Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Elizabeth Fulton Wright: A Capital Woman

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Elizabeth Fulton Wright: A Capital Woman

Article excerpt

ELIZABETH FULTON WRIGHT'S SURVIVING LETTERS to family members and friends begin while she was attending boarding school in Washington, D.C. Her father, William Savin Fulton, was then serving as one of Arkansas's first pair of U.S. senators. The correspondence shows young Elizabeth Fulton regulating her behavior-and having her behavior regulated-in accordance with prevailing notions of domesticity. Later in life, she distinguished herself as a well-respected and prominent member of Little Rock society. But even as she assumed less traditional roles as a property manager and author in the wake of her husband's death and the abolition of slavery, the activities by which she made a public imprint remained firmly rooted within the sphere of the home.

Born in an era in which white women in America were expected to embody what Barbara Welter has termed the four cardinal virtues of piety, purity, domesticity, and submissiveness, Elizabeth Fulton Wright matured during a turbulent period of Arkansas history. Over the course of her life, civil war, new realities associated with domestic work, a shift away from the slave economy, unsettled political activity, expanding educational opportunities, and changing self-images altered the established roles of women in the United States and Arkansas. Her experience reflected that of many in the state who maintained their role as "true women" and, at the same time, reconciled their actions, beliefs, and economic lives to a changing nineteenth-century America.1 In describing Elizabeth Fulton Wright in 1877 as an "elegant and most accomplished lady, who devotedly loves the memory and fame of her honored father," a biographical dictionary noted also that "she became at an early age thoroughly conversant with the exciting politics of Arkansas."2

Elizabeth Fulton was born in Florence, Alabama, in 1824, and grew up surrounded by a large circle of family, including her mother Matilda and several unmarried aunts. Her playmates were her younger sisters, Mary Jane and Sophy Caroline, as well as one brother, David Peregrine. Five more siblings (four sisters and one brother) were to follow after 1831. When she was five, Fulton migrated with her family to Arkansas. Her father had been appointed secretary to the territory of Arkansas by a family friend and political patron, President Andrew Jackson. In June 1829, a crowd of local citizens greeted William Fulton, "his lady[,] and Children" on their arrival in Little Rock. The children watched as Judge Benjamin Johnson of the Arkansas Superior Court administered the oath of office to their father. From this point on, Fulton's father would spend a great deal of time away from his growing family while looking after the official and commercial concerns of the territory of Arkansas. He frequently journeyed to Washington, D.C., to appear before the U.S. Supreme Court as a counselor arguing cases on behalf of Arkansas and served as acting governor in the absence of John Pope. As a result, her Irish-born grandfather, David Fulton, and her uncles, John T. Fulton, a physician, pharmacist, plantation owner, and postmaster, and David C. Fulton, a watchmaker and jeweler, served as her paternal substitutes.3

Her mother and unmarried aunts educated Fulton prior to 1836. Within this sphere of relatives, Fulton patterned her behavior after that of her mother and acquired the domestic proficiency that she would need as she grew older-including a rudimentary education and sewing, cooking, and social skills. These life skills, shared by a majority of women of her status in the South, helped to cement emotional bonds between females. Under her mother's instruction, Fulton also engaged in the sort of social activities necessary to finding a husband and establishing her own household. Her life drastically changed when she left this setting and moved to Washington, D.C., after her father was appointed to serve as a senator from the new state of Arkansas in 1836. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.