Coupling an eighteenth-century sensibility with a nineteenth-century radical’s passion to free the slaves, Lydia Maria Child was one of the antislavery movement’s most brilliant essayists. From her Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans (1833) to Romance of the Republic (1867), Child was a tireless and accomplished advocate of black Americans’ human rights. Clear-sighted in her analyses of southern slavery, Child discerned its links to the social lot of white women and also found time to investigate comparative religions.
Child’s first book, Hobomok (1824), treated the shocking subject of miscegenation (marriage or cohabitation between a white person and a member of another race), yet literary Boston welcomed this novel and its author with open arms. Soon, Child was writing essays and short stories to popular acclaim, and editing The Juvenile Miscellany, an enormously popular children’s magazine. Finding belles lettres insufficiently lucrative, Child turned her energy and talent to domestic guides like The Frugal Housewife (1829) and The Mother’s Book (1831).
Both of the last-named books sold extremely well until Child published her exhortatory Appeal; after that, she was labeled a radical and ostentatiously shunned. Undeterred, Child joined the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, accompanied George Thompson on his U.S. tour, and published Authentic Accounts of American Slavery (1835), The Evils of Slavery, and the Cure of Slavery (1836), and an Anti-Slavery Catechism (1836).
Although dismayed by the antislavery movement’s dissent over the role of women in abolition, Child continued to oppose the South’s peculiar institution. In the early 1840s, she edited the National Anti-Slavery Standard and published short stories and essays opposing slavery. Yet in 1843, after separating her finances from her husband’s, Child stepped out of the antislavery limelight, exhausted by the internecine quarrels that plagued the movement at the time.
In the 1850s and 1860s, her energy renewed, Child attended antislavery gatherings and asked permission to nurse John Brown in prison. She also helped to raise funds for the families whose sons and fathers had died in the raid on Harpers Ferry, engaged in a letterwriting campaign with Virginians who were outraged at Brown’s supposed treachery, and composed antislavery treatises like The Patriarchal Institution and The Duty of Disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Law (1860). In addition, Child penned pro-emancipation articles that were printed anonymously, and edited Harriet Ann Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), a slave narrative that focuses on the sexual exploitation of women born as slaves. A section of the last book reappeared in Child’s Freedmen’s Book (1865), a compendium intended to instill racial pride in people long subjugated to the lash. When that work appeared, Child was lobbying for the redistribution of confiscated plantation lands.
In 1870 she attended the closing meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and the last antislavery festival. Nine years later, she wrote her last article, a tribute to William Lloyd Garrison.
See also: Jacobs, Harriet Ann.
(1802–1880) United States As an advocate of the emancipation of women and slaves and a defender of the rights of Native Americans, Lydia Maria...
C. was a leading abolitionist, an early feminist, a lifelong advocate of Native American rights, and a prolific popular...
(1802-1880) One of the most influential women in the American abolitionist movement, “Maria” Child used her talent as a brilliant essayist to...