September 2016

From the September Issue:

A.K. Gaydos, So Bored at Office Job, Thought Starved, Mind Hungry

Matt Schlein, Building Community

Clark Moore, Reading Between the Spiders

Samuel Hughes, On Art

Trisha Denton, Exerpts from a Pedagogy of Ambiguity 

Seth Kanor, Mark for Beginners 

Rebecca Mack, Julie Montera and Miranda Paquette, Finders Keepers, Researchers Creators 

Michael Breiner, Lines from the Captioned World

The Burlington Progressive Party, Burlington Still not for Sale

Genese Grill, Margaret Fuller and Elizabeth Peabody

Louis Mannie Lionni, Give me Back Burlington College

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Margaret Fuller and Elizabeth Peabody: Two Radical Educators in 19th Century New England

Emerson, who apparently expressed mirth with at most a wry smile, was unsettled on his first meeting with Margaret Fuller to find himself laughing loudly at the witty brilliant things she said.  Her earthiness, her energy, her great learning, her embrace of the physical and dark energies of Dis-cord would both fascinate and disturb the sage of Concord throughout their long and intimate relationship. Few people today seem to know that Margaret Fuller wrote the first American book of feminism, Woman in the 19th Century, in 1845. In it she declared that a woman might be anything she wanted to be. “Let them be sea captains!” she exclaimed, and she herself led the way to innovative careers by eschewing the usual job taken by overly-educated women:  the education of young men for a university that banned women from even using its libraries. Instead, she educated and cultivated the voice of her fellow ladies, holding “Conversations” for women on the topics of history, philosophy, literature, theology. She charged money and made a living from these meetings for some time before leaving Concord and becoming a journalist and foreign correspondent.  These “Conversations” did not just end in talk however, as most of the leading lights of the suffrage movement, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, attended. Fuller encouraged woman to talk, think, and act, but she herself died before the National Women’s Conventions if the 1850’s in a tragic drowning accident off Fire Island.  While the reports are confused, it seems probable that she sacrificed her life (and that of her infant son and husband) because she did not want to let the baby out of her arms into the hands of one of the rescuers. Her book about the Italian revolution, part of the precious cargo, was never found.

Elizabeth Palmer Peabody who, like Margaret, was ravenous for learning, doing whatever she could, despite an uncertain and impoverished childhood and youth to learn Latin, Greek, French, German, and even Hebrew in her spare moments in between teaching boys and girls and young men, and taking care of her sisters, her wayward brothers, her parents, and an extended brood of boarders and others in need. She was so successful in her precocious self-education that by the time she was a teenager she was conversing regularly with William Ellery Channing, the revolutionary Unitarian minister, on questions of theology and metaphysics. Megan Marshall , in The Peabody Sisters, says that Elizabeth was not dismayed to find that whatever topic she and Channing happened to discuss on a Saturday would appear, in words quite similar to hers, in his next day’s sermons. Elizabeth went on to found a famous foreign language bookstore in Boston, which carried the most exciting journals and books gleaned from Europe and England at the time, and which served asa hotbed for international discourse on questions of the German New Criticism(which dared to look at the Bible historically and often questioned the divinity of Christ) and discussions of the “newness,” the doctrines of the burgeoning ideas of transcendentalism in regard to aesthetics, ethics, and political life. It was a journal edited by Elizabeth Peabody, entitled Aesthetic Papers, which first published Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government” (now known as “Civil Disobedience”). Peabody edited and contributed essays and translations to another important transcendentalist organ, The Dial, as did Fuller and Emerson, and publisheda number of books under the imprint E. Peabody, Boston. She was an expert in ancient and modern history as well as in theology, philosophy and literature, and, even before Margaret Fuller, but less famously, presided over conversational classes for women—hers called “historical conferences”. Harvard students (all male of course) came to her for advice on historical readings. She helped Bronson Alcott (Louisa May’s unworldly father) begin his revolutionary but ill-fated Temple School and wrote a book about her experience there, entitled Record of School, which was praised by Emerson as “the only book of facts I ever read” that was as “engaging” as a Maria Edgeworth novel and as a “beautiful book…certain true & pleasant”.  Another book, a scholarly and radical analysis of the Hebrew scriptures which she had begun while practically a child, proved too challenging for Andrews Norton, the conservative editor who had published the first few parts; and the edition was discontinued. One sister married Horace Mann, the progressive educator; another married Nathanial Hawthorne. But Elizabeth remained a bluestocking, a bride of learning and teaching.


Editor’s note: this is an excerpt, slightly modified, from my first Research Sharing Via Paper (R.S.V.P.) letter.

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