MHS for the Media

“A More Interior Revolution”
MHS Exhibition celebrates the Women of the American Renaissance


BOSTON, March 15, 2010— On Monday, March 22, to commemorate the bicentennial of Margaret Fuller’s birth, the Massachusetts Historical Society will open a new exhibition titled “A More Interior Revolution”: Elizabeth Peabody, Margaret Fuller, and the Women of the American Renaissance. Guest curator Megan Marshall, author of the acclaimed biography The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism, has selected letters and journals written by Fuller and Peabody, together with writings and works of art created by other women who participated in the literary renaissance in New England between 1830 and Fuller’s death in 1850.

During this period of intellectual and social ferment, a remarkable cohort of women writers, poets, and artists emerged in the Boston area.  Fuller would leave Boston for a career in journalism in New York and then go on to participate in the social upheaval in revolutionary Europe; she died in a shipwreck during her return voyage to America. Elizabeth Palmer Peabody remained here and, as she wrote to William Wordsworth, saw “a more interior revolution in the making” in which “grand souls indeed [both men and women] … would do in the republic of letters, in the temple lofty sciences,” what the founding fathers had accomplished “fifty years since in politics.”

 “This era, 1830 to 1850, was truly the first wave of feminism in the United States,” explained guest curator Megan Marshall. “Margaret Fuller's famous Conversations, attended by the likes of abolitionist Lydia Maria Child and future suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and held in the bookstore owned and operated by intellectual impresario Elizabeth Peabody, were America's first consciousness-raising groups where participants considered the question:  What were women born to do?  Here was a feminist ‘flowering of New England’ every bit as significant as Emerson and Thoreau's drive towards individualism and self-reliance.” Marshall added of the exhibition, “The show should not be missed by anyone who cares to know the origins of women’s rights in America or to be inspired by these original spirits again today.” 

The exhibition draws upon the manuscript, rare book, art, and artifact collections of the MHS, including a particularly interesting set of correspondence between Margaret Fuller and author and minister James Freeman Clarke.  For more than a century, many of Fuller's letters were known only from corrupted fragments published soon after her death. In 1985, the MHS rediscovered 84 “lost” letters from Fuller to Clarke in a collection donated by Clarke's descendants, leading to the publication of the entire text of many of Fuller’s letters for the first time. “A More Interior Revolution” also includes items on loan from the Concord Free Public Library, Margaret Clapp Library at Wellesley College, and the Boston Athenæum. 

The MHS will host two public gallery talks in conjunction with the exhibition.  "The Lost Letters of Margaret Fuller" by MHS Stephen T. Riley Librarian Peter Drummey will be held on Saturday, March 27, at 11 AM and 1 PM as part of the MHS Annual Open House.  On Friday, April 23, at 2 PM, Leslie Perrin Wilson, Curator of the William Munroe Special Collections at the Concord Free Public Library, will give a talk entitled "No Worthless Books": Elizabeth Peabody's Foreign Library and Bookstore, 1840-1852.  The MHS also will sponsor a three-day conference, Margaret Fuller and Her Circles, April 8-10, 2010.  For information on these events please visit the MHS website at 

“A More Interior Revolution” is free and open to the public from March 22 until June 30, Monday through Saturday, 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM.

About Megan Marshall

Megan Marshall is Assistant Professor of Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College.  She has published numerous essays and reviews in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Slate Online, The New York Times Book Review, The London Review of Books, The New Republic, The Boston Review, and elsewhere.  Her biography The Peabody Sisters:  Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism (2005) won the Francis Parkman Prize, awarded by the Society of American Historians; the Mark Lynton History Prize, awarded by the Anthony Lukas Prize Project jointly sponsored by the Columbia School of Journalism and Harvard's Nieman Foundation; and the Massachusetts Book Award in nonfiction. It was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography and memoir.

Marshall has been the recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, and she has been a Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society since 1991.  During 2006-2007 she was a fellow in creative nonfiction writing at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University where she began work on a biography of Ebe Hawthorne, Nathaniel's brilliant and reclusive older sister.  She is currently at work on a second book to be titled The Passion of Margaret Fuller.

About the Massachusetts Historical Society

The Massachusetts Historical Society is one of the nation’s preeminent research libraries, with collections that provide an unparalleled record of the vibrant course of American history. The Society holds an extraordinary assembly of personal papers from three presidents–John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Thomas Jefferson–as well as accounts of the lives of thousands of ordinary Americans and their families.  With millions of pages of manuscript letters, diaries, and other documents, as well as early newspapers, broadsides, artifacts, works of art, maps, photographs, and prints, the MHS offers a wide-ranging perspective on the United States from the earliest beginnings of the nation to the present day.

Since its founding in 1791, the MHS has fostered research, scholarship, and education. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of our nation’s past and its connection to the present. Through fellowships for scholars, meticulous research volumes, seminars, conferences, teacher training programs, as well as lectures, tours, open houses, and exhibitions, the Society demonstrates that history is not just a series of events that happened to individuals long ago but an integral part of the fabric of our daily lives.


Media Contact:

Nicole Leonard

Massachusetts Historical Society

(617) 646-0552