Frances “Fanny” Wright was the first American woman to speak publicly against slavery and for the equality of women. Born in Scotland, Fanny was brought up in homes of several relatives, including James Milne, a member of the Scottish school of progressive philosophers. Milne encouraged Fanny to question conventional ideas and that encouragement was to have a lasting influence on Fanny’s life.
Fanny visited the United States in 1818 and published her first book, “Views of Society and Manners In America,” in 1821. The book praised America’s experiments in democracy. Fanny returned to England and became involved in the struggle for parliamentary reform. She became a friend of the Marquis de Lafayette and together they returned to the United States in 1824.
In 1825, Fanny became a United States citizen and purchased 2000 acres of woodland near Memphis, Tennessee. She formed a cooperative community called Nashoba, bought slaves from neighboring farmers, freed them and gave them land on her settlement. Her community was extremely controversial. She espoused feminism, sexual freedom, the abolition of slavery and equal political rights. After spending most of her fortune, the village never became economically self-sufficient and in 1828, she was forced to abandon her experiment.
By 1829, Fanny had re-settled in New York City, published her second book, “Course of Popular Lectures,” and her first newspaper, “Free Enquirer.” She advocated socialism, abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, free secular education, birth control, and changes in both marriage and divorce laws. She became involved with the radical Workingmen’s Party and advocated for government sponsored boarding schools for all children.
Fanny married a doctor, Guillaume D’Arusmont in 1831, and had a child but the marriage was not a success, and she was divorced in 1836. Ironically under nineteenth century law, her husband gained control over her entire property, including her earnings from lectures and the royalties from her books. Fanny Wright was in the middle of a legal struggle when she died in 1852.
She is known for her profound statement, “I have wedded the cause of human improvement, staked on it my fortune, my reputation and my life.” Fanny Wright was a brave and profound woman, years ahead of her time, but will be remembered and celebrated for the contributions she willingly gave to enrich all of our lives.
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