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Definition: Child, Lydia Maria Francis from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

US writer, social critic, and feminist, author of the popular women's guides The Frugal Housewife 1829 and The Mother's Book 1831. With her husband, David Child, she worked for the abolition of slavery, advocating educational support for black Americans. The Childs edited the weekly National Anti-Slavery Standard 1840–44.

Child, born in Medford, Massachusetts, received little formal education but read widely and published several historical novels about life in colonial New England.


Child, Lydia Maria Francis

Summary Article: LYDIA MARIA CHILD (1802-1880)
from Slavery in the United States: A Social, Political, and Historical Encyclopedia

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.

For Further Reading
  • Karcher, Carolyn L. 1994. The First Woman in the Republic: A Cultural Biography of Lydia Maria Child. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Meltzer, Milton, and Patricia G. Holland, eds. 1982. Lydia Maria Child: Selected Letters, 1817-1880. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
  • Barbara Ryan
    Copyright 2007 by ABC-CLIO, Inc.

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