How Margaret Fuller Would Advise Your Business

History Smiths

If you aren’t familiar with Margaret Fuller, she was the first woman to head the literary department of a major newspaper (New York Tribune) and a terrific journalist, the first female foreign correspondent and the first to do that during war time (Italian Revolution), and the author of a book that really galvanized the women’s movement during the 19th century.

I had the good fortune to study her closely a year ago for the bicentennial of her birth, and there are many lessons to be learned.

Oh, and I should say, that she accomplished all that she did before the age of 40 which is when she, her husband, and infant son, perished in a shipwreck. But, moving on….

Margaret Fuller was a no nonsense person, and became the de facto financial head of her family after her father’s death. For a woman in the 19th century, that presented many challenges.

As a deeply spiritual person, Margaret also knew that she was here for a larger purpose than just earning money. She had something to contribute. Again, for a woman at that time, What? How?

Based on what I have learned about her, here’s what I think she would tell you – and she WOULD tell you! The woman did not mince words.

1) Network and ask for help.
Margaret Fuller grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at a very “heady” time intellectually and philosophically. Young students at Harvard were questioning everything, and some of them were her friends. They had all discovered the German philosopher Goethe, and would soon all be caught up in Transcendentalism. Because of these friendships, she met Ralph Waldo Emerson and became the first editor of the Dial, the Transcendentalist newspaper. Because of her young Harvard friend James Freeman Clarke, she published her first essay. Her writing caught the attention of Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, and she was “launched” internationally.”

So… network and ask for help! You have no idea what will lead where.

2) Pay attention, do the research, find information.

You wouldn’t be doing what you do if you didn’t care about it. Margaret Fuller’s business, through her writing, was to improve the status of women. She was relentless in her pursuit of information about women from different classes, cultures, and parts of the country. As a result, she had an authentic voice that people trusted when she sat down to write.

I think that same lesson holds true for any of us today. Authenticity and trust are critical to any business, and that MUST come through in our marketing, PR, community outreach — everything.

3) Tell the truth.

Same thing. Aren’t we all exhausted by people in business who don’t tell the truth? Margaret Fuller was incredibly gutsy for a woman in the 19th century to write what she did, but she knew she had to because no one else was. This is probably more of an extreme example than necessary for your business or organization, but maybe not. If you will excuse the language, whatever business you’re in, have the balls to tell the truth to your clients!

4)Show up.

One of the things about Margaret Fuller that impresses me to no end is the extent to which she “showed up” to find out how women were doing. She went out West to live with “pioneer” women from the East and with Native Americans. She visited prisons in New York, and poor houses, and hospitals. She looked closely at slavery from a woman’s perspective. Before she wrote her book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, she had talked to a whole lot of women from many walks of life.

Today, it’s so easy to stay in the office and on the computer. But showing up where it matters to our industry and what we care about is important.

5)Enjoy being of service.

That really is why we are all here. It’s when we are at our best, and the magic happens when that service becomes clear and we’re doing it.

In Margaret Fuller’s case — again, a “mere” woman in the 19th century — the question of her service, or purpose, plagued her well into her 20s. She had a breakdown at the time because her father (and teacher, mentor, and champion) died suddenly, and as the oldest child she knew she would have to take care of the family. Deeply depressed, she eventually pulled herself out and wrote in a letter to her brother, “God must have something for me to do.”

Well, yes, like change the world.

Once she did figure out what she was supposed to be doing, her life and business took off like a rocket.

Again, perhaps this is an extreme example, but maybe not.

6)Insist on being paid well. Please!
Margaret Fuller had a tough time with this one, partly because of the times. Money was always a struggle, but Horace Greeley at the New York Tribune paid her the same salary as a man’s — which was unheard of at the time. Margaret would not want you to go through what she went through, including a period of homelessness, so she would want you to be paid well — especially if you are a woman!

Final thoughts

Looking at Margaret Fuller’s extraordinary life, cut short at the age of 40, I see so many wise decisions and so many helpful friends who believed in her. Clarke, Emerson, and Greeley head the list.

But I also see the subject of another article — never enough money. In fact, the reason she took the steamship she did from Italy to New York was to save money. It was an old vessel, not safe, and she and her family died as a result.

Many lessons learned from Margaret Fuller, but, at the end of the day, she did what she was put here to do. In my book, that’s pretty cool, and I am grateful for the many freedoms I am able to enjoy because of her!

I am also grateful for her “wisdom from the ages” that I can apply to my business and share with you.