Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Margaret Fuller; Conversation; Transcendentalism; First-Wave Feminism; American Literature; Nineteenth Century; Literary Culture; Women's Clubs; New England Women's Club; Women Novelists; Travel Writing; 19th Century Periodical Culture; Spiritualism; Mesmerism; American Literature; Antebellum American Literature; Women's Rights Movement; Anti-Capital Punishment; Woman in the Nineteenth Century; Summer on the Lakes

Major Advisor

Wayne Franklin

Associate Advisor

Anna Mae Duane

Associate Advisor

Veronica Makowsky

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Examining “conversation” as a keyword, not only for Margaret Fuller but also for the larger culture, this dissertation works to recover the centrality of Fuller and her work to nineteenth-century American literary and intellectual culture, both during her lifetime and beyond. Despite her death in 1850, Fuller remained a pervasive influence throughout the century, particularly among women. Through her feminist Conversations for women in Boston, Fuller provided an extraordinarily productive model for the post-bellum Women’s Club movement – a portable model that also transitioned into literary texts featuring feminist heroines written by female novelists. Clubwomen and feminist novelists, such as Mary Clemmer Ames, Elizabeth Boynton Harbert, and Louisa May Alcott, responded to the two “great questions” that Fuller had asked and aimed to answer through her Boston Conversations: “What were we born to do?” and “How shall we do it?” Placing her in conversation with a diverse body of thinkers, writers, and reformers, I read her work for the New York Tribune as her entry into national and international conversations by reconstructing some of the journalistic exchanges in which she participated, including conversations about Spiritualism and anti‑capital punishment reform. I also examine Fuller in the role of travel writer, positioning her alongside other women travel writers, including Catherine Maria Sedgwick and Caroline Kirkland, highlighting the importance of the act of travel and, more specifically, writing about travel to a wide variety of women, especially as it contributes to our understanding of the gendered meaning of travel in the nineteenth century.

Available for download on Wednesday, January 29, 2025