Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ever heard of this gal?

When I was a young boy in the 1950s I distinctly remember my mother, in a rare moment of pensiveness, confessing that what she'd always really wanted to be was a minister. She said it with yearning, but with a resignation learned from her girlhood on an isolated Wisconsin farm still more Victorian than not. Of course no woman could ever be a minister.

In my head, unspoken, I categorized this as bullshit - a prepubescent "feminist" years ahead of his time. (It was just one more piece of grownup crap that turned me into the rather feeble respecter of authority I am today.)

I recalled that moment as I learned recently about Margaret Fuller - a women who in the 1830s and 1840s (with Susan B Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and many others) was not only a suffragette, but a person of great intellect who railed against a culture in which women not only could not vote. That was just part of it. A married woman was chattel who could not own property on her own. She could hold no professional position other than housekeeper and raiser of children. In a real sense, she was little more than a slave. She was only a partial person, thought by many barely able to think.

Fuller was a powerfully influential writer and profoundly influenced the thinking of men such as Ralph Waldo Emerson. She gained even more notoriety when she died at 40 in a shipwreck along with her Italian husband and son.

She and the other early female reformers died before woman's suffrage finally passed 90 years ago - and long before their ideas could filter down to the likes of my mother. Mom lived well into the 21st Century, still studying the Bible, but I don't think she ever got what those feminists of the 1970s and later, taking up a legacy from the 1800s, had brought about.

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