Pass the Tea and Chivalry: Intimacy Unripened

By Bates, Stephen | The Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Pass the Tea and Chivalry: Intimacy Unripened


Bates, Stephen, The Wilson Quarterly


Born in 1810, the pioneering feminist Margaret Fuller broke one glass ceiling after another. In 1837, she was the first woman admitted to the circle of the New England Transcendentalists, which included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. In 1840, she was the first woman to edit a highbrow American journal, The Dial. In 1843, she was the first woman granted permission to use the Harvard College library. And in 1844, she was the first woman to join the newsroom of The New-York Tribune.

"Not one man, in the million, shall I say? no, not in the hundred million, can rise above the belief that Woman was made for Man," Fuller wrote in Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1845). But her new employer was one of those rare men. Tribune editor Horace Greeley "felt no challenge to his own authority from Margaret's strong will," the historian Megan Marshall writes in Margaret Fuller: A New American Life (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). "Instead, he admired her for it."

Emerson thought Fuller was slumming by writing for the masses. She disagreed. After having spent years in "the depths" of literature, she wrote, "an abode of some length in the shallows may do me no harm." Emerson also looked down his nose at Greeley, "no scholar" but a mere "mother of men." Fuller, though, respected her boss for his "go-ahead, fearless adroitness."

For his part, Greeley highly regarded Fuller's intellect, her prose, and her courage--she wrote without regard to "what odium it might draw down on her own head," he said. Nonetheless, he characterized their relationship as one of "friendly antagonism," especially during her first months in New York, when she lived with him and his family. Fuller claimed that she could write only when inspired, a notion Greeley dismissed as "absurd." He disapproved of her diet, too. When Fuller complained of a headache, he said it was no doubt brought on by her addiction to strong tea. …

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