists, especially Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Although introduced to Margaret Fuller then, she did not realize her undeniable significance until years later. It is clear to Maria that Margaret is destined to claim her rightful place in American herstory and one of Maria’s goals is to help her do so.