Frances (Fanny) Wright · 1980

By Tyna Landgrebe

Frances (Fanny) Wright was born to James and Camilla Campbell Wright on September 6, 1795, in Dundee, Scotland. She, her older brother, and her younger sister were orphaned in early childhood. Wright and sister Camilla were sent to London to live with their maternal grandfather and aunt. There they remained until their late teens, but their brother Richard, having only been reunited with his sisters a few times, joined the military and was killed when he was 15.

At a young age, Wright began questioning life and her education. She finally questioned the mannerisms and customs of the English upper class of which she was a part. Having been given large inheritances, she and her sister returned to Scotland where Frances at age 19 poured herself into her studies. She was known to be well read and spoke fluent French and Italian. At this time she also studied and became interested in politics, history, and philosophy. Soon thereafter she became known as a young skeptic and political radical.

In 1818 Frances and her constant companion, Camilla, voyaged to the United States of America which Frances had studied. She was intrigued by democratic freedoms that the U.S. offered. Here she found that she could instigate change and she eventually became a U.S. citizen. Still her ties in Europe remained.

In her lifetime Frances Wright crossed the ocean seven times, many times to visit her friend General Marquis de Lafayette in France. Lafayette had taken interest in Frances and Camilla after an American travelogue was published by Frances based on her first voyage. Lafayette might have adopted the sisters had his family and the times permitted.

Throughout his lifetime he kept correspondence with Frances, and she accompanied him in the U.S. on his tour. Although she did not travel with him, she met his at his stops, usually in major cities. Through him she met influential politicians like John Quincy Adams, General Jackson, Sam Houston, President Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. These men expressed interest in her proposal for the emancipation of slaves.

Frances Wright followed through on her anti-slavery experiment which lasted five years but which cost her money and health. In the meantime she also became more involved with Robert Dale Owen and his colonization establishment in New Harmony, Indiana.

During this period she learned of and agreed with many of his socialistic ideas; however, she claimed later that she was never a communist but a Republican supporter.

Through her association with Owen, she became not only a co-editor of the Free Enquirer but also an outspoken lecturer on various social topics. She was outspoken, appealed for radical change, and lectured on topics inappropriate for women of the age.

At the age of 40, Frances Wright married William Phiquepal D’Arusmont on July 22, 1831. They married in Europe and soon thereafter had a daughter Sylva. During this period, Frances seemed to be content and discontinued her public appearances.

When she returned to the lecture circuit some five or six years later, her husband objected. In the years that followed, Frances continued her radical ways and eventually filed for divorce in New York. There she was granted her divorce and at least partial recovery of her depleted fortune of which her husband had had charge, but she lost the affection of Sylva who remained with D’Arusmont. The mother-daughter relationship was severed and was never repaired. After this time, Frances was followed by ex-husband and daughter, but she was never allowed access to Sylva. Her association with social reforms continued until 1850 but was diminished along with her enthusiasm. She was affected greatly by her poor family relationships.

She eventually settled in Cincinnati, Ohio, in loneliness and sadness. In the winder of 1851 she fell on ice and broke a hip. Already in poor health, Frances Wright never fully recovered and died December 13, 1852, at the age of 57.

Journalistic Contributions:
Frances (Fanny) Wright’s journalistic contributions were related to her long association with Robert Dale Owen of New Harmony fame. In his experimental colony, Owen published the New Harmony Gazette of which Wright was a frequent contributor on issues that Owen and she thought would promote reform. Issues she attacked during this time included slavery, discrimination, religion, education, marriage, and the current morals.

When her experiment with emancipation of slaves faltered, Owen and Wright became co-editors of the New Harmony and Nashoba Gazette or Free Enquirer. At this time, Wright had become a lecturer and most of her contributions to the Indiana newspaper were reproductions of her speeches and various fiction storied. She also responded to attacks on herself and her radical philosophies.

In 1828 the Free Enquirer editors moved the publication to New York for more access to the public. Wright continued to support the newspaper both financially and through her writing contributions.

Wright continued to attack every social and political abuse, especially those of educational injustice and women’s rights abuse. Eventually she even advocated birth control and divorce and marriage reformations.

The Free Enquirer and Frances Wright were known as radicals. Although Wright was not bothered by criticism of clergy, press, and her friends at the time, she did eventually become an outcast from her previous social acquaintances. Finally, her journalistic endeavors hurt her personally and socially, but her contributions did open the newspaper field for other women and the nation to change, reform, and radicalism.

Other Contributions:
Upon Wright’s first visit to the United States she wrote, published, and produced the play Altorf, but her authorship was kept secret at the time because the content contained philosophies unbecoming a lady. Wright was thereafter responsible for many writings including a travelogue, letters (especially to Lafayette), a biography, a Greek manuscript translation, fables, and pamphlets (on social issues).

Besides her writings she experimented with the emancipation of slavery by developing Nashoba, a community of 30 former Negro slaves and a dozen white managers. Politicians followed the progress of the Nashoba project with interest to see whether Wright’s philosophy of emancipation through education would work. After being educated the Negroes would be settled in colonies outside of the U.S. and white labor would replace them in the South, Wright claimed. Money problems and her illness forced Wright to abandon her experiment after five years, but she did settle the former slaves in Haiti.

After her return from Haiti, Wright concentrated on her lecturing where she could emphasize her philosophies on equality which she believed began with free education for all regardless of sex or color.

From her philosophy of education sprung all topics with which she dealt, and she became known within her lifetime for her contributions to free speech, women’s rights, labor movements (Fanny Wright Societies), and other reforms.

After her lifetime, Frances Wright became known as the first woman ever to write a travelogue, to become a playwright, to speak publicly and conduct lecture tours in the U.S. She was the first to advocate free public schools for all children and equal rights for women.


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