Lydia Maria Child (February 11 1802 – July 7 1880) was an American abolitionist, women's rights activist, opponent of American expansionism, Indian rights activist, novelist, and journalist.
She is perhaps most remembered for her poem, Over the River and Through the Woods. (Her grandfather's house, restored by Tufts University in 1976, still stands near the Mystic River on South Street in Medford, Massachusetts.)
She was born in Medford, Massachusetts
, to Susannah Rand Francis and Convers Francis. Child received her education at a local dame school and later at a women’s seminary. Upon the death of her mother, she went to live with her older sister in Maine where she studied to be a teacher. During this time, her brother, Convers, a Unitarian minister, who had been educated at Harvard College and Seminary, saw to his younger sister’s education in literary masters such as Homer and Milton. She was the wife of Boston
lawyer David Lee Child whose political activism and involvement in reform introduced his wife to the social reforms of Indian rights and Garrisonian abolitionism.. She was a long-time friend of Margaret Fuller
and frequent participant in Fuller's "conversations" held at Elizabeth Palmer Peabody
's North Street bookstore in Boston
. Another friend, Harriet Winslow Sewall
, arranged her letters for publication after her death.
Abolitionism and Women's Rights Movements
She was a women's rights activist, but did not believe significant progress for women could be made until after the abolition of slavery
. She believed that white women and slaves were similar in that white men held both groups in subjugation and treated them as property instead of individual human beings. Despite the fact that she worked towards equality for women, Child made her opinion known that she did not care for all-female societies. She believed that women would be able to achieve more by working alongside men. Child, along with many other female abolitionists, began campaigning for equal female membership in the American Anti-Slavery Society, a controversy which would later split the movement. Her 1833 book An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans
argued in favor of the immediate emancipation
of the slaves without compenstation to slaveholders, and she is sometimes said to have been the first white person to have written a book in support of this policy.
Child, a strong supporter and organizer in anti-slavery societies, helped with fundraising efforts to finance the first anti-slavery fair, which abolitionists held in Boston in 1834. In 1839, she was elected to the executive committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and became editor of the society's National Anti-Slavery Standard in 1841. Child also served as a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society’s executive board alongside Lucretia Mott and Maria Weston Chapman during the 1840s and 1850s. In the end, however, Child made the decision to leave the paper because she refused to promote violence as an acceptable weapon for battling slavery. The abolitionists’ inability to work together as a cohesive unit angered Child. The constant bickering amongst them caused a permanent estrangement which forever separated Child from the AASS. In quotes, Child stated that she believed herself to be finished with the cause forever. She did continue to write for many newspapers and periodicals during the 1840s, and she promoted greater equality for women. However, because of her negative experience with the AASS she never fought outright for women’s rights or suffrage movements in organized movements or societies again.
In the 1850s Child responded to the Senate beating of her good friend Charles Sumner by writing her poem entitled “The Kansas Emigrants.” The outbreak of violence in Kansas brought about a certain change in Child’s opinion of the use of violence. She along with Angelina Grimke, who had both been proponents for peace, now acknowledged the need for the use of violence to protect antislavery emigrants in Kansas. Child also sympathized with the radical abolitionist John Brown. While she did not condone his zealous use of violence, she deeply admired his courage and conviction and even wrote to Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise offering her services at Brown’s sickbed. In 1861, Child helped Harriet Ann Jacobs with her Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
Indian's Rights work
During the 1860s, Child wrote pamphlets on Indian rights. The most prominent, An Appeal for the Indians
(1868), called upon government officials, as well as religious leaders, to bring justice to American Indians. Her presentation sparked Peter Cooper
's interest in Indian issues, and led to the founding of the US Board of Indian Commissioners and the subsequent Peace Policy in the administration of Ulysses S. Grant
Child died in Wayland, Massachusetts, aged 78, on October 20, 1880, at her home at 91 Old Sudbury Road. She was buried at North Cemetery in Wayland.
- Hobomok: A tale of Early Times, by an American (1824)
- The Rebels (1825).
- Juvenile Miscellany (1826)
- The First Settlers of New England (1828)
- The American Frugal Housewife (1829)
- The Mother's Book (1831)
- The Girl's Own Book (1833)
- An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans (1833)
- The Oasis (1834)
- Philothea (1836)
- The Family Nurse (1837)
- Letters from New York (1843)
- A Boy's Thanksgiving Day (1844) This is a Thanksgiving favorite. Read at
- Rose Marian and the Flower Fairies (1850)
- Isaac T. Hopper: A True Life (1853)
- The Freedmen's Book (1865)
- A Romance of the Republic (1867)
- An appeal for the Indians (1868)
- Harrold, Stanley. American Abolitionists. Essex, England: Pearson Education Limited, 2001.
- Salerno, Beth A. Sister Societies: Women’s Antislavery Societies in Antebellum America. DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005.
- Teets- Parzynski, Catherine. “Child, Lydia Maria Francis.” American National Biography Online. http://www.anb.org/articles/15/15-00127.html.
- "Child, Lydia Maria (Francis)" American Authors 1600 – 1900. H. W. Wilson Company, NY 1938.
- WorldCat Accessed March 14, 2008
- Amazon.com Accessed March 14, 2008
- "A Boy's Thanksgiving Day." Women's History: Poems by Women. Jone Johnson Lewis, editor. URL: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/thanksgiving/a/child_thanks.htm?p=1 Accessed March 14, 2008