Margaret Fuller’s fountain of firsts

Updated: April 14, 2014 with a link to a new Pulitzer-winning biography.

Margaret Fuller Daguerreotype

Margaret Fuller was an author, the first editor of the transcendentalist magazine The Dial, and the nation’s first woman foreign correspondent. She went to Europe in the 1840s for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune.
The Heart & the Fountain (download) is the title of DuPont Cavalcade of America’s half-hour dramatized biography of this “woman of astonishing genius in American journalism,” as the 1941 broadcast called her. She became literary critic for the Tribune, the paper’s first woman writer. One of the intellectual elite of 19th century America, she was a philosopher, feminist and intellectual, no “women’s angle” sob-sister. She advocated women’s rights and education in her 1845 book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century.

“Yet Margaret Fuller’s journalistic descendants still risk their lives, not just because they work in dangerous places, but because they are female, objects of scorn and worse, in many parts of the world, for daring to serve in the public arena. What was it like to be such a woman, the first female war correspondent — a half-century after America’s own revolution?” — Megan Marshall, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life (2013), pp.xx-xxi

There are few answers to that question in Cavalcade’s half-hour drama, but perhaps enough of Fuller’s brilliance and tragedy comes through to inspire 21st century readers to open more recent — and excellent — biographies.

The tragedy? After taking a lover and having her only child — while covering the 1848-49 attempt to establish a Roman Republic — Fuller died at age 40 when her ship ran aground just short of arrival back in America. It was 1850. She was bringing home her husband, her child, and the manuscript of her book about the failed Italian revolution. All were lost. That might also make her one of the first American foreign correspondents to die in the line of duty.

The DuPont Cavalcade of America radio series brought her biography to a 1941 audience in the award-winning episode above, but her story seems too much for the half-hour time slot. (Click the player or download the audio at the top of this page.)

Played by Madeleine Carroll — I’m assuming the same actress who starred in Hitchcock’s “39 Steps” and “Secret Agent” — Margaret has strong scenes opposite Cavalcade players cast as Emerson, Thoreau and Horace Greeley, as well as the romantic Marchese Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, whom she married while in Italy.

Did audiences back then find it disappointing that so much of the Cavalcade episode focused on the romance at the end of her life? Or did the gaps in her story inspire them to look for more information about this remarkable woman?

Announcer Clayton Collyer mentions at the end of the program that Cavalcade was marking the centenary of the (by then merged) New York Herald-Tribune, “almost a century from the day Margaret Fuller joined its staff.” However, with so much more story to tell, the episode has little to say about Fuller’s newspaper work.

(A man of many voices, Collyer himself played perhaps the most famous fictional journalist on radio — Clark Kent, along with his alter-ego Superman — although his name was not mentioned in the original series credits, a tribute to the Man of Steel’s secret identity that also saved Collyer from being type-cast.)

The title of the Cavalcade episode is a bit of a mystery. It is not a line of dialogue from the radio play or a direct reference to one of Fuller’s works.
“How extraordinary! My guess is that the title isn’t a quotation, but a combination of two metaphors that seemed apt for Fuller’s life to the dramatist,” Fuller biographer Megan Marshall wrote, in response to my email inquiry in 2013. Boston University Professor Charles Capper agreed, writing: “I’m afraid I can’t help you–I’ve never heard the phrase either and I think I read every word she wrote that still exists.”


For more on the radio program:

Audio from the Internet Archive’s Cavalcade collection by the Old Time Radio Researchers Group and others.

See also, RadioGoldIndex (which misprints the title as “The Heart and The Foundation”), Art Chimes’s series log, the 2001 University of Virginia project, The Cavalcade of America: Myth and Reality, Hero Worship in American Radio, and Martin Grams Jr.’s book, The History of the Cavalcade of America.

For more on Fulller:

  • UPDATE: 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning biography,”Margaret Fuller: A New American Life” by Megan Marshall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013).
  • An Unfinished Woman: The desires of Margaret Fuller,” by Judith Thurman in the April 1, 2013, The New Yorker; a biographical essay after the publication of the Marshall and Matteson biographies.
  • A history of women in journalism at the New York State Library.
  • Margaret Fuller biography website at the Unitarian Universalist Association.
  • Margaret Fuller profile in James Castain’s online Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions at Ohio University.
  • The Lives of Margaret Fuller by John Matteson (Norton, 2012), “restores the heroism of her life and work,” according to a “briefly noted” review in The New Yorker (Feb. 2, 2012, p.75)
  • Bancroft-prize-winning biography by Charles Capper:
    • Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life Volume 1: The Private Years (Oxford University Press, 1992)
    • Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life Volume II: The Public Years, by Charles Capper (Oxford University Press, 2007)
  • Margaret Fuller: Transatlantic Crossings in a Revolutionary Age ed., Charles Capper and Cristina Giorcelli (University of Wisconsin Press, 2007).

The Internet Archive (archive.org) also has digital copies of out of copyright work by and about Margaret Fuller

Google Books has scanned many of Fuller’s works and works about her, including volumes of The Dial, collected memoirs, her At home and abroad essays, and more. (Some of these volumes were edited by her brother, Arthur Buckminster Fuller. The family’s more recently famous polymath, R. Buckminster Fuller, was her great-nephew.)


Note — Collections of mp3 files of Cavalcade episodes and collectors’ logs of the program consistently list the title of the Fuller episode as “The Heart and the Fountain.” However, there was a “chirp” in the first mp3 recording I had of this program, right as the title was given, which led me to suspect the third word should be “of.” Had that been the case, the episode’s enigmatic title might refer to this cheery quote from Lucretius:

From the heart of the fountain of delight rises a jet of bitterness that tortures us among the very flowers.

However, the title does appear to be spoken “heart and…” on the better transcriptions of the program and Art Chimes’s series log indicates that he checked the title against the Cavalcade script collection.
Chimes, however, logs the program as episode 224 with a different broadcast date almost a year after its mention in print.
“224 4/28/42 The Heart and the Fountain $ – reportr Margaret Fuller = M Carroll”
The May 24, 1941, New York Times did refer to the episode by the same “The Heart and…” title when the Woman’s Press Club of New York gave the series an award of merit, particularly noting the April 28, 1941, Fuller broadcast.

(The Times, however, is not immune to error: It misspelled the name of Tribune editor Horace “Greely” when referring to his sending Fuller to Europe. You can find the item on page 34 of the May 24, 1941, Times in the ProQuest Historical Newspapers archive at your library. My own mistakes include a couple of places in the first-draft of this page where I used “Herald” when I meant “Tribune” and misspelled Bud Collyer’s unusual last name. Mea culpa.)

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.
This entry was posted in 19th century, cavalcade, historical figures, Horace Greeley, international, journalism, magazines, reporters, women. Bookmark the permalink.

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