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Houghton Exhibition Examines Margaret Fuller

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Margaret Fuller ca. 1850. MS Am 2593 (3). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

January 15, 2010 – In her short 40-year life, Margaret Fuller assembled an impressive list of firsts – she authored “Woman in the Nineteenth Century,” considered by many the first major feminist work written in the United States, she was the first editor of “The Dial,” the influential transcendentalist journal, was one of the first women to write serious literary criticism in the U.S. and was the first woman hired as an international war correspondent, to cover the Italian revolution of the 1840s…and she was the first woman allowed to conduct research in Harvard’s libraries.

Despite her accomplishments, Fuller remains unknown to much of the public, and is mentioned, if at all, as a contemporary of more well-known writers like Emerson and Thoreau. A new exhibition at Houghton Library, which examines her life and legacy, hopes to change that.

Timed to coincide with the bicentennial of her birth, “Margaret Fuller: A Woman of the Nineteenth Century” will open later this month, and includes letters and first editions of her works, including “Woman of the Nineteenth Century.” Rather than try to cover all of her widely varied life and work, the exhibition focuses on Fuller’s relationship to education, with particular emphasis on her groundbreaking offer to conduct research at Harvard’s libraries. The display also includes material related to Fuller’s education, her later work as a teacher and how the public is educated about Fuller.

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The exhibition was first proposed by Margaret Fuller Bicentennial Committee member Rob Velella last October, and found immediate support from Houghton Library staff.

“Fuller is a compelling figure because she was an influential part of a major philosophical movement and she was an early feminist,” said Houghton Assistant Curator Heather Cole. “Houghton’s holdings include an extensive collection of materials related to Fuller, and we are always happy to collaborate with the Committee to call attention to her contributions to the world of literature.” 

“Houghton Library has an amazing collection related to Margaret Fuller,” Velella said. “The challenge was how to take all that material and pare it down to only a few items which tell a story that does justice to who this woman was and is, what her life’s work was and is still interesting to people who know a lot about her, as well as those who know very little.”

Margaret Fuller: A Woman of the Nineteenth Century,” will be on display in the Amy Lowell Room of Houghton Library from January 21 through March 26. Hours, Directions