30 June 2013
At the Tenth National Woman’s Rights Convention, held in New York, Susan B. Anthony celebrated advances of U. S. women. During this time, she rejoiced over a recent announcement of a donation made by Matthew Vassar for the foundation of a women’s college (Ray 1). Advances during the 1860’s like the one made by Matthew Vassar were a huge improvement for women. Margaret Fuller takes us on a tour of the treatment of women in her essay The Great Lawsuit. Margaret Fuller was America’s first true feminist. Today she holds a distinctive place in the cultural life of the American Renaissance (Hampson). Fuller was a transcendentalist, literary critic, editor, journalist, teacher, and political activist (Hamspon). Fuller served with Emerson as editor of The Dial. Specifically, The Great Lawsuit shows us how women were mistreated during the Nineteenth Century. The Great Lawsuit criticizes men and women’s inequality in the workplace, marriage, and intellectual independence.
Margaret Fuller advocated for women’s rights in the 1800’s. In The Great Lawsuit, Fuller discusses the inequality in marriage between a man and his wife. Even today we see that this inequality exists. Men are always considered the provider and the head of the family. Women are supposed to stay home and tend to the house and children. In the Nineteenth Century, “The man furnishes the house, the woman regulates it” (Fuller 739). The wife knows that she must commit to her duty. Not only does the woman regulate the home during Fuller’s time, but also the woman is expected to do the same today. In most houses, the woman does the laundry, cleaning, dishes, and other household tasks. This shows us examples of how a woman would be regulating the home. Also, The women had no independence and “belonged” to their husband. Fuller states, “But that is the very fault of marriage, and of the present relation between the sexes, that the woman does belong to the man, instead of forming a whole with him” (Fuller 747). This is a powerful quote from the time fuller advocated for women’s rights. The women were stripped of their independence and opinions. They could have been talented and had a lot of great ideas but were unable to express themselves since they belonged to the man during this time. During the Nineteenth Century, women had no other choice but to obey men. Most marriages that took place during this time were arranged marriages and took place at an early age. Fuller writes, “”No,” he persisted, “I want her to have a sphere and a home, and some one to protect her when I am gone” (Fuller 746). Women are not free to choose who they want to marry in most cases. The parents choose their path in life, specifically the father. The father wants what is best for his children and will educate them how he wants them to be educated. In this case, the father did not want his daughter to be too educated. She did not need much education since the man was supposed to be the dominant in the household. The father states, “If she knows too much, she will never find a husband; superior women hardly ever can” (Fuller 745). Superior women cannot find husbands because men do not like to be challenged. They want to be the smarter one in the marriage and control the house. They do not want their wife to know more than them. Today men find it attractive to find a smart woman. Men want advice and someone that has knowledge to be their marriage partner. This was not the case in the Nineteenth Century. Men at this time felt inferior to women who were smarter and more knowledgeable than them. Once married, “The wife praises her husband as a “good provider,” the husband in return compliments her as a “capital housekeeper”” (Fuller 739). The women are the “capital housekeeper,” but in lesser terms to show how women felt, the “slaves” of the house. The women are not allowed to form their own opinions or amount to anything on their own that their husbands would not approve of. They feel like a slave because they are trapped in their own body. Slaves are told what to do and they must do it. The women during this time were treated the same way. Also, women were unable to receive full inheritance after the death of a spouse. Since the women did not work and were not the dominant figures in society, they could not receive everything their husband had. Today, the first person to receive an inheritance would be the spouse of the person who passed away. Men during the Nineteenth Century also had a hard time seeing their wife as an equal intellectual partner. Girls during this time were given far less education than boys. They were not allowed to attend colleges or universities. If they were able to obtain a job, they could only be granted a low-paying one. However, we can see from her writings, Margaret Fuller was well educated during this time. There were a few women like Fuller who took a step up and provided for themselves. They were the ones who showed the men and other members of society what women were really capable of. However, Fuller is unmarriageable because she is a well-educated and intimidating woman. Women like Fuller helped us ladies receive the education that we are receiving today. “The woman shall vindicate their birthright for all women; who shall teach them what to claim, and how to use what they obtain?” (Fuller 747). This line by Margaret Fuller expresses to women that she has high hopes for our future. Fuller tells us there will be a woman who teaches us that it is ok to express ourselves and use our creativity. Misericordia University is a good example of how women have gained more power over the years. The university has a higher female to male ratio and has many females excel in a health science major. This is because more women are now allowed to use their creativity and express themselves. Women are now allowed to become doctors and other high paying professionals. These women now have the tools and knowledge to achieve their dreams. With the help of technology and allowing women to work to pay for their schooling they are now going to become more knowledgeable. Women can and will have more opportunity with a better education. The dominant understanding of gender roles in the nineteenth century found its clearest expression, “This long tradition in western culture came to identify women primarily with the body and men with the mind; therefore, since the body is controlled by the mind, women’s nature was considered inferior to men’s and women’s role to be subordinate to men” (Crouse 260). This is unfair and unjust to women to be judged this way. Women are not subordinates to men. Crouse is saying that men have the brain. Since the brain controls the body, men are controlling women. Women are considered inferior to men. Both men and women should have their own body and mind. Women should be able to use their own mind to work their body to do great things. Also, if men allowed women to be their brain they could possibly achieve more too. Catherine E. Beecher also advocated for women’s rights by stating, “It is equally conceded that the formation of the moral and intellectual character of the young is committed mainly to the female hand. The mother forms the character of the future man…; let the women of a country be made virtuous and intelligent and the men will certainly be the same” (Knoles). Women need to be argued for. People need to argue to allow women to gain a better education to help them become better wives and mothers. Beecher is saying that women can help men form their power. Since a woman creates a new man, she guides him to become the best he can be. Without a mother’s care her son would not grow up to be the dominant, hardworking male that is described during this time period. If people would allow women and mothers to help society the way they help a son or daughter grow, they could create a better society. As everyone says, “A mother is always right.” A mother and a woman could provide us with great care and nurture. They would have the touch to become great teachers, doctors, and other professionals if they were aloud. Margaret Fuller’s, The Great Lawsuit presents examples of how women are limited by men. Women were limited in terms of education, careers, marriage, and intellectual independence. People like Margaret Fuller deserve a big thank you from women today. If it was not for people like Fuller, women would still be not be aloud to work, attend school, or form their own opinions. There is a good argument in the 1994 movie version of Little Women (Crouse). Jo March states, “I find it poor logic to say that because women are good, women should vote; men do not vote because they are good; men vote because they are male, and women should vote, not because they are angels and men are animals, but because they are human beings and citizens of this country” (Crouse). Women like Fuller fought for women’s rights during the 1800’s because these women were treated as property and were not aloud to express their own opinions. Women should be aloud to vote, work, be treated as intellectual partners, and express their own ideas. Each person should take the time out to become the best that they could be.
Crouse, Jamie S. "'If They Have A Moral Power': Margaret Fuller, Transcendentalism, And The Question Of Women's Moral Nature." American Transcendental Quarterly 19.4 (2005): 259-279. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 23 June 2013. Fuller, Margaret. From The Great Lawsuit: Man versus Men. Woman versus Women. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Shorter Seventh Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton, 2008. 739-747. Hampson, Thomas. "I Hear America Singing." PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, n.d. Web. 23 Jun 2013. . Knoles, Lucia. "Excerpts from Catherine Beecher's A Treatise on Domestic Economy: For the Use of Young Ladies at Home, and at School." Honors Major American Writers. Assumption College, n. d. Web. 30 Jun. 2013. . Ray, Angela G. "What Hath She Wrought? Woman's Rights And The Nineteenth-Century Lyceum." Rhetoric And Public Affairs 9.2 (2006): 183-213. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 23 June 2013. “(Sarah) Margaret Fuller.” American Transcendentalism Web. American Transcendentalism Web. Web. 23 Jun 2013. .