Frances Wright was born in 1795 in Scotland but
had an early interest in America. After educating
herself from a college library, she visited the United States when she was 23. During her
travels, she wrote Views of Society and Manners in America. This travelogue hails American
life as progressive in contrast to the backwardness of the Old World.
In later travels, her enthusiasm faded as did her naiveté. While traveling down the
Mississippi, Wright was appalled by the practice of slavery and began to theorize about
ways that slavery could be abolished. In addition to writing a treatise, Wright decided to
establish a settlement in which slaves could be emancipated. In 1825 she established such
a community, Nashoba, which focused on communal living with the help of soon-to-be
emancipated slaves. This venture did not fare well despite her persistent efforts. She
tried a more mainstream approach by stating her views in the Memphis Advocate with attacks
on racially segregated schools, organized religion, racial taboos in sex relations, and
After the settlement collapsed altogether, she emancipated the slaves and paid for their
transportation to Haiti as she promised. Her outspoken political rhetoric and her attempt
at such a progressive community left Wright on the fringes of mainstream society. She then
focused her social reform on the urban areas. Wright condemned capital punishment and
demanded improvements in the status of women, including equal education, legal rights for
married women, liberal divorce laws, and birth control. After allying with Robert Owen,
founder of another utopian community called New Harmony, she focused these concerns on
education reform. They advocated a system of free state boarding schools in which children
would be educated without religious doctrine but receive training in traditional subjects
as well as industrial skills. Fanny Wright saw this system as relieving families of the
"burden" of raising children.
From her desire to see these educational proposals enacted, Frances Wright moved in the
sphere and became a central figure in the workingmen's movement. She differed in some
aspects from the workingmen's movement, which consisted of activism by small farmers,
and workers in early factories, Wright became synonymous with their protests. Those
opposing the workingmen¹s movement referred to the movement as the Fanny Wright party.
After marrying a French physician, Guillayme D¹Arusmont, Frances Wright moved to France
and spent time out of the public eye. When she returned to the states she resumed a
political platform with a historical perspective narrating the ills of contemporary
society. After the midterm campaign of 1838, Frances Wright suffered from a variety of
health problems. She died in 1852.
Dubbed "The Great Red Harlot" for her personal life, which included several
illicit romances, as well as her progressive views on sexual relations, Fanny Wright was a
political figure in the workingmen¹s movement and espoused ideas critical to the women's
movement. Wright's champion for universal education helped give a voice to those women who
wanted more education for themselves as well as their children. This aided the women's
movement as well as women's role as medical providers. The workingmen's struggle was one
about the gulf between the classes and the capitalistic system itself. Women were
particularly affected by this increased emphasis on the market as they became more
confined to home duties as industry shifted away from the home into the city. Fanny Wright
sought to give women a larger role. Both Fanny Wright's ideology and the workingmen's
movement and the women's movement, converged in the Popular Health Movement of the 1830s.
Since the workingmen's movement was in reaction to an increasingly aristocratic culture in
which the "professionals" controlled the system as well as the information,
doctors were included in her target. Similarly by advocating the woman's voice, Wright
gave credence to women being involved in health and medicine.
Wright did not achieve much individual success; after a lifetime of struggling for high
ideals, she spent the last years of her life trying to settle financial affairs and a
complicated divorce. Perhaps her life struggles are what are the greatest model for the
women's movement. She stood out of her own time tackling issues of the 1990s from birth
control to affirming sexuality as "the noblest of passions". She helped break
down a rigid structure and paved the way for other women to make changes regarding women's
health and place of society.