In nineteenth century America, most professions and jobs were closed to women, although some, like Margaret Fuller did break through. (Her story his further down in this blog).
Furthermore, as settlers of European decent pressed westward, “civilized” rules regarding what was proper and legal for women to do became more fluid. As a result, women living in frontier areas frequently had greater opportunity to break the rules and flex their creativity, skills, and talents.
The situation is the same for my characters in the Saint Maggie series. Lydia Blaine Lape must work harder than, say Capt. Philip Frost, to enter the medical world as a “real” doctor, despite her training and her experience. It takes an extreme circumstance, the battle of Gettysburg, for her to prove her mettle as a surgeon and a physician. This and her no-nonsense attitude catches Capt. Frost’s eye – and later his heart.
Lydia’s sister Frankie Blaine, on the other hand, despite her spiritual gifts, is blocked from becoming an ordained clergy person in the Methodist Episcopal Church, her own denomination. Her only options are to go rogue and start her own church, to become a travelling free-lance preacher, or to move West, something both her minister and her stepfather (Eli Smith) suggest.
As for Maggie Blaine Smith, she has always been free to write in her journal, but her work as a professional writer and editor comes only at Eli’s behest and because of his ties with his former newspaper and Tryphena Moore, owner of the Blaineton Register.
Read the scene about women and employment opportunities in Saint Maggie.
The book that Eli gives to Maggie, Woman in the Nineteenth Century by Margaret Fuller, is real. Its author, [Sara] Margaret Fuller (1810-1850), was raised in New England by a forward-thinking father who told her that she was the intellectual equal to any boy. She believed him and ran with the idea. Later, she hung out with leading Transcendentalists like Henry David Thoreau. Ralph Waldo Emerson eventually appointed her to edit the literary and philosophical journal, The Dial.
In 1844, Fuller became a writer for the New York Daily Tribune, the paper edited by Eli’s hero Horace Greeley. Bringing a woman on staff had to have taken some guts Greeley’s part, since the rough and tumble world was believed to present a threat to women’s “higher” and “delicate” nature. I say, you go, Greeley! (Or should that be, “You went, Greeley?”)
In 1845, Fuller expanded an essay she had written for The Dial called “The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men, Woman versus Women.” That book was Woman in the Nineteenth Century, the first treatise written on women’s rights in the United States. It is notable that Fuller’s book was published three years before the Seneca Falls Convention (1848) and Declaration of Sentiments the call for women’s rights that grew out of the gathering.
Fuller traveled to Europe in 1846 to serve as the Tribune’s foreign correspondent and beca,e involved in the Italian revolution in 1847. While Italy, she also fell in love with a younger man named Marchese Giovanni Angelo d'Ossoli. They had a son together, whom they named Angelo. It is possible that they were married, but some reasonable doubt exists as to whether Fuller and Ossoli actually tied the knot.
In 1850, when the Italian revolution failed, the family sailed to America. Fuller supposedly had carried with her a manuscript about the history of the Italian revolution. Sadly, the ship’s captain died of smallpox and during a storm, the man who had replaced him ran the ship aground just off Fire Island, New York. Fuller reportedly refused to get into a lifeboat without Ossoli. As a result, the entire Ossoli family – husband, wife, and child – drowned. Fuller’s last manuscript was lost. as well. Fortunately, her letters and other papers from her time in Europe been left behind and were preserved by friends.
No doubt about it. Margaret Fuller was a radical woman: from pursuing a career as a writer and a newspaperwoman, to participating in the Italian revolution, to falling in love with a younger man and having a child with him, to finally refusing to leave her husband as their ship sank.
Eli obviously admires this non-conformist, outspoken feminist. He sees that Maggie has the potential to do and be more. So, he gives her Woman in the Nineteenth Century to inspire her. And while she does write, she also spreads her wings and does more as the series progresses. She also seems to be getting a bit sassy, too. Good for her. You go, Maggie!
Curious about the first feminist movement in the United States? Learn more:
Margaret Fuller’s Story
More on Fuller
Seneca Falls Convention
Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Seneca Falls