Frances Wright was born in Dundee, Scotland on February 6, 1795. She was orphaned by the age of 3 and went to live with relatives in England. Her parents were rather wealthy and an aunt acted as regent for both Frances and her sister Camilla until they came of age. Fanny, as she was well known, was bright and learned a lot on her own, learning science and humanities. She also wrote "A Few Days in Athens" before her twentieth birthday, although it was published a few years later. In 1818, Fanny went to New York with her younger sister and there watched a play that she had written called "Altdorf."
She had exhibited an interest in America when she was younger, and published a work called "Views of Society and Manners in America" when she returned to England around 1820. She enjoyed travel greatly, and in 1821 went to France to meet Lafayette, the Revolutionary War hero who had invited her there after reading some of her writings. There was an "amorous friendship" began, and when Lafayette went to America in 1824, Fanny and Camilla went to America too, just not official members of his delegation. The sisters did stay with Thomas Jefferson at Monticello while Lafayette was there.
Since they were not part of the official delegation, they were free to move about on their own and traveled the US extensively. It was during this time that they went to Robert Owen’s New Harmony colony where he was trying to establish a Utopian society. While there, according to some sources, she decided to establish her own colony as an experiment to try and end slavery.
Her idea was to establish a colony where slaves could come and work to pay for their own freedom, to be educated, and the slave owners would not lose any of the money that used to purchase the slaves. It was also her idea that because the slaves would be working toward their own freedom, they would work harder. After some consultation, it was decided that an area in Tennessee was a good place for this settlement that was called Nashoba.
Fanny became ill from malaria during her stay her and left to recuperate. She returned to Europe, and during this time the colony failed. She eventually would free the slaves that were at the colony and take them to Haiti.
After her recovery, she went to New Harmony to work with Robert Dale Owen, the son of the founder of New Harmony. She came to realize that the clergy were trying to hinder women from becoming educated. In 1828, Fanny began her anti-clerical lectures to much controversy. She spoke on the abolition of slavery and on how religion was systematically repressing people from reaching their potential. In 1829, Owen and Fanny purchased the first Hall of Science, which was going to replace Sunday schools. The "New Harmony Gazette" was renamed "Free Enquirer" and dealt with freethought, abolition of slavery and other areas of social reform.
She believed that after everyone became educated, they would have to see that slavery and the inequality of women were wrong. She embarked on a speaking tour where she lectured on these topics. It was at this time that she escorted the slaves back to Haiti, and as a result of the trip, her sister Camilla died. Fanny took solace in the arms of William S. Phiquepal D’Arusmont, and became pregnant. Faced with the way a child born out of marriage would be treated, she married D’Arusmont and hid from public view.
After a few years, Fanny returned to lecturing, but she did not capture the audiences she once had. She was also having problems with D’Arusmont and became estranged. They became divorced and D’Arusmont received a large portion of her lands. She died on December 13, 1852 as the result of a fall on ice almost a year earlier.
Fanny influenced the Woman’s Suffrage movement and was recognized as one of the early reformers that led to the movement. Others, including Matilda Joslyn Gage, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton took up her idea that organized religion was trying to keep women suppressed. She stretched the mold in which society tried to place her, and led the way for the social reforms that would eventually take place, in spite of her "unwomanly ways."
"An opinion, right or wrong can never constitute a moral offense, nor be in itself a moral obligation."
Frances WrightA Few Days in Athens, 1822.
Director, Center for Inquiry Libraries