Discussing the book "Fanny Wright: rebel in America" with the author Celia Morris Eckhardt
BROADCAST: May. 23, 1984 | DURATION: 00:53:51
Discussing the book "Fanny Wright: rebel in America" with the author Celia Morris Eckhardt.
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Studs Terkel The traditional history books tell us something about what happened way back then. We know about presidents, about industrialists, about generals. We know a good deal. We know about some women in American history, but not about all, I mean those who molded changes in our lives. One woman, perhaps most exciting visitor the United States may have ever had, was Fanny Wright. I know the name is new to a great many people. Fanny Wright finally has a biographer: Celia Morris Eckhardt, my guest, and it's called "Fanny Wright: Rebel in America", published by the University, Harvard University Press. And we begin talking about -- Celia, I know you from, you've been involved in Texas life very much, and Willy Morris, Bob Eckhardt, former congressman. But you the writer, we're talking about you the writer, what attract-- first of all, who was Fanny Wright and how'd you first hear
Celia Morris Eckhardt Well, the first time I heard about Fanny, Studs, was from a friend of mine, a very dear man called John Edgerton, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, called when I was living in New York, and he was writing a book for the University of Tennessee Press on three 19th-century communes in that state, and one of them was Nashoba outside Memphis, and he called me in New York and he said, "I've just run across the most dazzling woman, and her name is Fanny Wright." And John asked me to do some research for him tracking down her descendants. She had two great-granddaughters who, one of whom lived outside New York.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Uh, 1795 to 1852. So these -- John had reason to believe that she had two very old great-granddaughters who were still living, and I can't remember exactly how I got to this stage, but my first little piece of research involved a tryst at St. John the Divine Cathedral with a man who said on the telephone "I'll meet you in the right bay and I'll be in long white," and he was a man who had been the Episcopal rector of St. Mark's in the Bowery succeeding Fanny's grandson, William Norman Guthrie, and he told me stories mainly about how extravagant Guthrie was. I think Fanny would have been quite startled at the very least to discover that one of her grandsons in fact turned out, both of them were ministers of the Episcopalian church, because she was essentially an 18th-century rationalist. But William Norman Guthrie clearly had inherited from his grandmother, he was flamboyant and dramatic and he had strobe lights in his church, and he invited people like Isadora Duncan to dance in it in the '30s, and he had spent a fantastic amount of money and this man complained about how long it took to get the church back into the black again. But I traced down these great-granddaughters and who were then slightly dotty old ladies
Studs Terkel She came here, she came from Scotland with some dough, inherited some money, came with it, said "No, begin [there?]," and what she did here, speaking, lecturing, setting up communes, meeting Jefferson, Madison, all -- Lafayette, of course.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Well, the extraordinary thing I think -- there were several extraordinary things behind Fanny Wright, but one of them had to do with the fact that she didn't come to this country until 1818 when she was 23, and she had therefore a perspective that no native-born man or woman was likely to find. She had been born in Scotland in 1795 and she became an orphan when she was two and a half, which is a devastating experience, which did of course scar her all her life, it was responsible for some of her strengths and some of her weaknesses. But she was then brought up in England by a Tory, a Tory aunt and her grandfather, and she rebelled very early against that effect -- in effect the Jane Austen world that she was brought up in. She was brought up to be a lady, but instead of being a lady, she read Byron and studied mathematics and became a considerable scholar of Epicurus, for example. She was very well-read in classical literature and of the romantic literature over time.
Celia Morris Eckhardt She's more political much earlier than Margaret Fuller. Margaret Fuller died earlier than Fanny. She died as I recall just as she was 40, and she had gone to Italy you'll recall in the last few years of her life and got involved in the Italian revolution, but Fanny discovered the United States of America when she was 16 or 17 in a book. And she then became dedicated to the ideals of a republic.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Yes. She really thought, as I said she was in rebellion against the Tory -- her Tory surroundings in Devonshire, and she discovered in this book by Carlo Botta on the revolution that there was something like a republic that existed, and unlike any American of the time, she really took Thomas Jefferson literally when he said "All men are created equal." Americans of her time would presumably know not to take him literally. They would know that Thomas Jefferson did not mean to include Blacks. He did not mean to include women in this grand statement, but Fanny thought that "men" meant women as well. And this became a great -- not only ideal, but as you suggested before, possibility of salvation for her. So when she came here in 1818 when she was 23, she had very grand notions of what life here could be, and she was determined eventually in her life to see if she could help.
Studs Terkel Now, there was another visitor here who was often called upon, de Tocqueville's "America [sic - "Democracy in America"]", that he saw something happening here. Now, she found things, [the rumor is?], de Tocqueville never found.
Celia Morris Eckhardt That's right. De Tocqueville was very theoretical. So in many ways of course was Fanny. She was the child of the British and Scots' enlightenment and in an America which was becoming increasingly committed to evangelical Protestantism, that was to cause her very serious problems. But it was also, it was also a strength. But de Tocqueville came here with the idea that this was a republic. It was a democracy. It was -- in it people were equal. And he continued apparently to believe that. He didn't look as hard as Fanny did. But Fanny you remember, she came here in 1818 and stayed for a year and a half. She came back in 1824 and stayed until 1830, and then she spent at least ten or fifteen years here in the rest of her lifetime and she paid a great deal of attention. Unlike most of the European visitors, however impressive, Harriet Martineau by the way wrote beautifully about America, and so did so did Frances Trollope, who came with Fanny Wright
Celia Morris Eckhardt But you see, but I didn't ever quite finish what you asked me about de Tocqueville. He wrote as though this were in fact the, a place where people lived as equals, but Fanny -- Fanny saw that this was by no means true. That money was concentrated, and it was becoming more concentrated, and that people lived in, though not in the kind of hovels of wretchedness that she had seen in England, they still lived in great poverty in important parts of the United States, and she was subsequently involved in the beginnings of the labor movement in New York. I mean, she really got out on the line and she was the first woman to really be involved politically in public.
Celia Morris Eckhardt That's
Studs Terkel Didn't
Celia Morris Eckhardt She, the first time she came with her sister just to see what the republic was like. And she stayed for a year and a half, and then she wrote this book called "Views of Manners and Society in America [sic - "Views of Society and Manners in America"]", and went back to England where it was published by Longman's in 1920 -- 1820, and that's the book that caught Lafayette's attention, and it caught Jeremy Bentham's as well. It made her celebrated in the circles of European radicalism.
Studs Terkel In that book, you just quoted from that "Views of Society and Manners in America" when she first came, "Alas for the morals of a country when female dignity is confounded with helplessness, and the guardianship of a woman's virtue transferred from herself to others." And so immediately she challenged the pedestal idea, didn't she?
Celia Morris Eckhardt A good deal of their reputation on the possibility of republican forms of government as opposed to aristocracy. And so they, they took Fanny up as, as part of their cause. Also of course, she was attacked by the Tory press very bitterly. And it behooved them to be her protectors, and so she went as you can imagine very eagerly to these absolutely fascinating and two of the most important men of her time.
Studs Terkel Jeremy Bentham who was a spokesman and of course philosopher, the working men at the time, things were happening in England, you know during the Industrial Revolution, organization of guilds and crafts and unions. And he was involved with
Celia Morris Eckhardt So she came back with him in 1824, and this is when he had his last and very celebrated tour, he was -- fete. He was the subject of all these festivals and, I mean, people came out and shot fireworks and gave banquets that must have tried anybody's patience and stomach, too. And she stayed with that as long as she could. I think she really tired of it after a while. And she did, she did was discovering that Lafayette, her republican hero was susceptible to this sort of flattery of, you know, he was treated as not only a hero but almost a God. And in the process of all this, she became more and more and more obsessed with slavery. She had of course recognized the anomaly of slavery being in a republic when she was here the first time, and she wrote about that. But when she came back the second time, it affected her more and more, and she realized that she needed to do something about it. So she became actually the first woman in America publicly to oppose slavery.
Studs Terkel Let's come back to -- several things were happening, we'll take, after this pause we'll resume with her slavery and also the commune she saw, the connecting the two themes, because Robert Owen also.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Oh,
Celia Morris Eckhardt Right.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Right.
Studs Terkel Liberation of Blacks as well as whites. So we'll resume with Celia Morris Eckhardt, her book. By the way, it's a, it's a heady book, I mean it has been getting some rave reviews, and it reads like a house afire. It's called "Fanny Wright: Rebel in America", and Harvard University Press publish it, and after this message we're back with Fanny Wright again. [pause in recording] So we resume with Celia Eckhardt, Fanny Wright. Now, here she is. Here she is in the United States, there's slavery, she's talking against it and making enemies by the carload, challenging
Celia Morris Eckhardt Well, at first when she was with Lafayette, she didn't say anything about it. And in the first time she came to America, the closest she got to slave country was Washington. And I think she -- I have the impression from her book that perhaps she drove out in a carriage one day to Virginia, and some people showed her how slaves lived, and, and that was very troubling, but she had not --it was still basically theoretical to her. On this trip, by the time she'd been here about six months she was determined to see what slavery was really like. Despite all her friends who wanted her to avoid it, she decided that she wanted to write an article for Bentham's "Westminster Review" and she would go all the way down to New Orleans, and in the process of doing that would stop and see slaves, and she saw a slave ship with people manacled in the, a Virginia port. As she traveled down the Mississippi, slavery became more
Celia Morris Eckhardt That's right. Well, I was just in New Harmony, Indiana, which was as you know the town Robert Owen bought in 1825 for $125,000, it's rather wonderful to think of buying a town for that kind of money. And they tell stories there about that's being the part of the country where Lincoln ferried people across the Ohio.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Well
Celia Morris Eckhardt A Welshman who made himself a great fortune in New Lanark in Scotland, when he was very young. Before he was 25. But he was blessedly not willing to be somebody who merely made money. He decided that he needed to figure out how to improve the world, and he unlike any I think of his rich merchant peers in in Scotland, said that -- some marvelous phrase which means in effect, to hell with cotton. If the -- if it is purchased, if the wealth that's being made in the textile mills of Scotland and England are purchased with the misery of the working classes who were, who were brought in to live really terrible lives in those mills, and so Robert Owen had worked very hard to try to persuade his, his peers to pass legislation that would improve the conditions under which people worked. But the legislation got awfully watered down by the time it passed Parliament, and he decided that what he wanted to do was was try a communitarian experiment, and that he thought America was the place to do it. So he bought this town, New Harmony. It was
Celia Morris Eckhardt He was their charismatic leader. They had come from Wurttemberg, and were amazingly successful. And this town is crucial in Fanny's history, because when she saw it first, it was during the period when there was of transition, there were something like 500 of Rapp's people who were still working there, and Robert Owen had not yet come. He'd bought it, but his experiment hadn't finished, and she, she saw what people working in a communal situation could do. I mean, they had built two churches, five or six three-storey brick buildings where people lived, any number of houses, twenty or thirty houses, brickyards, tanyards, coopers' houses. It's a fascinating place, and if you haven't been there, you should go. And they did this in only ten years. And Fanny looked at that
Studs Terkel This
Studs Terkel Now,
Celia Morris Eckhardt Yeah. Right. As Katherine Anne Porter said of the venerable Thomas Hardy, "The worm of original sin was lodged in her [sic - his] mind of all fatal places," and it took her out of the tradition of Orthodoxy into a tradition of equal dignity, equal seriousness, and equal antiq-- the great tradition of dissent.
Celia Morris Eckhardt He was also a skeptic, though at this time a much more outspoken one than Fanny, and he wanted to build what is -- what could be called a communitarian socialist experiment, essentially secular, in which people would come and they would cooperate and work together and provide a model for a new moral world. Neither one of them believed that the commercial instinct was a reliable instinct on which to build a just and a generous society. So Fanny got this picture of what people could do working together from the Rappites, the early people who built harmony. She got from Robert Owen the idea that the same kind of thing would be popular in a secular -- possible in a secular situation. And then she was focused on slavery and she got a man, a fascinating, wonderful man called George Flower who was also an Englishman but had emigrated ten years earlier to the Illinois frontier, and had been on the winning side of a very tough battle against forces that wanted to make Illinois into a slave state, and he eventually agreed to go down with her and establish this commune that she -- on land she bought outside Memphis. I'm anticipating somewhat, but why not? She had She bought this
Celia Morris Eckhardt Right.
Studs Terkel Go
Celia Morris Eckhardt Which is the Chickasaw word for the Little Wolf River that ran outside her land, and she wanted to show there, discover there and then to demonstrate how slaves could be responsibly educated and freed, and in the same way that Robert Owen's' New Harmony was to be a model for a free society, this was to be a model for how you end slavery, and she and George Flower thought that if you gave slaves the -- you see, these Rappites had not been particularly educated people, and she thought that slaves could do the same kinds of things that the Rappites had done, and even more, because she thought if you, if you gave them the possibility of their freedom that they would work all the harder. You know, the stories of how lazy slaves were were rampant at her -- during her time, and obviously people were trying to undermine Black slaves, were undermining their plantations and all that. Harriet Martineau said that she never saw -- she saw only one clean room in slave country. But -- and that's all very, very understandable, and Fanny thought, "All right. But people would work hard if they were working for their freedom," and she and Flower made some elaborate calculations, and on the basis of those they figured that if -- that a slave could work his way and her way to freedom in about five years. She didn't think that it was practical to try simply to say to Southern slave owners, "Slavery is immoral and you have to end it." She thought that was foolish. She thought the North couldn't tell the South that they should give up their property. So she wanted to find some way to end slavery that wouldn't mean the loss of the property from the slave owners, and therefore that people could copy, so they had this idea that they would set up this, this commune and it could be replicated and there would be several established in various different states. And the slaves would work their way to freedom, this floating capital that then was being invested in Latin America and things like that would be invested in these, in these communes and all kinds of problems would be solved at once. Well, it didn't work, for reasons not altogether having to do with the inadequacy of the plan. They really didn't have much chance to, to
Celia Morris Eckhardt Right.
Celia Morris Eckhardt The things that -- part of what happened was that Fanny got very seriously ill. I mean, there were several months in which this looked quite promising, and of course the records are very sketchy and it's hard to reconstruct exactly what happened. George Flower left to go back to Illinois, and his loss was a very serious loss, and it remains unexplained, though I have some speculation in my book about why that happened, but Fanny got very ill, and she decided that you know, that was a time when doctors were so frightening that the best way to stay healthy or stay healthier was to stay away from doctors. And so she decided that the thing to do was to go back to Europe for her, for her health.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Well, around -- there was, there was a fair amount of sympathy and things like the "Genius of Universal Emancipation", which was a newspaper Benjamin Lundy published, but obviously there was not very much public sympathy for this sort of thing, and from everything I've been able to tell, the planters outside and around Memphis did what they could to hinder them. But it was promising for a while. And then, do you know this was a time when there were plagues. I mean, mosquitoes. She got very, very dangerously ill, and so she left her sister and a man called James Richardson at Nashoba, and she and Robert Owen's oldest son Robert Dale Owen went for several months in Europe, and while they were gone James Richardson published in the "Genius of Universal Emancipation" a log he kept of Nashoba business, and at the end of the excerpt he included, and Lundy published, he announced that he had begun to live with a quadroon woman called Josephine Provo.
Studs Terkel Was there a chance of it working out? This of course in the meantime Fanny Wright, we have to point out, knew the powers, too. She visited James Madison. She knew Jefferson, Jackson but whom she overrated
Celia Morris Eckhardt I
Celia Morris Eckhardt Jefferson warned her about some of the serious problems she might encounter, but it was clear that if she was going to do it she couldn't listen to Madison, because she would simply abandon it. And it was, it was very much worth trying and you know in a situation like this, there's no way to tell. Could it have worked? Well, I think it makes a whole lot better sense than the Civil War.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Yeah.
Celia Morris Eckhardt And so of course you know what she did, is she decided to be very straight about it, and when she found out that Richardson had done that, she canceled what remained of her European plans and on the ship coming back, and this is when Frances Trollope came with her, she wrote what she called her explanatory notes on Nashoba, and Fanny believed that it was it was rude to be unclear, and so she was not at all unclear. She said, she said that if Black and white people were brought up together as equals, they would be equal. She said that possibly miscegenation might be an answer to the race problem in America.
Celia Morris Eckhardt We're talking about 1827, Studs. She said that since marriage imposed constraints on women that seriously limited their humanity, that marriage would have no force as an institution at Nashoba, she said she cast some doubts on the efficacy of religion and said it would have no place. And I would imagine that there were very few people other than Fanny Wright who didn't understand the kind of reaction that she would get
Celia Morris Eckhardt "It was a curious truth that necessary work was held in disrepute while society rewarded jobs the least useful, nay frequently the most decidedly mischievous. The husbandman who supports us by the fruits of his labor, the artisan to whom we owe all the comforts and conveniences of life, are banished from what is termed intellectual society and too often condemned to the most severe physical privations and the grossest mental ignorance, while a soldier who lives by our crimes, the lawyer by our quarrels and our rapacity, and the priest by our credulity and our hypocrisy are honored with public consideration and applause." That's pretty heady stuff, isn't it, Studs?
Celia Morris Eckhardt And then she goes on to say that people were "virtuous in proportion as they are happy, and happy in proportion as they are free," which of course flies against the religious invocation of the terrors and damnations of hell.
Studs Terkel Now, it's interesting, she is hardly quoted, de Tocqueville is always used as the [guy? guide?], de Tocqueville saw things quite frankly superficially if you look at it now. He saw things going nice, and he saw the power of everything working out pretty well, he did hear, he did comment on money being the prime subject of discussion.
Celia Morris Eckhardt That's
Studs Terkel Stuff she was talking about now that is buried. The observations she was making, and suppose we take a break now, come back to chapter 3 of this conversation about Fanny Wright, she was involved in so many things, Pestalozzi and technique of education with the Scottish enlightened rich man William Maclure, and she was involved in all aspects of a better society here in this godlike land.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Right.
Studs Terkel So we come to -- the book, by the way, the book is "Fanny Wright: Rebel in America", by my guest Celia Morris Eckhardt, and Harvard University Press the publishers. We'll resume after this message. [pause in recording] Resuming with Celia Eckhardt and her biography of Fanny Wright, rebel -- that's putting it mildly, in America. Mrs. Trollope, of whom references are often made, who saw things somewhat jaundicedly here, too, spoke of Fanny Wright on that boat coming back for the third trip, talking to a sailor, and she's the most exciting conversation she'd ever heard. And she was painting what,
Celia Morris Eckhardt a Well, I think Mrs. Trollope was really quite shocked that Fanny would actually sit apparently on a coiled rope and read to this sailor her, what became her notes on Nashoba, and Mrs. Trollope, you see, for all her delightfulness was a proper Victorian, early Victorian lady, and the idea of talking to someone of a different social class as though they were equals was shocking to her.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Marriage.
Studs Terkel Those
Celia Morris Eckhardt Religion.
Studs Terkel Marriage, questioning organized religion, challenging those who make a lot of dough as worthless, you know, far more valuable those who make a little doing the more necessary work, doing everything. So we come to education, now her thoughts about education. Who is William Maclure? He figures
Celia Morris Eckhardt He was, he was a remarkable Scotsman. It's, it's fun to go back to this period and read about these eccentric millionaires who came and Maclure was a very radical man. He was erratically educated and had wonderful ideas and pungency about expressing them, and he believed that only the people who were workers could make the society of the future. But he was an inveterate benefactor nevertheless, and so he kept spending his money to try to encourage experiments in education or whatever that would live, lead to a world more equal than the world in which he found himself. He's a very attractive man, and he thought Fanny Wright was terrific, and in fact he wrote several wills and in two or three of the wills she was one of the beneficiaries of the will, and he wanted her to come to New Harmony, which he joined with Robert Owen, to help run the educational society there. It's the respect that Fanny elicited from people like Robert Owen and William Maclure and Lafayette that in addition to her writings make us understand how powerful she was, and how impressive.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Right.
Celia Morris Eckhardt That's somewhat of an exaggeration, I think. She -- her, her tolerance for disagreement was limited, and I think she felt that eventually if she explained clearly enough, she would persuade somebody that her way was best and proper. And she was willing for a long period of time to keep explaining, but then you see, Studs, when she went onto the platform actually after this "Notes on Nashoba" was published, and she became a public speaker, the first woman in public really to speak in America ten years before the Grimke sisters, who are ordinarily credited with that. And without the sanction of the church, which they had, she was subject to such ridicule and such abuse for preaching what for the most part were ideas very much in accord with Thomas Jefferson and the 18th century underpinnings of American society. But the idea that this would come from a woman was unacceptable to the editors, to preachers, and she was ridiculed. One of the terms she was called was "the red harlot of infidelity," infidelity at that time didn't mean sexual unfaithfulness, it meant disbelief in organized religion, and one of my first pieces of research on the book had to do with sitting one long afternoon in the New York Historical Society reading a newspaper called the New York "Commercial Advertiser", edited by a man called William Leete Stone, and at the end of this afternoon, the librarian said, "Lady, what's wrong with you?" And I must have looked ashen, because I said "I've just read the most vicious attack I've ever read on anybody. And that remains still to be the case." She -- let me see if I can find -- listen to one of the things he eventually said about her: "It is time we should have done with Miss Wright. Her pestilent doctrines and her deluded followers who are as much to be pitied as their priestess is to be despised. She comes amongst us in the character of a bold blasphemer and a voluptuous preacher of licentiousness, [unintelligible whisper], casting off all restraint, she would break down all the barriers to virtue and reduce the world to one grand theater of vice and sensuality in its most loathsome form. No rebuff can palsy her, no insult can agitate her feelings, it is iron equally in her head and heart, impervious to the voice of virtue and case-hardened against shame." And this was a very impressive woman and a very well, well-educated and splendid woman.
Celia Morris Eckhardt That's right. That's right. And I think the hysteria that she inspired, that was channeled through men like Stone is in some ways comparable to the Salem witch trials. There it becomes a hysteria in which she is treated as no man or woman ever was, as a kind of priestess.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Oh, very, very big crowds. In 1829 and 1830, which was the most creative of the periods of her life when she was working with Robert Dale Owen and they were publishing the "Free Enquirer", this weekly radical newspaper out of New York, she was drawing two and three thousand people. And you know, Fanny was almost six feet tall, and she had a voice so strong that she could be heard without microphone at the back of the hall without all these fancy modern acoustics, you know, with that many people in it. And those were the numbers of people who were coming to hear her. In 1837 and 1838, when she came back to America and was more even more brutally treated, she caused what was really a full-fledged riot in the streets of New York. In one of her lectures, 10,000 people apparently were in the streets, and the whole New York police force was called
Studs Terkel Let's stay with this, this is interesting, 'cause something was going on here. See, often we hear of the hysteria and the anti-feminist, anti-Fanny Wright feeling in the press and, there was a tremendous following she had too, so
Celia Morris Eckhardt That's right. And what I would like to say by the way that one of the groups that supported her were the Quakers, and Quaker women would go on the platform with her when she spoke, sometimes as many as 40, and I tried terribly hard to find some kind of record from a Quaker woman of how she felt, and you know, couldn't ever. Couldn't ever do that. But there are newspaper accounts that say that this was true, and so Fanny being involved with Robert Dale Owen in the beginnings of the labor movement, I mean these people were very excited with these -- that the reawakening of these ideals of republicanism and the beginnings of some effort toward solidarity among working people. Walt Whitman was a young boy of ten or twelve and his father was a carpenter in Brooklyn then, and he took Walt Whitman to hear Fanny Wright, and in old age Walt Whitman remembered how tremendously exciting it was to hear her. So it was, she was the focal point of a very important movement. It was fragile then, and it was pretty quickly destroyed, and the destruction of Fanny Wright was part of the way they did that, you know, by the humiliation with which she was treated, the horrible way the press and the public
Studs Terkel But
Studs Terkel So what was happening here were riots and when she, when latter days of her lectures before she went back to Europe, destroyed [practically?], before that there were tumultuous events happened. She was always surrounded by tumult, wasn't she?
Celia Morris Eckhardt Right. And she liked some of that, you know, Studs. She'd never admitted it, but she really enjoyed her hours on the stage, and I think she always wanted to go back to them and it was one of the great tragedies of her life that she came at a time in American history when evangelical religion was so powerful and becoming so much more powerful that they really had the ability to destroy her as a public
Studs Terkel Immediately so. We're talking about Fanny Wright, this remarkable figure, "Rebel in America" is the subtitle of the book, and my guest is Celia Morris Eckhardt, Harvard University the press, but it reads like a house afire. And let's after this one more message we'll resume for the last part of Fanny Wright's life and whatever her legacy may be today. [pause in recording] Resuming with Celia Eckhardt and Fanny Wright, and so
Celia Morris Eckhardt That
Studs Terkel And before that, toward the end, now the opposition to her was pretty well solidified. And now that you say they also were humiliating her, so was now, was now mockery? Mockery was now part of it.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Her last years in as a public figure in America were so -- she was finally just left. She was treated as a, as a mere curiosity. And then they became indifferent to her. They just sort of let her drop, and they took up the next, the next
Celia Morris Eckhardt Oddity.
Studs Terkel Oddity
Celia Morris Eckhardt And so she had -- they stopped taking her seriously. And that must have been the most terrible thing to her, because being attacked by people who were taking her seriously invigorated her, but.
Celia Morris Eckhardt She's buried in Cincinnati. Exactly. But in those last years, she really didn't have anybody close to her who would give her ideas the rigorous critique she really needed, and she had no, virtually no emotional support. Her marriage became a disaster, and her daughter sided with her father, so that she was virtually alone. And she also had recurrent bouts of illness and so the last years are very, very depressing. But the -- nevertheless she did publish a book called "England the Civilizer" in 1848. The last third of it is a kind of apocalyptic fantasy of the way the earth is going to come to this state of Utopia that she and so many people in the 19th century longed for. But still in that book there is this grand vision. She just wouldn't give it up, and this is one of the reasons I think she's so much worth our attention. She was cranky and she was difficult to get along with in those last years, but she kept this vision of human possibility that was really just beyond that of practically any of her contemporaries. It's really, really fine.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Well, that was -- she simply took the slaves she had bought in in the United States and freed them in Haiti, because she thought that the United States was so, was such a racist society that there was no way for them to find a basically decent life.
Celia Morris Eckhardt I think she bought ten. And by the time she freed them, there were about 22. And she took a very important trip it turned out in her life to Haiti with them to free them there. She had made a public pledge to do that.
Celia Morris Eckhardt And she came back and you know, she had idolized Lafayette. And I think her final disillusion with Lafayette came in 1830 when she was in France and there was the revolution of 1830, and Lafayette could have declared a republic, or he could -- he was actually in a position many historians argue to have made himself the ruler, and instead he gave his endorsement to Louis Philippe, the younger, the head of the younger branch of the Bourbons, and the idea that her great republican hero had opted for aristocracy at the end was crushing
Celia Morris Eckhardt Right.
Studs Terkel Backing Van Buren. She was now, we're still looking for something, even though she may have been backing the wrong horses, but her come back to New York, though, now came the economic stuff, the Working Men's Party, she's involved in that. They call "Locofocos."
Celia Morris Eckhardt The Locofocos were the 1836, 7, 8 version of the Working Men's Party, which was in 1829 and 1830, and except -- with the exception of slavery, and they were rather sympathetic to slavery, they were the radicals of her time, and nevertheless -- and they had certain ideas that were meant to be radical in their time about money. But Fanny's were really much more radical than theirs, and she really had great skepticism about gold, for example, as a standard of value. And she began to talk about money as merely a governing tool. And in this she followed really Robert Owen, who thought finally you had to have a communitarian life. She really never would give up that vision.
Studs Terkel You know, I'm thinking about Fanny Wright and the contemporary significance of her, she was talking about where you are is where you begin, where you live as though it were, in the community.
Celia Morris Eckhardt And also, Studs, the most, one of the most important things she talked about I think, is that she's the first woman to argue that women were equal to men and should act as such and be treated as such in all the business of public life. Now, that was real heresy. If you want to talk about heresy in the early 19th century, that was heresy. And for getting out of women's place she was, she was really abused. Now we don't, now, now we are trying I think 150 years later to pick up that idea. I mean, here is "Ms. Magazine" made Carol Gilligan its "Woman of the Year" for saying that women have a different set of values than men. Fanny Wright said that 150 years ago, and she said until women's values have as much say in public life as men's, society will be askewed.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Right.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Right.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Right. Catharine Beecher ten years later attacked the Grimke sisters in the same way, people who got out of the proper role of womanhood. But Fanny said and said repeatedly, and said 'til the end of her life, that women had to have this equal role, and for the first time in American history, women are now apparently going to vote in different ways from the way men vote, and they're voting in larger numbers and in higher percentages than men.
Studs Terkel We'll see. Maybe, coming back to, you said Catharine Beecher is the Phyllis Schlafly of her day. So it seems that history, that figures we have was called archetypal figures, whether Phyllis Schlafly on one side and some devout feminists on the other, have their prototypes in the [early? other?] days.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Oh, that's right. That's right. And Fanny was so radical that most women didn't want to pay attention to or remember her, but Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony used her picture as the frontispiece for the history of woman's suffrage. And there are various women, Ernestine Rose
Celia Morris Eckhardt Who, they admired her very much, but the mainstream women's movement discarded her because she was so radical. They were not radicals, they were reformers, they wanted to -- they wanted the vote. And as you know, that movement got more and more conservative, focused as it was merely on getting the vote, so that by the time they got it, arguably they didn't have much to say for which they wanted to use it.
Celia Morris Eckhardt Oh, very much more. she, she in fact had Emma Goldman's skepticism about, about the vote. She didn't think that that was particularly the "sine qua non" of political life. She thought, who owned the, who owned the resources of society? Who was rich and who was poor, that that's what mattered.
Studs Terkel Fanny Wright is dynamite. I say that, just in having read this very readable book indeed, but more than that, a revelatory one, "Rebel in America" is the subtitle, and rebel is putting it mildly. She's that, and Harvard University are the publishers of it, and Celia Morris Eckhardt