Tag Archives: abolitionist

Black History Month 2014: David Walker

11 Feb
David Walker's Appeal

David Walker’s Appeal

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to David Walker, abolitionist and voice for social justice. Walker is believed to have been born in 1796 and died in 1830.  During  his short life of 33 years, Walker left an indelible mark in history and left an amazing legacy of tireless efforts towards equity and equality for African Americans.

Walker’s mother was a free black, and thus Walker was also born a “free black.”  Although he grew up in North Carolina, after witnessing the atrocities black people were subjected to, he moved to Boston in 1825.  He worked as a sales agent and writer for Freedom’s Journal, published in New York, the first newspaper owned and operated by African Americans. This experience honed his writing voice and created an enthusiasm for activism in the black community.

Walker is probably best known for his pamphlet An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. Viewed as radical in its day, it called for direct action within the African American community to oppose slavery. He called on all African Americans to resist oppression and strive for personal responsibility. He argued that free blacks must work toward abolition as a political goal and pursue more comprehensive education. While appreciative of the early white abolitionist voices, he argued that relying on a return of liberty strictly from the people who had restricted it was unreasonable. Walker created organized resistance to the false and racist rhetoric that President Jefferson published regarding the “inferiority of blacks.”  Granted, Jefferson was a complex and contradictory human being, who did support the abolitionist movement.

Walker’s Appeal was so powerful and influential that another one of my heroes, William Lloyd Garrison extracted much of Walker’s message in his publication The Liberator.  Many of you may recognize Garrison’s name, for he was also a suffragist.  I take great solace in knowing that Walker’s work lived on and informed so many activist and abolitionists.


Happy Birthday, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker

26 Nov

On this date in 1832 a true American hero and pioneer was born. Mary Edwards Walker was born in the town of Oswego, NY, the youngest of five daughters in a farming family. While working on the farm, she refused to wear women’s clothes, finding them too cumbersome and restrictive, beginning a lifelong spirit of dress reform. She attended a local school then became a teacher until she had earned enough money to go to medical school. The only woman in her class, she graduated as a medical doctor in 1855–TSM readers might remember me celebrating Elizabeth Blackwell, the very first female doctor.

Her initial medical practice was not successful, as women doctors were looked upon with suspicion and distrust–a consequence of confronting a dominant discourse. She left upstate New York for Iowa in 1860 and briefly returned to school; this ended abruptly when the college suspended her for refusing to quit the debate team, which was historically all male–I guess only men know how to debate (?)

Soon after this the U.S. Civil War began and Walker volunteered for the medical corps. She was only offered employment as a nurse but often worked unpaid as a field surgeon at the front lines. Finally, in 1863, she became the first woman employed by the U.S. Army as a surgeon. In April 1864 she stayed behind after a battle to help a Confederate doctor perform an amputation; captured by the Confederate army (how’s that for gratitude?), she was held as a prisoner of war for four months, after which she returned to her duties.

When the war was over, Walker was recommended for the Medal of Honor by General William Tecumseh Sherman. President Johnson signed the bill approving the award. Walker is one of only eight civilians and the only woman ever to receive this honor.

Building on this accolade — and sadly acknowledging that outside of the battlefield she was unlikely to succeed in medical practice — she became renowned as a lecturer. She spoke and wrote frequently on health care. A staunch abolitionist before the war, she also spoke on civil rights, expanding into suffrage and other early feminist issues. She was also a dress reform pioneer, finding men’s clothing more comfortable and convenient. She was arrested a number of times for “impersonating a man” solely because of her attire.

Sadly, as with many of her peers, she died before suffrage passed in the U.S., on February 21, 1919. She had a simple funeral but was honored with the military tradition of a flag-draped casket. She was also buried in her favorite man’s dress suit. Dr. Walker has been honored with many posthumous accolades, including the use of her name for medical facilities. The Whitman-Walker clinic in Washington, DC is named for her and for fellow civil war medic,  and one of my personal heroes, Walt Whitman, who served as a nurse.

Black History Month 2012: Thomas L. Jennings

16 Feb

Today we honor and celebrate a sadly little-known figure in American history, inventor and abolitionist Thomas L. Jennings. Born a free black in New York City in 1791, he began his career as a tailor. After a few years, he began work as a cleaner. He created a process which he called dry-scouring, a precursor to modern dry cleaning.

Jennings applied for and was granted a patent for his work in 1821, becoming the first African-American to be awarded a U.S. Patent. This move caused considerable controversy, as the patent laws clearly included a color bias. Because the language specifcially excluded slaves from holding patents, however, Jennings’ status as a free man provided a legal loophole and the award held.

He used the proceeds from his invention and business to buy the freedom of many of his family members. He also contributed time and money to other abolitionsist causes. In 1831, he served as assistant secretary of the First Annual Convention of the People of Color in Philadelphia. Little else is known about this pioneer. He died in New York in 1856.

Celebrating Ann Wager and Prudence Crandall

27 Sep

Prudence Crandall

Today is a very wonderful day in history that I feel needs to be celebrated. Ann Wager was the Founding Head of School “Mistress” of  the Bray School in Williamsburg, VA.  The Bray School was created “for the Instruction of Negro Children in the Principles of the Christian Religion.”  Wager opened the school on September 27, 1760, before the United States existed and before the Abolitionist Movement had a strong foundation.

During her 14 years at the Bray School, Wager taught over 30 enslaved and free black children.  Wager died in 1774, just two years before the colonies declared their independence from England.

I also have to tip my hat here to one of my heroes, Prudence Crandall.  Crandall was also a “Mistress” of a school that firmly believed in educating students regardless of race. Upon admitting 17-year-old African-American to her girls’ school, the white families pulled their daughters.  Crandall, a Quaker, was not deterred. She kept her school open and decided she would have a school exclusively for black girls.

Of course, America, not exactly known for our progressive views, imprisoned Crandall in July of 1883, after the state of Connecticut instated  “The Black Law” prohibiting black students from going to school, without a town or state’s permission. Let’s hear it for women like Wager and Crandall who did the right thing regardless of the personal risk. I am honored to have as a friend, Patty Crone, who continues to fight for racial equality and civil rights in education. We need more champions like this today.

Women’s History: May 24

24 May

Happy Birthday, Queen Victoria

Happy Birthday, Queen Victoria.  Queen Victoria was the longest ruling monarch of Great Britain, ruling from June 20, 1837 to January 22, 1901.  Our Elizabeth II is catching up, and may usurp Victoria’s title in four years and 100 days, but who’s counting?After reining for 63 years, it seemed most fitting to give Vicky her own era, The Victorian Era–a time known for great repression, “stiff upper lip”.

Most people are familiar with her marriage to her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.  Victoria and Albert had nine children.  Most of their children and grandchildren married into other royal families across Europe, thus earning Victoria the nickname,  “the grandmother of Europe”.  The irony of Queen Victoria is that while she held rather provincial views as to the role of women and mothers, she herself held a domineering presence, albeit the monarch’s status even at this point was more figurehead than actual policy maker.  While Albert was alive, Victoria deferred to her husband and promoted his activity within government.  Prince Albert was an abolitionist and worked to end slavery in Great Britain.  Adding to the irony, Victoria was none too happy to have “Mother” living with her, but by law, she was not allowed to live alone as Queen.  In order to remedy the problem of “Mother” Victoria would have to marry, as reported by her Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, to which she replied: “…schocking [sic] alternative”.  Victoria was very much in love with Albert, if we are to believe what she recorded in her journals:

I NEVER, NEVER spent such an evening!!! MY DEAREST DEAREST DEAR Albert … his excessive love & affection gave me feelings of heavenly love & happiness I never could have hoped to have felt before! He clasped me in his arms, & we kissed each other again & again! His beauty, his sweetness & gentleness – really how can I ever be thankful enough to have such a Husband! … to be called by names of tenderness, I have never yet heard used to me before – was bliss beyond belief! Oh! This was the happiest day of my life!

Being the eternal Anglophile that I am, I have always been fascinated by Queen Victoria and the British Monarchy.  Click here to learn more about Queen Victoria.

Women’s History: May 23

23 May

Happy Birthday, Margaret Fuller.  Fuller was best known for her work as a social reformer, educator, women’s rights advocate, and played a significant role in the American Transcendentalism Movement.  Fuller’s book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, is regarded as the first proto-feminist work.  I say proto-feminist because the word feminist did not exist in the early and mid 19th century.  Fuller addresses head-on the issues of equality between the sexes in Woman in the Nineteenth Century.  Fuller’s book also tackles racism as well as gender parity:

America has been hindered from reaching equality because it inherited depravity from Europe, hence its treatment of [Native] and [African Americans].  All people are equal and bound to each other; those who infringe on others’ rights are condemned, but the biggest sin is hypocrisy. Man needs to practice divine love as well as feel it. Among those who practice it are the abolitionists because they act on their love of humanity; many women are part of this group.

While I am in awe of Ms. Fuller and her social activism, I am saddened that over 150 years later, we are still fighting the same battles of racism, misogyny, and now homophobia.  Our work is not yet done. “We who believe in Freedom cannot rest.

Women’s History: May 10

10 May

May 10, 1840, Elizabeth Cady marries Henry Stanton, becoming Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  Upon marrying Henry Stanton, Elizabeth had the word “obey” removed  from her wedding vows.  Stanton is best known for her work as a suffragist and abolitionist.   Stanton also helped to organize the 1848 Seneca Falls convention, the first women’s rights convention. Stanton was the chief author of the Declaration of Sentiments.  Initially, Stanton was a supporter of Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President,  Stanton’s support wanted when Woodhull published articles in her paper exposing the affair between Elizabeth Tilton and Reverend Henry Ward Beecher. Stanton and other suffragist felt that  Woodhull had pushed the envelope too far with some of her views on sex and “free love,” a phrase Woodhull coined.

May 10, 1872, Victoria Woodhull is nominated as the first woman candidate for U.S. president for the Equal Rights Party.

Women’s History: May 5

5 May

Happy Birthday, Del Martin

Happy Birthday, Del Martin.  Martin was probably best known as the first lesbian wedding in California, in 2004, to her spouse/partner  Phyllis Lyon.  Martin and Lyon had been together for 55 years, until Martin passed away in 2008.  Martin had a long history as a lesbian and equal rights activist.  Martin published several books on sexuality: Lesbian/WomanLesbian Love and Liberation, and Battered Lives.  Unfortunately, Martin’s marriage in 2004 to Lyon was declared invalid.  There were married again before Martin’s death on June 16, 2008.  We shall see what the courts will do with Prop 8.

Happy Birthday, Lucia True Ames.  Ames was a social reformer, pacifist,suffragist, and abolitionist.  She is best known for starting what is now known as the American Peace Movement.   In addition to serving as president of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association (1903-1909), Ames was also active in the NAACP, and the ACLU.

Women’s History: April 17

17 Apr

Anna Garlin Spencer

Happy Birthday, Anna Garlin Spencer.  Spencer was a social reformer, suffragist, and Unitarian minister. She was a social worker before there was such a thing.  Spencer was the first woman ordained in the state of Rhode Island.  Spencer was a pacifist who took on a role in the Peace Movement as well as the Women’s Suffragist Movement. She wrote one of the first social work text books adopted by Columbia University. Two of her books are: Woman’s Share in Social Culture and The Family and Its Members. Spencer was also one of the voices that helped to start the NAACP. To learn more about this do-gooder, Anna Garlin Spencer, click here.

Quote of the day:

 A successful woman preacher was once asked “what special obstacles have you met as a woman in the ministry?” “Not one,” she answered, “except the lack of a minister’s wife.”–Anna Garlin Spencer

Women’s History: April 11

11 Apr

Happy Birthday, Mary White Ovington

Happy Birthday, Mary White Ovington.  Ovington was best known as a suffragist, socialist, abolitionist, and co-founder of the NAACP. Ovington became a strong and vocal abolitionist after hearing Frederick Douglass speak in New York. To me, Ovington represents a real do-gooder–a social reformer working for equality and abolishing the class system of haves and have nots.  She joined the Socialist Party in 1905.  She was influenced by people like Jack London and Asa Philip who were able to see the connection between race and class.  In 1909, Ovington and others such as Ida Wells-Barnett, Fanny Garrison Villard, Jane Addams, and William Du Bois had formed the National Negro Committee which became the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People (NAACP) in 1910. For those of you that follow TSM with any regularity, you see how perfect a fit Mary White Ovington is for me and the blog. I wonder what it must feel like to be a history maker–allow me to qualify, a history maker on the right side of history.  To learn more about Mary White Ovington, click here.

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