Perhaps one of the biggest challenges in writing about Fuller is defining who she was and the contribution that she made. She was certainly a bright light and energizing presence of her time. A brilliant “conversationalist” (a calling perhaps best understood today as a type of interactive lecturer), Fuller was a figure of passion and conviction. Inspired by both the American transcendentalists and the German romantics, Fuller believed ardently in the individual integrity and potential perfection of each being. She advocated forcefully for the rights of women, abolitionism, and education and prison reform. She visited Sing Sing prison and took an active interest in the welfare of prostitutes – not exactly everyday activities for a woman of her time and place.
Although Fuller was also a prolific writer – she was an editor for The Dial (the influential publication that Emerson called his “antidote to narrowness); the acclaimed author of “Woman in the Nineteenth Century” (sometimes called the first serious work of American feminism); a columnist hired by Horace Greeley to work as the first literary editor at the New York Tribune; and one of American journalism’s first foreign correspondents – she is rarely read today. (Even in her time, some readers struggled to embrace her work. One unkind wag noted that the transcendentalists “read Dante in the original Italian, Hegel in the original German ... and perhaps the hardest task of all, Margaret Fuller in the original English.”)