Frances Wright

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Frances Wright/Fanny Wright
Frances Wright.jpg
1824 portrait of Wright by Henry Inman
Born(1795-09-06)September 6, 1795
DiedDecember 13, 1852(1852-12-13) (aged 57)
OccupationWriter, lecturer, abolitionist, social reformer
Known forFeminism, free thinking, founded utopian community
Spouse(s)Guillayme D'Arusmont
ChildrenSilva D'Arusmont

Frances Wright (September 6, 1795 – December 13, 1852) also widely known as Fanny Wright, was a Scottish-born lecturer, writer, freethinker, feminist, abolitionist, and social reformer, who became a US citizen in 1825. The same year, she founded the Nashoba Commune in Tennessee, as a utopian community to prepare slaves for emancipation, but it lasted only five years. Her Views of Society and Manners in America (1821) brought her to public attention as a critic of the new nation.

Early life and education[edit]

Frances "Fanny" Wright was born in Dundee, Scotland, on September 6, 1797, to Camilla (Campbell) and James Wright.[1][2] Her father was a wealthy linen manufacturer,[3] a designer of Dundee trade tokens, and a political radical. He corresponded with Adam Smith and was sympathetic to the American patriots and French republicans,[4] including Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. Frances, or "Fanny" as she was called since childhood, was the second eldest of family's three children. Her siblings included an older brother, who died when Frances was still young, and a sister named Camilla.[5][6][7] Wright's mother also died young, and her father died in 1798, when Frances was about the age of two. With support from a substantial inheritance, the orphaned Wright sisters were raised in England by members of the Campbell family, who were relatives of their mother.[2][8]

A maternal aunt became Wright's guardian and taught her ideas founded on the philosophy of the French materialists.[9] In 1813, when Wright was sixteen, she returned to Scotland to live with her great-uncle, James Mylne, a philosophy professor at Glasgow College.[5] Wright spent the winter months in study and writing and the summer months visiting the Scottish Highlands.[citation needed] Wright was interested in the works of Greek philosophers, especially Epicurus, who was the subject of her first book, A Few Days in Athens (1822), which she had written by the age of eighteen. Wright also studied history and became interested the United States' democratic form of government.[2]

First visits to the United States and France[edit]

1835 portrait of Wright

Twenty-three-year-old Wright her younger sister Camilla made their first trip to the United States in 1818. The sisters toured the country for two years before returning to England. While Wright was visiting New York City, Altorf, her play about the struggle for Swiss independence from Austria, was anonymously produced and performed beginning on February 19, 1819, but it closed after three performances.[10][11]

Soon after her return to England in 1820, Wright published Views of Society and Manners in America (1821).[1][11] The book's publication was a major turning point in her life. It brought her an invitation from Jeremy Bentham to join his circle acquaintances that included economist James Mill, politician Francis Plore, and author George Grote, among others. The group's opposition to religious clergy influenced Wright's own emerging philosophy.[8][12][13]

In 1821 Wright traveled to France at the invitation of the Marquis de Lafayette and arranged to meet with him in Paris. Despite the differences in their ages, the two became friends. At one point Wright encouraged him to adopt her and her sister. Wright's request put a strain on the relationship with General Lafayette's family and no adoption took place. Wright's friendship with the general continued after relations with his family were repaired. She also returned to Lafayette's home in France for a six-month visit in 1827 to work on a biography of his life.[5][13]

Second visit to the United States[edit]

Frances Wright, c. 1825.

In 1824, Wright and her sister returned to the United States[8] to follow the Marquis de Lafayette and his entourage during much of his farewell tour of the United States.[5] Wright joined Lafayette for a two-week stay at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's plantation in Virginia.[14] In addition to Jefferson, Lafayette also introduced Wright to Presidents James Madison and John Quincy Adams, as well as General Andrew Jackson.[15]

In February 1825, when Lafayette headed south, Wright traveled northwest to visit Harmonie, the Rappite's utopian community in Butler County, Pennsylvania. She also visited the Rappite colony established in Indiana, which was also named Harmonie. At that time the Indiana community was in a period of transition. It had recently been sold to Scottish industrialist and social reformer Robert Owen, who renamed his utopian community New Harmony.[15][16][17] Wright's visits to these utopian communities inspired her to form her own experimental community, which she established in Tennessee.[15] After leaving Indiana, she traveled along the Mississippi River to rejoin Lafayette's group in New Orleans in April 1825.. When Lafayette returned to France, Wright decided to remain in the United States, where she continued her work a social reformer. Wright also became a U.S. citizen in 1825.[5][14] [18]

Wright's views[edit]

Wright believed in universal equality in education and feminism.[17] She opposed organized religion, marriage, and capitalism.[5] Educational opportunities was a particular interest of hers. Along with Robert Owen, Wright demanded that the government offer free public education for all children after the age of twelve or eighteen months of age in federal government-supported boarding schools.[19]

Wright was a vocal advocate for birth control, equal rights, sexual freedom, legal rights for married women. liberal divorce laws, the emancipation of slaves, and the controversial idea of interracial relationships.[1][20][21] She tried to demonstrate through her experiment project in Tennessee what the utopian socialist Charles Fourier had said in France, "that the progress of civilization depended on the progress of women."[22] Wright's opposition to slavery contrasted with the views of many other Democrats of the era, especially those of the South. Her activism on behalf of workingmen also distanced her from the leading abolitionists of the day.[23]


Early career[edit]

Wright's early writing career included her book, Few Days in Athens (1822), which was a defense of the philosophy of Epicurus that she wrote before the age of eighteen.[2][5][9] Wright's Views of Society and Manners in America (1821), a memoir of her first visit to the United States, enthusiastically supported the country's democratic institutions.[9][1][8] This book provides early descriptions of American life that preceded later works such as Alexis De Tocqueville's Democracy in America (1835 and 1840) and Harriet Martineau's Society in America (1837).[15] Wright's book is also an example of an early nineteenth-century humanitarian perspective of the new democratic world.[12] Historian Helen Elliott also pointed out that Wright's traveloque was "translated into several languages and widely read by liberals and reformers" in Great Britain, the United States and Europe.[13]

Nashoba experiment[edit]

In the fall of 1825, Wright returned to Memphis[24] and founded the Nashoba Commune, near Memphis, Tennessee.[25][26][27] Around the same time, she published a tract, A Plan for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in the United States Without Danger of Loss to the Citizens of the South, and hoped it would persuade Congress to set aside land for the purpose of promoting emancipation. To demonstrate how slaves could be emancipated without their owners losing money, Wright set out to construct a model farm community where slaves could work to earn their own freedom, while being provided with education.[28] Nashoba was partially based on Owen's New Harmony controversial settlement, where Wright spent a significant amount of time.[29]

Nashoba was plagued with difficulties from the start; it was built on mosquitos-infested land and therefore was conducive to malaria, and it failed to produce good crop harvests. Wright had to leave the property because of illness, and while she was away the interim managers of Nashoba began instituting a policy of harsher punishments toward the black workers, and a scandal regarding "free love" and an interracial relationship between a white overseer and an African American slave broke out. By Wright's return in 1828, the community had collapsed financially. In 1830, Wright gave up, chartering a ship to take the Commune's thirty slaves to the black republic of Haiti, which had achieved independence in 1804.[30] There, they could live their lives as free men and women.[31] After the closing of Nashoba, Wright wrote an explanation and defense of the commune and the principles of "human liberty and equality."[32] The modern city of Germantown, Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis, is on the land of Nashoba.[33]

Newspaper editor[edit]

After Wright's failure at Nashoba in the late 1820s, she returned to New Harmony, Indiana, where she became the coeditor of The New Harmony and Nashoba Gazette (later renamed the Free Inquirer) with Robert Dale Owen, the eldest son of Robert Owen, the Owenite community's founder. In 1829 Wright and Robert Dale Owen moved to New York City, where they continued to edit and publish the Free Inquirer.[15][17][34] Wright was also editor of The Sentinel (later titled New York Sentinel and Working Man's Advocate).[12]

Political and social activist[edit]

A hostile cartoon lampooning Wright for daring to deliver a series of lectures in 1829, at a time when many felt that public speaking was not an appropriate activity for women.

Beginning in the late 1820s and early 1830s, Wright spoke publicly in favor of abolition and lectured in support of women's suffrage. She also campaigned for reforms to marriage and property laws. While residing in New York City, she purchased a former church in the Bowery area and converted it into what she called a "Hall of Science" for use as a lecture hall.[35] From 1833 to 1836, her lectures on slavery and other social institutions attracted large and enthusiastic audiences of men and women in the eastern United States and the Midwest, leading to the establishment of what were called Fanny Wright societies. Although her lecture tours extended to the principal cities of the United States, the enunciation of her views and publication of a collection of her speeches in her book, Course of Popular Lectures (1829 and 1836), met with opposition.[5][9][2]

The clergy and the press were critical of Wright and her opinions on religion and social reform.[17] The New York American, for example, called Wright "a female monster" because of her controversial views, but she was undeterred.[36] As Wright's philosophy became even more radical, she left the Democratic Party to join the Working Men's Party, organized in New York City in 1829.[17][37] Her influence on the Working Men's Party was so strong that its opponents called its slate of candidates the Fanny Wright ticket.[5] Wright was also an activist in the American Popular Health Movement in the 1830s and advocated for women being involved in health and medicine.[17]

Personal life[edit]

Wright married French physician Guillaume D'Arusmont in Paris, France, on July 22, 1831. Wright had first met him at New Harmony, Indiana, where he was once a teacher. D'Arusmont also accompanied her to Haiti in 1830, serving as her business manager.[38][17][39] Wright's and D'Arusmont's daughter, Francès-Sylva Phiquepal D'Arusmont, was born on April 14, 1832.[39][40][41]

Later years[edit]

Wright, her husband, and their daughter traveled to the United States in 1835 and made several subsequent trips between the United States and Europe. Wright eventually settled in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she bought a home in 1844, and attempted to resume her career as a lecturer. Wright continued to travel the lecture circuit, but her appearances and views on social reform issues were not always welcome.[40] She also became a supporter of President Andrew Jackson.[5] After the mid-term political campaign of 1838, Wright suffered from a variety of health problems.[42] She published her final book, England, the Civilizer in 1848.[5]

Wright divorced D'Arusmont in 1850. She also fought a lengthy legal battle to retain custody of their daughter and control of her own personal wealth. The legal proceedings remained unsettled at the time of Wright's death.[17][43] Wright spent her last years in quiet retirement at Cincinnati, estranged from her daughter, Francès-Sylva D'Arusmont.[42][44]

Death and legacy[edit]

Wright died on December 13, 1852, in Cincinnati, Ohio,[1] from complications resulting from a broken hip after fall on ice outside her home. She is buried at the Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.[43][45] Her daughter, Francès-Sylva D'Arusmont, inherited the majority of Wright's wealth and property.[44]

Wright, an early women's rights advocate and a social reformer, was the first woman to deliver public lectures to men and women on political social reform issues in the United States in the late 1820s. Her views on slavery, theology, and women's rights were considered radical for that time and attracted harsh criticism from the press and clergy.[46]

Views of Society and Manners in America[edit]

Views of Society and Manners in America was one of Wright's first well-circulated and controversial pieces. She wrote it following her 1818 trip to the United States, her first trip to North America. In Views of Society and Manners, she pondered the treatment of slaves and discussed her time as a foreigner.

Wright began the letter with a greeting and acknowledges her foreign status. She admitted having unique outlooks because of her position as an outlander. Indeed, her propositions were striking. She claimed that the Constitution was made for the benefit of its creators but admired the American people. She described their calmness, rationality, and general civility. She claimed that they seldom called names but dealt with issues in an organized manner. She stressed the importance of the newspaper to foreigners, touting it as a roadmap to navigate the new land.[citation needed]

Wright also discussed Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. She praised them and noted that every household possessed copies of one or both of their works. She expressed general positivity toward Americans. She also praised their love for their Founding Fathers. She respected their work ethic and sociability. She noticed their participation in government elections, as well as the newspaper's rigorous attempts to report everything about the ongoing elections. She also discussed women's rights and suggested how women should attain knowledge and be treated.[citation needed]

She also wrote about other travelers' differing views on American religion. She said one might think that America did not have a religion and someone else might say that the American religion was too stern and dogmatic. She clearly stated that she did not long for the American religion. She expressed that her goal was to analyze the religion, not to conform to it. Based on her time in America, she proposed that there were many different denominations of religion. She referred to them as fraternities. She was very open-minded during her travels to America. She withheld judgment and recorded the various things that stood out to her.[citation needed]

Wright also expressed a strong desire to aid marginalized people. In Views of Society and Manners, she examined the American society in terms of the manners of the wealthy and the poorer classes alike. She spoke out against slavery. She was an advocate for citizen health in the South and for assisting the less fortunate. She realized that differences between the majority and minority were made not only on the country but in the small communities as well. She was aware that blacks were uneducated and insisted that education was the way to equality.


Base of the Reformers Memorial, Kensal Green Cemetery, showing Frances Wright's name

Her name is listed on the Reformers Memorial in Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

She has a plaque on the wall of her birthplace, 136 Nethergate, Dundee.[47]

In 1994, Wright was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.[48]


  • Altorf: A Tragedy (Philadelphia, 1819)
  • Views on Society and Manners in America (London, 1821)
  • A Few Days in Athens (London, 1822)
  • A Plan for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in the United States (1825)
  • Lectures on Free Inquiry (New York, 1829; 6th ed., 1836)
  • Address on the State of the Public Mind and the Measures Which it Calls For (New York, 1829)
  • Course of Popular Lectures (New York, 1829)
  • Explanatory Notes Respecting the Nature and Objects of the Institution of Nashoba (1830)
  • What is the Matter? A Political Address as Delivered in Masonic Hall (1838)
  • Fables (London, 1842)
  • Political Letters, or, Observations on Religion and Civilization (1844)
  • England the Civilizer: Her History Developed in Its Principles (1848)
  • Biography, Notes, and Political Letters of Frances Wright D'Arusmont (1849)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Cullen-DuPont, Kathryn (1996). Encyclopedia of Women's History in America. New York, New York: Facts on File. p. 236. ISBN 0816026254.
  2. ^ a b c d e Elliott, Helen (June 1, 1939). "Frances Wright's Experiment with Negro Emancipation". Indiana Magazine of History. Bloomington: Indiana University. 35 (2): 141–42. Retrieved May 1, 2019.
  3. ^ James, Edward T., Janet Wilson James, and Paul S. Boyer, eds. (1971). Notable American Women 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary. 3. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press. p. 675. ISBN 0-67462-731-8.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Lee, Elizabeth (January 1894). "Frances Wright: The First Woman Lecturer". The Gentleman's Magazine. London, England: Chatto and Windus. 276: 518. Retrieved May 2, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Bowman, Rebecca (October 1996). "Frances Wright". Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. Retrieved May 1, 2019.
  6. ^ Keating, John M. (1888). History of the City of Memphis Tennessee. Syracuse, New York: D. Mason and Company. pp. 129–30.
  7. ^ Gilbert, Amos (1855). Memoir of Frances Wright, The Pioneer Woman in the Cause of Human Rights. Cincinnati, Ohio: Longley Brothers. pp. 35–36.
  8. ^ a b c d Sanders, Mike, ed. (2001). Women and Radicalism in the Nineteenth Century: Frances Wright. II. New York, New York: Routledge. p. 3. ISBN 0415205271.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  9. ^ a b c d Wikisource Ripley, George; Dana, Charles A., eds. (1879). "Wright, Frances" . The American Cyclopædia.
  10. ^ Lee, p. 519.
  11. ^ a b James, James, Boyer, eds., p. 676.
  12. ^ a b c Okker, Patricia (June 6, 2008). Our Sister Editors: Sarah J. Hale and the Tradition of Nineteenth-century American Women Editors. University of Georgia Press. pp. 219–20. ISBN 9780820332499.
  13. ^ a b c Elliott, pp. 143–44.
  14. ^ a b Gaylor, Annie Laurie, ed. (1997). Women Without Superstition: "No Gods –No Masters": The Collected Writings of Women Freethinkers of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Madison, Wisconsin: Freedom From Religion Foundation. p. 34. ISBN 1-877733-09-1.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  15. ^ a b c d e Sanders, pp. 3–4.
  16. ^ Elliott, pp. 145–47.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h Lansford, Tom; Woods, Thomas E. (2008). Exploring American History: From Colonial Times to 1877. Marshall Cavendish. pp. 1103–05. ISBN 9780761477587.
  18. ^ Keating, p. 124.
  19. ^ Brownson, Orestes (1853). An Oration on Liberal Studies, Delivered Before the Philomathian society, of Mount Saint Mary's College, Md., June 29th, 1853. Baltimore, Maryland: Hedian and O'Brien. p. 19. Retrieved May 30, 2019. "It is not without design that I have mentioned the name of Frances Wright, the favorite pupil of Jeremy Bentham, and famous infidel lecturer through our country, some twenty years ago; for I happen to know, what may not be known to you all, that she and her friends were the great movers in the scheme of godless education, now the fashion in our country. I knew this remarkable woman well, and it was my shame to share, for a time, many of her views, for which I ask pardon of God and of my countrymen. I was for a brief time in her confidence, and one of those selected to carry into execution her plans. The great object was to get rid of Christianity, and to convert our Churches into Halls of science. The plan was not to make open attacks on religion, although we might belabor the clergy and bring them into contempt where we could; but to establish a system of state, we said, national schools, from which all religion was to be excluded, in which nothing was to be taught but such knowledge as is verifiable by the senses, and to which all parents were to be compelled by law to send their children. Our complete plan was to take the children from their parents at the age of twelve or eighteen months, and to have them nursed, fed, clothed and trained in these schools at the public expense; but at any rate, we were to have godless schools for all the children of the country, to which the parents would be compelled by law to send them."
  20. ^ Schlereth, Eric R. (2007). "Fits of Political Religion: Stalking Infidelity and the Politics of Moral Reform in Antebellum America," Early American Studies 5 (2), pp. 288–323.
  21. ^ Ginzberg, Lori D. (1994). "'The Hearts of Your Readers will Shudder': Fanny Wright, Infidelity, and American Freethought," American Quarterly 46 (2), pp. 195–226.
  22. ^ Zinn, Howard (1980). A Peoples History of the United States. Harper & Row, p. 123.
  23. ^ Lott, Eric (1993). Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. Oxford University Press, p. 129.
  24. ^ "Frances Wright [1795-1852]".
  25. ^ Parks, E.W. (1932). "Dreamer's Vision: Frances Wright at Nashoba (1825–1830)," Tennessee Historical Magazine 2, pp. 75–86.
  26. ^ Emerson, O.B. (1947). "Frances Wright and her Nashoba Experiment," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 6 (4), pp. 291–314.
  27. ^ Payne-Gaposchkin, Cecilia (1975). "The Nashoba Plan for Removing the Evil of Slavery: Letters of Frances and Camilla Wright, 1820-1829," Harvard Library Bulletin 23, pp. 221–51, 429–61.
  28. ^ The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Frances Wright". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 31, 2017.
  29. ^ Bederman, Gail (2005). "Revisiting Nashoba: Slavery, Utopia, and Frances Wright in America, 1818-1826," American Literary History 17 (3), pp. 438–459.
  30. ^ Harrison, John (2009). Robert Owen and the Owenites in Britain and America. Taylor & Francis, p. 140.
  31. ^ Elliott, Helen (1939). "Frances Wright's Experiment with Negro Emancipation," Indiana Magazine of History 35 (2), pp. 141–157.
  32. ^ Wright, Frances (1828). "Nashoba, Explanitory Notes, &c. Continued" New-Harmony Gazette 17.
  33. ^ Sampson, Sheree (2000). "Reclaiming a Historic Landscape: Frances Wright's Nashoba Plantation in Germantown, Tennessee," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 59 (4), pp. 290–303.
  34. ^ Lansford, Tom; Woods, Thomas E. (2008). Exploring American History: From Colonial Times to 1877. Marshall Cavendish. ISBN 9780761477587.
  35. ^ Gaylor, p. 37.
  36. ^ Sanders, p. 5.
  37. ^ Carlton, Frank T. (September 1907). "The Workingmen's Party of New York City: 1829–1831". Political Science Quarterly. 22 (3): 402. Retrieved May 1, 2019.
  38. ^ Woloch, p. 165.
  39. ^ a b James, James, Boyer, eds., p. 678.
  40. ^ a b Gaylor, p. 38.
  41. ^ Francès-Sylva Phiquepal D'Arusmont, who later inherited the Wright fortune, married William Eugene Guthry, a bigamist whose real name was Eugène Picault. Francès-Sylva (D'Arusmont) Guthry had three children, a daughter, Hena, and two sons, Norman and Kenneth-Sylvan. See: Keating, pp. 129–30. Also: "Tribunaux". Le Temps. March 17, 1880. Retrieved May 1, 2019. Via Gallica BnF. (Translated from the French text.)
  42. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1889). "Wright, Fanny" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  43. ^ a b James, James, Boyer, eds., p. 679.
  44. ^ a b Woloch, p. 166.
  45. ^ "Frances "Fanny" Wright". Find A Grave. Retrieved October 26, 2013.
  46. ^ Buhle, Paul; Mari Jo Buhle; and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1978). The Concise History of Woman Suffrage: Selections from the Classic Work of Stanton, Anthony, Gage, and Harper. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. pp. 3 and 61. ISBN 9780252006913.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  47. ^ "Frances Wright - Dundee Women's Trail".
  48. ^ National Women's Hall of Fame, Fanny Wright

Further reading[edit]

  • Connors, Robert J. (1999). "Frances Wright: First Female Civic Rhetor in America," College English 62 (1), pp. 30–57.
  • Eckhardt, Celia Morris (1984). Fanny Wright: Rebel in America. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-252-06249-3.
  • Everett, L.S. (1831). An Exposure of the Principles of the "Free Inquirers." Boston: B. B. Mussey
  • Gilbert, Amos (1855). Memoir of Frances Wright, the Pioneer Woman in the Cause of Human Rights. Cincinnati: Longley Brothers.
  • Horowitz, Helen (2002). Rereading Sex: Battles over Sexual Knowledge and Suppression in Nineteenth-Century America. Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Kissel, Susan S. (1983). In Common Cause: the "Conservative" Frances Trollope and the "Radical" Frances Wright. Bowling Green. ISBN 0-87972-617-2.
  • Lee, Elizabeth (1894). "Frances Wright: The First Woman Lecturer," The Gentleman's Magazine 276, pp. 518–528.
  • Perkins, Alice J. G. & Theresa Wolfson (1972). Frances Wright, Free Enquirer: The Study of a Temperament. Porcupine Press. ISBN 0-87991-008-9.
  • Schlereth, Eric R. (2013). An Age of Infidels: The Politics of Religious Controversy in the Early United States. University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Waterman, William Randall (1924). Fanny Wright. Columbia University Press.
  • White, Edmund (2003). Fanny: A Fiction. Hamilton. ISBN 0-06-000484-3.
  • Wilentz, Sean (2004). Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850. Oxford University Press.

External links[edit]

Media related to Frances Wright at Wikimedia Commons