Saturday, November 23, 2013

Women Organized Against Slavery 1688-1870

A Share from author & historian Larry Ceplair and a chapter his unpublished manuscript 

Following the women’s national antislavery convention, the Grimké sisters (Angelina & Sarah) began their relatively short lecturing career, in Massachusetts. Between June and November 1837, they spoke on the average of four times a week, in sixty-seven towns, to some 40,000 listeners.1 They inspired thousands of women to sign petitions and hundreds to join or organize antislavery societies. John Quincy Adams credited them “for a vast proportion of all petitions coming from their sex in New England, on the subject of Texian annexation,”2 and at least twenty-five new female antislavery societies formed in Massachusetts during their sojourn there (May 1837-April 1838).

Lidian Jackson Emerson (September 20, 1802- November 13, 1892) Daughter of Charles Jackson and Lucy Cotton Jackson. Second wife of of American essayist, lecturer, poet and leader of the nineteenth century Transcendentalism movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
In Concord, following the Grimkés second appearance there, in early September, Lidian Jackson Emerson (1802-92), the second wife of Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote to her niece:
They have passed [this] week in Concord and been well received. They dined & took tea with [me] one day and it was a pleasure to entertain such angel strangers – pure & benevolent spirits are they. I think that I shall not turn my attention from the abolition cause till I have found whether there is not something for me personally to do and bear to forward it. I hope you will read any books or papers on the subject that you may meet with – if you can do nothing more for the oppressed after you have considered their case and become interested in it you can pray for them.3
She became one of the most active members of the newly formed Concord Female Anti-Slavery Society, and, according to her daughter: “She read the papers faithfully and their pro-slavery tone made her hate her country. She learned all the horrors of slavery and dwelt upon them, so that it was as if she continually witnessed the whippings and the selling away of little children from their mothers.”4 She also participated in their petition campaigns.

Garrison and fellow abolitionists George Thompson and Wendell Phillips, seated at table, daguerreotype, ca. 1850–1851

In Bolton, however, matters proceeded more slowly. Octavia Gardner described events there:
Until within two years, the subject of Abolitionism was not agitated, or perhaps named, at all, about us, or if named, but with sneers, by those who scarce knew its meaning. The first lecture was given here by Misses Grimké . . . . I was surprised at the general attendance of the people on the occasion of their Lecture for I knew there was prejudice among them in relation to the subject. It gave satisfaction & about twelve came forward & acknowledged themselves interested, sincerely, in the Anti Slavery Cause. I thought this a good beginning & a foundation & opening for a regular Society, & proposed it to them at the time, but they thought it inexpedient, & declined, urging as a reason, that the subject had not been generally discussed & public opinion was in opposition, & a society could not be supported satisfactorily to them. Misses Grimké lectured in many of the adjacent towns & those interested in them followed them & seemed much gratified. . . . Last autumn we had another lecture & a small society was formed, consisting of about twenty, men & women, & I hope that the result will prove it expedient as successful, but my fears are as numerous as my hopes.
Unfortunately, Gardner continued, “I am not free myself to act. My parents both of them were ever opposed to the subject of Anti Slavery.” She felt herself torn between her duty toward her parents and her duty toward the cause: “‘I’m in a strait betwixt the two.’”5

An increasing number of men joined the throngs of people eager to hear the Grimké sisters speak, and, inevitably, the question of the propriety of mixed audiences listening to female lecturers arose. It should be noted, however, that the critical case against women speaking in public, to mixed audiences was closely intertwined with antipathy toward Garrisonian abolitionism.

Catharine Esther Beecher (September 6, 1800 – May 12, 1878) Daughter of prominent New England minister the Rev. Lyman Beecher and Roxanna (Foote) Beecher. The first public attack came from Catharine E. Beecher (1800-78), the eldest daughter of Lyman Beecher (1775-1863), a long-standing foe of Garrison. (See Chapter Seven.) She noted, in a family circular letter: “I am just finishing a little vol[ume] entitled ‘An Essay on Slavery & Abolitionism with reference to the duty of American Females’ – done at father’s request & he is rejoicing over it greatly as it contains all he has been wanting to have said & could not get a chance to do it himself.”6

1Gerda Lerner, The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Rebels Against Slavery (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967), 227.
2John Quincy Adams, Speech: John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, Upon the Right of People, Men and Women, to Petition . . . (Washington, D. C.: Gale and Seaton, 1838; New York: Arno and New York Times, 1969), 78.
3Lidian Jackson Emerson to Sophia Brown, September 9, 1837, in Delores Bird Carpenter, ed., The Selected Letters of Lidian Jackson Emerson (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1987), 60-61. See also, F. B. Sanborn, Recollections of Seventy Years (Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1909), 2:378-79, 446.
4Ellen Tucker Emerson, The Life of Lidian Jackson Emerson, Delores Bird Carpenter, ed. (Boston: Twayne, 1980), 83-84.
5Octavia Gardner to Ann Phillips, May 7, 1839, in Irving H. Bartlett, Wendell and Ann Phillips: The Community of Reform, 1840-1880 (New York: Norton, 1979), 198-200.
 6The letter is not dated, but appears to have been written in April 1837. It is in the Acquisitions Department, Stowe-Day Library, Hartford, CT.

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