Why don’t we hear more about the female abolitionists? If I had to guess, many people in this country wouldn’t be able to name very many beyond a select few like Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, and the result is the influence females had on the movement is likely marginalized in the minds of many. From my own perspective I’ve come to realize my knowledge on the subject is sorely lacking. It wasn’t something I’d ever really thought about, but reading the letters written to a few from Edmund Quincy, the editor of The Abolitionist and contributor to The Liberty Bell, makes me realize it is not for lack of contribution that I haven’t heard more, but an educational oversight. The two women the letters I read were written to were Maria Weston Chapman, the editor of the Liberty Bell, and her sister Caroline Weston, both extremely active abolitionists who were members of various anti-slavery societies within Massachusetts along with their other sisters.
Having grown up in Massachusetts and believing myself to have received an effective historical education, I am extremely disappointed to not have heard about them and others like them who had spent their lives just a few towns over from me and spent them doing their best to make the world a better place for slaves, all while still likely being treated like they were lesser themselves for their gender. These reasons I’m disappointed are also likely why they are archived, specifically by the Digital Commonwealth — these letters are absolutely of historical significance, specifically to Massachusetts, and are worth documenting to help us remember more about these important people. It is likely that these letters were saved for the exact reason of being a documentation of the efforts being made by these abolitionists and how they worked together.
Maria Weston Chapman
There will be a celebration of the abolitionists that are men
But what of the women that were present too?
What shall come of them after the storms?
Was there a difference in their change?
They were anti-slavery and their blouses make no difference
A man is no more zealous from being a man
Above is the poem I wrote remixing the language from the letter written by Edmund Quincy to Maria Weston Chapman. I elected to focus on the lack of attention given to females in history, specifically on the subject of abolitionism, despite the fact that their efforts are of no less significance than those of a man.
The letter from Quincy is extremely interesting in the degree of friendliness and familiarity expressed, he clearly views her as an equal and a friend. This was a surprise to me as the relationships between men and women are frequently underplayed historically aside from between husband and wife. At the end he even asks how her husband is, a clear reversal of the typical expected relationship a man would have with a couple where he would be closer to the husband and asking about the wife. Additionally, Quincy discusses a celebration that was held, with the archive speculating it was potentially for West Indian Emancipation. This is interesting as it shows how often these people will be promoting various causes, and not just the freeing of African American slaves.
Son let us alter the prospects of tomorrow
Should we keep on in blunder
We can expect not an intelligent world
But a world of haves and have nots
However we have enough to make a difference
We need to work with women to become more
It is remarkable to think our fate can be better
If we demand the acknowledgement of some but not all
We must think of our daughters and sons
And that one is not superior to the other
To make a difference we have to keep engaging enemies
And do so with our women
Above is the poem I wrote remixing the letter Quincy wrote to Maria Weston Chapman’s sister, Caroline Weston. For this poem I focused more on the idea of men acknowledging women as equals, and I wanted to do this to highlight the fact that Quincy seems to view both the Weston sisters this way. I also wanted to focus on the idea that if someone can recognize the moral problems with treating someone different due to race they are also capable of recognizing the moral problems of treating someone different because of their gender. This is significant as it suggests that the times you lived in aren’t a good excuse for having extremely problematic morals.
In this letter he is congratulating Caroline on her sister Maria’s newborn, once again a reversal of the typical relationship a man would be expected to have with a couple where he would be communicating with the Husband to deliver a message like this. He also talks about various topics that are more philosophical or logistical, clearly showing that he sees her as an equal in the abolitionist movement. One particularly interesting part is when he expresses a desire for her to speak with the Dedham Female Anti-Slavery Society due to him believing they struggle with business, which would typically come across as pretty anti-woman, but he was actually expressing the desire for another woman to speak with them which suggests he still thinks women are perfectly capable of being good in business.
The philosophical comments are also interesting as it conveys a respect for Weston’s opinion on the issues, and a belief that they are things she is perfectly capable of discussing. Once again, I am surprised in a very positive way at how progressive the beliefs people were capable of in spite of the times they lived in.
It was very interesting writing these remixed poems. I thought that getting to pull them from personal letters gave me access to some interesting language, and Quincy being a contributor to various newspapers at times likely contributed to further interesting language with him having a lot of experience writing. It was almost like putting together a puzzle in the sense that I wasn’t really sure where I was going to be taking it at any given time — I had to look through the words available and see what sparked inspiration to take the poem further. I did have some ideas in my head for a general direction I wanted to take. One of those was that I wanted to discuss the lack of recognition from women, and another was wanting to deal with the idea of a man giving women recognition for what they’ve done and recognizing their importance. The first subject was meant to give recognition to the women the letters were addressed to, while the second was about the fact that men back then were still perfectly capable of treating women as equals, and if that is true we don’t have to judge morality within a historical context. Overall, it was an enjoyable process and it really made me think about a lot of subjects that had never crossed my mind beforehand.