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!