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]

She was one of three children born in Dundee, Scotland, to Camilla Campbell and James Wright, a wealthy linen manufacturer and political radical. Her father designed Dundee trade tokens, knew Adam Smith and corresponded with French republicans, including Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. Both parents died young, but Fanny (as she was called as a child), orphaned at the age of three, was left a substantial inheritance. Her maternal aunt became her guardian and took Fanny to her home in England. Her guardian taught her ideas founded on the philosophy of the French materialists.[1]

At 16, she returned to Scotland, where she lived with her great-uncle, James,[2] and spent her summers in study and writing and her summers visiting the Scottish Highlands. By 18, she had written her first book.

United States[edit]

1835 portrait of Wright

Wright traveled to the US in 1818. At 23, with her younger sister, she toured the country for two years before she returned to Scotland. She believed in both universal equality in education and feminism. She attacked organized religion, greed, marriage, and capitalism. Along with Robert Owen, Wright demanded that the government offer free boarding schools. She was a fighter for the emancipation of slaves and for birth control and sexual freedom for women.[3][4] She wanted free public education for all children over two years old, in state-supported boarding schools.[5] She expressed, through her projects in America, what the utopian socialist Charles Fourier had said in France "that the progress of civilization depended on the progress of women."[6]

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.

Wright was the co-founder of the Free Inquirer newspaper.[7] She wrote Views of Society and Manners in America (1821) and A Few Days in Athens (a defense of the philosophy of Epicurus).[1] Her publication of Views of Society and Manners in America was a major turning point, as it brought her new acquaintances, and led to her return to the US, where she became established as a social reformer. It is a significant example of the 18th-century humanitarian outlook confronting the new democratic world. It was translated into several languages and widely read in Great Britain, the United States and Europe. She was also the editor of The Sentinel (later titled New York Sentinel and Working Man's Advocate).[8]

In 1824–1825, Wright again visited the United States, accompanying the Marquis de Lafayette during much of his famous tour of the United States.[9] As Lafayette headed South in February, Wright headed west towards Robert Owen and the utopian community he had established at New Harmony, Indiana. They met up again in New Orleans in April 1825 and traveled north along the Mississippi River.[10]

In the fall of 1825, Wright returned to Memphis[11] and founded the Nashoba Commune, near Memphis, Tennessee.[12][13][14] 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.[15] Nashoba was partially based on Owen's New Harmony controversial settlement, where Wright spent a significant amount of time.[16] 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.[17] There, they could live their lives as free men and women.[18] After the closing of Nashoba, Wright wrote an explanation and defense of the commune and the principles of "human liberty and equality."[19] The modern city of Germantown, Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis, is on the land of Nashoba.[20]

Frances Wright, c. 1825.

Wright's opposition to slavery contrasted with the views of many other Democrats of the era, especially those of the South. At the same time, her activism on behalf of workingmen distanced her from the leading abolitionists of the day.[21] In 1833 to 1836, her lectures upon slavery and other social institutions attracted large and enthusiastic audiences/and led to the establishment of what were called "Fanny Wright" societies. Her visits were subsequently extended to the principal cities of the United States, but the enunciation of views similar to those contained in her Few Days in Athens met with very decided opposition.[1]

Later life[edit]

in 1831, in Paris, Wright married a French physician, Guillaume D'Arusmont, with whom she had a daughter, Frances Sylva D'Arusmont in 1832. A second child died in infancy. Sylva married William Eugene Guthry, whose name really was Eugène Picault[22].

As an activist in the American Popular Health Movement between 1830 and 1840, Wright advocated for women being involved in health and medicine. In 1836, she published her last book, Course of Popular Lectures.[citation needed]

After the mid-term political campaign of 1838, Wright suffered from a variety of health problems. She spent her last years in retirement at the residence of her daughter.[23] She died in 1852 in Cincinnati, Ohio, from complications resulting from a fall on an icy staircase. She is buried at the Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.[24]

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.[25]

In 1994, Wright was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.[26]


  • 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 Wikisource Ripley, George; Dana, Charles A., eds. (1879). "Wright, Frances" . The American Cyclopædia.
  2. ^ Frances Wright biography,, Confirmed October 26, 2013
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Ginzberg, Lori D. (1994). "'The Hearts of Your Readers will Shudder': Fanny Wright, Infidelity, and American Freethought," American Quarterly 46 (2), pp. 195–226.
  5. ^ "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." — Brownson, Orestes (1853). An Oration on Liberal Studies. Baltimore: Hedian & O’Brien, p. 19.
  6. ^ Zinn, Howard (1980). A Peoples History of the United States. Harper & Row, p. 123.
  7. ^ Lansford, Tom; Woods, Thomas E. (2008). Exploring American History: From Colonial Times to 1877. Marshall Cavendish. ISBN 9780761477587.
  8. ^ Okker, Patricia (June 1, 2008). Our Sister Editors: Sarah J. Hale and the Tradition of Nineteenth-century American Women Editors. University of Georgia Press. ISBN 9780820332499.
  9. ^ Frances Wright.
  10. ^ Keating, John M. (1888). History of the City of Memphis Tennessee. D. Mason & Company.
  11. ^ "Frances Wright [1795-1852]".
  12. ^ Parks, E.W. (1932). "Dreamer's Vision: Frances Wright at Nashoba (1825–1830)," Tennessee Historical Magazine 2, pp. 75–86.
  13. ^ Emerson, O.B. (1947). "Frances Wright and her Nashoba Experiment," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 6 (4), pp. 291–314.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Frances Wright". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 31, 2017.
  16. ^ Bederman, Gail (2005). "Revisiting Nashoba: Slavery, Utopia, and Frances Wright in America, 1818-1826," American Literary History 17 (3), pp. 438–459.
  17. ^ Harrison, John (2009). Robert Owen and the Owenites in Britain and America. Taylor & Francis, p. 140.
  18. ^ Elliott, Helen (1939). "Frances Wright's Experiment with Negro Emancipation," Indiana Magazine of History 35 (2), pp. 141–157.
  19. ^ Wright, Frances (1828). "Nashoba, Explanitory Notes, &c. Continued" New-Harmony Gazette 17.
  20. ^ Sampson, Sheree (2000). "Reclaiming a Historic Landscape: Frances Wright's Nashoba Plantation in Germantown, Tennessee," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 59 (4), pp. 290–303.
  21. ^ Lott, Eric (1993). Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. Oxford University Press, p. 129.
  22. ^ Trial on gallica BnF
  23. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1889). "Wright, Fanny" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  24. ^ Find A Grave Retrieved October 26, 2013
  25. ^ "Frances Wright - Dundee Women's Trail".
  26. ^ 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