Summer Conversational Series at Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House: “Good Wives: Marriage and Family in Little Women Part Second and Beyond — Wednesday session

By Lorraine Tosiello

Notorious or Victorious? Inside the Marriages of Lucy Stone and Victoria Woodhull

Lis Adams showing a portrait of Lucy Stone

Lis Adams, Director of Education at Orchard House spoke about women who were famed in their time for their varied work in the women’s rights and suffrage movements, both of whom had unconventional marriages.

Lucy Stone was personally known to the Alcotts. She worked side by side with them on abolitionist and suffragist issues. It was she who spoke in 1853 at the Massachusetts State House representing the petition written by Abigail May Alcott, demanding equal political rights for women. Stone was the organizer of the first National Women’s Rights Convention in 1850 in Worcester MA. Along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Stone was one leg of the “Triumvirate” of the early suffragist movement.

Stone was a valued and effective speaker on the Abolitionist circuit and a successful and prosperous one on the lecture tour for the women’s rights. She was famous for wearing bloomers, which attracted curiosity seekers as well. Eschewing marriage, she said, “I will never lose my name” and also that marriage was “putting Lucy Stone to death.” Even so, she found a happy compromise in a marriage to Henry Browne Blackwell, a women’s rights advocate himself, who believed fully in a “…wife as an independent, rational being…” and that marriage laws gave men “legal powers no honorable man would exercise…” The pair had a private prenuptial agreement, giving Stone full owner ship of her own earnings and property.”

In contrast, only Victoria Woodhull’s reputation would have been known to the Alcotts, as it was to the nation. As the first female Presidential Candidate in 1872, a free love advocate, a spiritualist, the first woman stock broker on wall street and a newspaper publisher, she was a dazzlingly accomplished and adventurous character.

Her early thoughts on marriage may have been shaped by her unhappy and brutal first marriage to a liar and a drunkard at age 16. She wrote, “I supposed that to marry was to be transported to a heaven.. (instead) I beheld the horrors, corruption, the evils and hypocrisy of society…” She married three more times (twice to her second husband) and lived a long and adventurous life that included being the first woman to testify to a congressional Judiciary Committee on women’s’ suffrage, advising Cornelius Vanderbilt on financial issues, as a spiritualist and living her last decades in England.

Both women had larger than life personalities and accomplishments and both arranged their marriages on their own terms.

Margaret Fuller: Living the Sacred Marriage Within, then in Partnership with the World

Michael Barnett, Jan Turnquist and Lis Adams

Michael Barnett, a minister, theologian, educator and Margaret Fuller scholar, presented on “Margaret Fuller: Living the Sacred Marriage Within, then in Partnership with the World.”

Reverend Barnett spoke and read selected works of Margaret Fuller, using himself as a conduit for her words. He began with Bronson Alcott’s assessment of “…her exalted character and genius.” “She was a diviner,” Alcott said. Fuller said of herself, ” I felt I was not born to the common womanly lot” but that she had “this destiny of the thinker…”

Her life as a teacher, Transcendentalist conversationalist, writer and editor, author of “Women in the Nineteenth Century”, and newspaper correspondent propelled her forward toward her final destiny as a war correspondent in Italy during the failed revolution there, and to become the wife of and Italian nobleman. Their Catholic /Protestant marriage and their son born out of wedlock, along with her husband’s political stance, made it impossible for them to remain in Italy. Though they both had ominous premonitions about the journey, the travelled together back to America, to try to have a better life for their child. The family perished as a unit in the senseless shipwreck off Fire Island.

Fuller’s quotes abound with the sensibility of the fluidity of gender, “there is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman…”, “Nature…will make a female Newton and a male Siren”. Today, she would be an icon of the LGBTQ movement.

Discussion revealed that Margaret was even appointed Director of the hospital on the Isola Tiberina in Rome during the conflict. She wrote a history of the Italian revolution, and sadly, manuscript was lost in the shipwreck. We were able to use Google Maps to find the Viale Margaret Fuller Ossoli in Rome, on the Janiculum Hill and fittingly, it runs through a botanical garden and aviary.

Reverend Barnett’s call to serve as a conduit of divine energy for the Margaret Fuller story led us to a peaceful place.

Orchard House: Home of Little Women

Jan Turnquist with her Emmy

Finally, we were treated to a viewing of the documentary film “Orchard House :Home of Little Women.” This documentary has been a labor of love for Jan Turnquist, Executive Director of Orchard House. After years of fund raising, false starts and rewritten projects, Turnquist finally “did it all” by writing, directing and hosting the film. The documentary, short form shows the history of Orchard House, which stretches back 200 years before the Alcotts inhabited it and the long legacy that continues in this special house that now represents the “Little Women.” The joy of modern day visitors and the connection that the people who work and tour Orchard House feel with the Alcotts is rendered in a very poignant way. The film earned an Emmy for Outstanding Historical/Cultural Program/Special at the Boston/New England Emmy Awards Gala this year.

You can learn more about this lovely film at orchardhousedocumentary.org

 

 

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