Margaret Fuller Society Panel at MLA 2019

Women at Work: Margaret Fuller and Nineteenth-Century Women Writers on Work

Saturday, Jan 5, 2019

This session, organized by Sonia Di Loreto and presided by Jana L. Argersinger, explored Margaret Fuller’s relation to and representations of labor from multiple perspectives, including the ways in which Margaret Fuller and other 19th c. women writers considered, debated, practiced, and critiqued labor.

Aimee Allard presented a paper focused on the labor of sewing, specifically the role of sewing within the asylum. Sewing was a tedious task designed to keep women busy, a punishment for women patients “who dared to read or write, and a system of unpaid labor from which unscrupulous asylum superintendents profited.” Allard writes, “For Fuller, sewing was a form of cloth confinement, so it seems only fitting that [Elizabeth] Packard and her contemporaries aligned needlework with straitjackets and fabric restraints.”

Hediye Özkan discussed how Lillie Devereux Blake approached issues faced by women in the nineteenth century in Fettered for Life or Master and Lord
(1874), “by using woman-slave analogy not only in a capitalist but also patriarchal society to reconstruct work, womanhood, and marriage.”

Jessica Horvath Williams approached nineteenth-century women’s labor through disability studies, examining journal entries related to the strenuous labor of nineteenth-century housework. In her paper she interrogated the impossible standard of the Colonial Good Wife, and asked what we mean when we apply the words “disabled” and “frail” to women in the nineteenth century.

Click here to read the full abstracts.

Presider

Jana L. Argersinger, Washington State U, Pullman

Presentations

‘Sent to the Sewing Room, and Compelled to Work’: Institutionalized Women’s Labor in Nineteenth-Century American Hospitals for the Insane

Aimee Allard, U of Nebraska, Lincoln

Solidarity across Classes and Women’s Labor

Hediye Özkan, Indiana U of Pennsylvania

The Disabled Superwoman: Disabling Domestic Labor in Mary Wilkins Freeman’s ‘Luella Miller’ and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’s ‘No News’

Jessica Horvath Williams, U of California, Los Angeles

 

On the eve of the Margaret Fuller Society panel, Fullerites gathered in Chicago to have dinner together and discuss their research and their presentations at MLA.

fuller society dinner mla 2019
Photos courtesy of Jana L. Argersinger

Fullerians at SSAWW in Bordeaux

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The Place de la Bourse at night

This post was written by Margaret Fuller Society First Vice President and contributing author Charlene Avallone. 

Conference director Stéphanie Durrans and her coworkers welcomed us this July to the Université Bordeaux Montaigne for the first international conference organized by the Society for the Study of American Women Writers, a gathering characterized by the hospitality and intellectual stimulation traditionally associated with the host nation.  Not surprisingly, Margaret Fuller was much in evidence–for among American writers, Fuller stands out as paradigmatic of the conference theme: Border Crossings.

Notorious in her own time for transgressing and confounding boundaries in her life and work, Fuller remains recognized for transcending confines.  She evaded restrictions on education and library access, preparing herself for an exceptional career that amalgamated roles as educator, public intellectual, translator, journalist, frontier and transnational travel writer, and theorist of (trans)gender.  Born into New England elite, she represented causes of immigrants and the poor and championed claims of human rights against state and social constraints.  A female pioneer in transnational cultural and political journalism, Fuller explored the possibilities of literary and political connections in her European travels.  Her writings, now issued in several nations and languages, often blur conventional boundaries between oral/literary discourse, male/female spheres, or popular/high genres of literature and philosophy.

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Panelists on the roundtable sponsored by the Fuller Society highlighted this liminal figure, examining:  Fuller’s literal and political translations of European writers (Kathleen Lawrence); her redefinition in her pedagogy and literary canon of the boundaries between women’s conversational culture/Socratic dialogue and imitative/original learning and writing (Christa Vogelius); her participation in multilingual epistolary networks that cross national, ideological, private/public, and genre boundaries (Sonia Di Loreto); her transformation of nationalist travelogue through her transatlantic reading and travel, deviation from normative masculine perspectives, and translation (Brigitte Bailey); and transnational reception history of her life and work (Marina Kizima).

On another panel, speakers analyzed Fuller’s self-conscious rhetorical strategies of revisioning as she confronted changing national borderlines and internal divisions, including over slavery (Mollie Barnes), and directed attention from Fuller’s connection to socialism to consideration of her thinking about property and its relation to revolution (Abigail Fagan). Together, they conveyed a nuanced sense of Fuller’s journalistic negotiations with radical political positions.

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The panel, 19th-Century Women Crossing Borders between Literature, Science, Politics and Welfare Issues: Margaret Jay Jessee, Abigail Fagan, and Mollie Barnes
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Many thanks to Brigitte Bailey (left, next to Sonia Di Loreto) for providing photos from the event!