Lydia Maria Child papers  1835-1894
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Biography

Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880) captivated public attention as a young writer in the mid 1820s with her romantic and historical novels, Hobomak and The Rebel, and her children's magazine, The Juvenile Miscellany. Her early success spawned the possibility of financial independence which became necessary not long after her marriage in 1828 to the improvident lawyer and editor David Child. The fame of her domestic guide, The Frugal Housewife illustrated the growing American audience of women readers to which Maria Child then aimed The Girl's Own Book. Out of necessity rather than choice, Child became the breadwinner of the couple, a role that was to keep her actively publishing and editing for the remainder of her life. Despite their pecuniary circumstances, the young antislavery sympathizers plunged headily into the unleashing Garrisonian fury. While David Child began addressing antislavery assemblies and joined the fiasco of an experimental free-labor colony in Mexico, Maria Child published An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans (1833). As a result, sales for her previous books plummeted and she was forced to surrender the editorship of her magazine.

As proslavery mobs rioted across the North, antislavery societies multiplied. The next five years became some of the most prolific of Maria Child's life as she published stories, poems, advice books and antislavery tracts, raised money for antislavery causes, participated actively in the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, and accepted delegate invitations from Philadelphia to New York. She consistently expressed a desire, however, for the peace and resources to return to more literary and philosophical pursuits. Her novel Philothea (1836) expressed an occupation with spiritualism that she was to pursue in her literary circles in Boston, and later in New York. Thoreau and Edgar Allen Poe expressed their delight with the book which was dedicated to her brother Convers Francis, a Harvard theologian and a good friend of Emerson's. Its publication presaged Maria Child's growing disenchantment with the political divisions of the Antislavery movement. A Garrisonian, Maria Child defended the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society (the "Old Organization") against the American Anti-Slavery Society's attempts to force members to vote, its attempts to circumscribe women's active participation, and some of its aggressive lines of action. The Childs' financial position nevertheless prevented any resistance to their appointment as editors of the A.A.S.S.'s official weekly newspaper, the National Anti-Slavery Standard and they moved to New York in 1841. Maria Child's two year management of the paper increased its circulation, reduced its debts, and coincided with the Antislavery movements calls for disunion in the wake of the Gag rule. In 1843 she published a collection of her weekly columns as Letters From New York, which was so successful her publishers were calling for another edition within two months. Nevertheless, detesting the controversies inherent in her job, she relinquished her editorship to her husband and cut all ties with the organized antislavery movement. In her remaining years in New York she grew to relish an independent Bohemian lifestyle. She befriended several artists and musicians, witnessed the Astor Place Riots, published stories influenced by Swedenborgianism, and grew increasingly interested in the principles of the women's movement. She also began work on a religious history influenced by Spiritualism.

The turbulence of the slavery question in the 1850s rekindled Maria Child's enthusiasm with it. Writing on the violence in Kansas, and to Charles Sumner upon his beating in the Senate, she began to relinquish her declared pacifism. Stirred by John Brown's raid she offered to nurse him in prison and upon his suggestion attended to looking after his family instead. Her Correspondence to Governor Wise of Virginia was published, along with several antislavery and Republican tracts through the war: The Right Way, The Safe Way; The Patriarchal Institution; and The Duty of Disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Act. She also edited and published the memoirs of a fugitive slave, Harriet A. Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and brought out The Freedmen's Book, which has been credited for being one of the few postwar books that imparted a sense of racial pride. Although interested in merging the causes of black people's and women's suffrage, Maria Child was always more dedicated to the former. Her life's work was praised at length by her friend Wendell Phillips at her funeral.