Like abolitionism, temperance, and other reforms, women’s rights was an international movement. Lacking broad backing at home, early feminists found allies abroad. “Women alone will say what freedom they want,” declared an article in The Free Woman, a journal established in Paris in 1832. With their household chores diminished because of the availability of manufactured goods and domestic servants, many middle-class women chafed at the restrictions that made it impossible for them to gain an education, enter the professions, and in other ways exercise their talents. Whether married or not, early feminists insisted, women deserved the range of individual choices—the possibility of self-realization—that constituted the essence of freedom.
Women, wrote Margaret Fuller, had the same right as men to develop their talents, to “grow... to live freely and unimpeded.” The daughter of a Jeffersonian congressman, Fuller was educated at home, at first under her father’s supervision (she learned Latin before the age of six) and later on her own. She became part of New England’s transcendentalist circle (discussed in Chapter 9) and from 1840 to 1842 edited The Dial, a magazine that reflected the group’s views. In 1844, Fuller became literary editor of the New York Tribune, the first woman to achieve so important a position in American journalism.
In Woman in the Nineteenth Century, published in 1845, Fuller sought to apply to women the transcendentalist idea that freedom meant a quest for personal development. “Every path” to self-fulfillment, she insisted, should be “open to woman as freely as to man.” Fuller singled out Abby Kelley as a “gentle hero” for continuing to speak in public despite being denounced by men for venturing “out of her sphere.” Fearing that marriage to an American would inevitably mean subordination to male dictation, Fuller traveled to Europe as a correspondent for the Tribune. There she married an Italian patriot. Along with her husband and baby, she died in a shipwreck in 1850 while returning to the United States.