Cheryl St.John: Fanny Wright Led the Way for Equal Rights

Frances Wright grew up as an orphaned Scottish heiress, but instead of leading a life of luxury, she indulged herself in a lifetime of learning. Her prominent calls for reform paved the way for women into the next century.

A Greek scholar as a girl, she wrote and published plays. She and her younger sister Camilla came to America in 1818 to see one of those plays.

After observing her surroundings while traveling, she wrote Views of Society and Manners in America. The book, ahead of its time, was widely read in Europe and established the author’s reputation as a savant.

During her travels, she met former presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The tour gave her a first glimpse at slavery, after which she threw herself into abolitionism and wrote another book. Besides her efforts through the written word, she bought 640 acres of wilderness near Memphis and created a place where slaves could learn skills and adapt to freedom.

Fanny continued writing and lecturing, and in the late 1820s she took a position on equal property rights and equal educational opportunities for women. Ahead of her time, she promoted fair divorce laws and accessible birth control.

Public speaking was an activity reserved for men, and Fanny took sharp criticism. Scandalous gossip was directed at her, preachers denounced her, and the press characterized her as “a female monster whom all decent people ought to avoid.” Tall and imposing, she was eloquent and her speeches effective.

Her signature look was an all-white suit or dress, and she carried a copy of The Declaration of Independence, often referring to it. In 1829 she founded the Workingmen’s Association in New York City and in the 1830s was a supporter of the Jacksonian democracy. In 1831 she married.

After having two children, she wrote a book in 1838 calling for world government. She divorced in 1852, perhaps utilizing those divorce laws she’d fought so hard for, and died a few months later after falling on the ice.

Fanny Wright will live on in history as the first female public speaker and a fierce advocate for women’s rights.

I admire strong women. Meredith Abbot in my October Christmas novella is just that. Daughter of a railroad tycoon, the only thing expected of her is to marry well. She’s doing her best, but a snowstorm and a sexy U.S. Marshal derail her plans. When outlaws ambush their Pullman, Jonah Cavanaugh discovers Meredith is no shrinking violet.

I’d love to send an advance copy to someone who comments today!

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30 thoughts on “Cheryl St.John: Fanny Wright Led the Way for Equal Rights”

  1. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of Fanny Wright or her exploits.

    I’d love to read about your strong woman, Meredith Abbott!

  2. We sure owe a debt of gratitude to these strong women who weren’t afraid to speak their mind and stand up for what was right regardless of what others said about it. A true heroine. Thanks for sharing Fanny’s story, Cheryl.

  3. Stories like Fanny’s are such an inspiration. When you study their lives and all the sacrifices they made being rejected by society and sometimes even institutionalized and yet they never gave up or in. These were some tough women.

    Great post, Cheryl.

    — Kirsten

  4. What a great post! I love strong women also. I was raised that way myself. Fanny was a very strong women and I admire her, she was a head of her time in many ways.

  5. Exactly, Margaret! Slipping on ice is a boring to go. R.I.P Fanny

    Hey, Laurie. Isn’t it great to learn about interesting people?

    Hi Vicki and *lizzie! Waving!

    Yes, we do Karen. Real trailblazers to be admired.

  6. Cher- I look forward to your trailer! Great mini-history lesson on a woman truly ahead of her times. Wow, is it Christmas time already? I saw Christmas stuff at the local crafts store and at Costco the other day!!

  7. Thank goodness for women like Fannie Wright who paved the way for all of us. She had to be very courageous and tough to weather the animosity and resistance directed toward her.

    I LOVE the cover of your Christmas anthology. And the title is very catchy. I can’t wait to read this.

  8. What an amazing woman, and so ahead of her time. It sounds like she had a very courageous spirit. I am grateful to women like her who paved the way for the rights that we enjoy now.

  9. That is a wonderful cover for the anthology… I really like the horse doll! Thank you for sharing a piece of history and a great woman that was unknown to me!

  10. Never heard of this lady, either. Where do you find them??? There were a lot, when you get right down to it, at that period of time. All across the country women were screaming for their rights. I get very political on this subject, so I won’t continue.
    We need a few of these gals, today. And I would love to get a copy of this book.

  11. Great tale of a great woman, Cher. I just wish the name Fanny hadn’t degraded into its laughable condition today. I always love reading about these women. I wonder what sort of female I would have been had I lived then. Hmmmm. The cover and Meredith Abbott are so way cool! oxoxox

  12. The name was familiar but I didn’t know very much. Of course not enough women make the history books, unfortunately. Thanks for a great post. And there’s always hope that some day we really will be “equal.”

  13. This is the first I have heard of Fanny Wright. Can only wish she had lived longer and did more good for the rights of women.

  14. Always curious about the children of historical figures. Wikipedia says “Wright married a French physician, Guillayme D’Arusmont, with whom she had one child: Frances Silva D’Arusmont. The daughter married William Eugene Guthrie, a member of an old established Forfarshire family in Scotland. Wright and D’Arusmont later divorced.”
    Do you know what happened to the second child you mentioned?

  15. I’d never heard of Fanny until your blog, Cheryl. What a remarkable woman. And your Anthology cover looks so Christmasy. How many anthologies have you done by now? Must be a bunch!

  16. Oh good, a Christmas anthology, my favorite. I’ll be looking for it in October, or earlier if I’m lucky.

    Fanny Wright was definitely ahead of her time. But then, many women are and are ignored or vilified for it. She was lucky she had the financial ability to pursue her studies as well as the causes she believed in. Thank goodness for women like her. We would not be where we are today if it weren’t for them.

    Thank you for bringing her to our attention.

    Hope you and yours have a great Labor Day Weekend.

  17. I admire strong woman everywhere and any time but especially during historical times because they really risked their reputations and sometimes lives. A fiesty heroine who is gutsy and knows what she wants is so appealing. Christmas stories are another thing I like and read all year long. They evoke that heartwarming feel. 🙂

  18. I had read about Fanny somewhere before and admired her strength.

    Love the cover of this anthology and Christmas stories are a favorite!

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