Margaret Fuller fans celebrate her bicentennial

In celebration of the bicentennial of her birth, Margaret Fuller fans gathered to listen to a  panel of distinguished scholars speak about her life and legacy Friday afternoon. Fuller (1810-1850) was a writer, feminist, Unitarian, and leader of the Transcendentalist movement whose importance to Unitarian Universalism has only recently been rediscovered.

Excitement about Fuller’s bicentennial has been widespread, with various celebrations scheduled throughout the year. Friday’s event started with a group sing of “New Worlds Manifest,” a hymn created specifically for this celebration. The song was chosen from more than 50 entries from across the country, and was composed by Laura Lucille Halfarson and adapted from Fuller’s writings.

Charles Capper

Charles Capper, professor of history at Boston University, said that when he began researching his award-winning biography Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life, she had virtually vanished from history. He noted the significance of her being celebrated “at such an important event that links her to a long tradition of liberal religion in America that she’s just beginning to be appreciated as being associated with.”

Megan Marshall, author of the award-winning biography The Peabody Sisters and an upcoming book on Fuller, spoke on Fuller’s feminism. She explained that, though she was often surrounded by men, “Margaret Fuller’s friendships with women fueled her feminism and made her whole.”

Fuller was always torn, Marshall said, between “what she saw as her rational, dispassionate, masculine intellect with her intuitive, feeling, feminine nature. This duality became the foundation of Margaret Fuller’s feminism, which was really a kind of humanism. All of us, women and men, she believed, had both masculine and feminine qualities that deserved to be drawn out, brought into communion, into balance and harmony, for us to be truly fulfilled.”

Lawrence Buell, the author of numerous books and articles on Transcendentalism, including the award-winning Emerson, discussed Fuller’s views of gender. “In practice, the male and female are perpetually passing into one another, as she puts it,” he said. “There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.”

Marshall summed up Fuller’s historical legacy for UUs: “Her life itself is a great example for Unitarian Universalism and reminds me so much of the Unitarian Universalist persona. She was always urging people to question and to ask what can be done and is this the best we can we do. I think that’s what her life story tells us and that’s what we’re still living today.”

Read UU World’s recent feature article on Margaret Fuller, and learn more about Fuller in the GA exhibit hall at table #538.

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