Electrical Women

This post focuses on Margaret Fuller, the 19th century Transcendental and feminist philosopher and a key figure in my medical history research. Fuller was born Sarah Margaret Fuller on 23rd May 1810 in Massachusetts, America. She is credited as being the first woman to review and edit American journalism and her monumental text Woman in the Nineteenth Century is claimed to be the first feminist work in America. Fuller died in 1850 after drowning from a ship wreck near New York. Elements surrounding her death, namely the foreshadowing of her own demise and transcendental responses to her death are topics to discuss in the future.

“The electrical, magnetic element in Woman has not been fairly brought out at any period. Allow room enough, the electric fluid will invigorate and embellish, not destroy life.” ( Woman in the Nineteenth Century and Kindred Papers relating to the Sphere, Condition and Duties of Woman)

Woman in the Nineteenth Century was the first philosophical text I read post University. In fact it was the first philosophical text I read cover to cover. It sounds bad to admit that after studying the subject for three years but the feminist within me had a long term grudge with the male dominated field of study. Fuller’s writing is so much more mesmerising and electrifying than the male philosopher’s I “attempted” to study. For those who know Fuller’s work will hopefully be giggling at the pun I just made….

Ultimately Fuller’s work is captivating because of its intertwining themes and compatibility to all. I’d claim Fuller to be a unique egalitarian transcendentalist – she writes about men and women separately as well as the many underlying and under acknowledged instances of their union. This is more than the 19th century concept of marriage; everyone on earth needs to decipher their true capacities. When found and connected, enlightenment and transcendence can truly occur.


Fuller’s work is particularly mesmerising because of her depictions and influence of mesmerism.  While she was a feminist pioneer in transcendental thought, a revolutionary individual in American journalism and a celebrated advocate of human rights, Fuller was also subject to debilitating migraines, spinal curvature and chronic fatigue. In fact most of her work was produced while bed-bound due to her various ailments. At the same time generalised perceptions of female illness were ripe; changes in mental state and physicality were often teamed as forms of hysteria and frailty of the body grounded gendered stereotypes.

Fuller favoured treatments of mesmerism – the hypnotic form of therapy developed by Anton Mesmer in the 18th century. Mesmerism is also known as “Animal Magnetism”, an intrinsic force within all living beings – a warm energy which can be awakened and used to heal the body. The accuracy and medical effects of the treatment is a lively debate in contemporary thought; historical evidence suggests it to be a quack method, others fall towards a placebo effect, some claim a cure.

Fuller refers to Mesmerism within WITNC as a “Trance of Ecstatica”, a phrase which has sparked various philosophical research and its connections with medical history. It is not clear whether Fuller’s physical ailments were decreased by the hypnotic therapy, however she interprets the process in a completely original and ground breaking way. She associates the trance to unlock an “electrical movement”, a unique element within the female body. Her understanding and experience of negative pain are repurposed; the associations of female weakness, the headaches corresponding to hysteria, the frail bodily frame are repurposed into something powerful. The hypnotic trance, vividly and creatively personified within her writings, unlocks the realisation of womanly “genius.”

“Sickness was the result of an overcharged existence” (Woman in the Nineteenth Century)

I can say with certainty that illness was a major influence of Margaret Fuller’s feminist and transcendental ideology. Her writing which is heavily influenced on her pain and treatment is empowering in so many ways. The ambiguous yet ultimately clear descriptions of negative feelings, both physical pain and emotion, represents the strength, abilities and enlightening nature of everybody.


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