Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Lydia Maria Child Papers, 1835-1894

Finding aid created by
N. H., October 1996

Summary Information
Title: Lydia Maria Child papers
Creator: William L. Clements Library
Inclusive dates: 1835-1894
Extent: 90 items (0.25 linear feet)
The Lydia Maria Child papers consist of ninety mostly personal letters by Lydia Child; the bulk of them were written to her wealthy abolitionist and philanthropic friends in Boston, the Lorings.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1969-1994. M-1497, M-1506, M-1558, M-1559, M-1791, M-2957, M-3017.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Lydia Maria Child Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


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.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of ninety mostly personal and often playfully provocative letters dating from approximately 1835 to 1877. Most of them are from Lydia Maria Child to her wealthy Boston abolitionist and philanthropic friends, the Lorings, and date from 1839 to 1859. They thus concentrate on the period of Maria Child's distress with the institutional politics of antislavery, her editorship of the Standard, her growing attachment to New York Bohemia, and the publication of Letters From New York. Many of the letters deal simply with her day to day finances, friends, and family.

These letters chart Maria Child's loss of "pleasure" in "anti Slavery" until the martyrdom of John Brown renewed her "youth and strength." They witness her antagonism to the aggressive tactics of elements of the American Anti-Slavery Society and her defense of the "Old Organization." It is in terms of intra-organizational criticism that she justifies her job at the Standard despite reservations. Later, however, the letters witness her declining commitment to pacifism. They describe a remarkable fearlessness to the danger of the mobs in New York, and they note the challenges that the Standard faced. They speak of Maria Child's withdrawal from cliques of reformers and antislavery organizations, though clearly her hermitage was constantly broken by meetings with the likes of Catherine Beecher and Margaret Fuller. Throughout, she declares a radical social egalitarianism while demonstrating a contemporary racial paternalism and liberalism. Of particular interest concerning antislavery and race are:

  • (1) To George Kimball, Jan 1835, on Texas and the freemen plantation in Mexico
  • (3) To Louisa L., April 1839, concerning the discord within the movement
  • (6) To "Nonny", Dec 1840, of a story about "our colored man... our retainers"
  • (8) To Ellis L., May 1841, about guilt for accepting money for editing the Standard
  • (9) To Ellis L., June 1841, where she insinuates the A.A.S.S. with proslavery form
  • (13) To Ellis L., May 1842, about the Boston and Philadelphia cliques and N.Y. mobs
  • (17) To Louisa L., May 1843, about the New York Letters and Angelina Grimké
  • (48) To Ellis L., December 1852, with reference to Charles Sumner and Catherine Beecher
  • (57) To Louisa L., October 1856, about Kansas and Frémont
  • (69) To Oliver Johnson (A.A.S.), Dec. 1859, on John Brown's execution
  • (70) To William Cutler, July 1862, on the questions of wage slavery and social equality
  • (72) To Anna L., Oct (1871?), on a "mulatto girl" asking for handouts.

More peripherally the letters are witness to the homosocial support networks of Victorian America despite their author's exceptional ability to transcend the limitations imposed on her sex. Of the latter she was painfully aware, complaining here of the impropriety of a "young lady" staying at the Globe Hotel, determining to "always avoid belonging to any association of men" because of her "experience," noting how her critics preferred to attack her as a woman rather than deal with the facts, how some were shocked to meet a woman like her, and complaining about her gendered financial liabilities despite her disfranchisement. Indeed, she detaches gender stereotypes from biological sex as she writes repeatedly of the "small female minds of both sexes." Writing domestic guides for women and attending Emerson's lectures on domestic life never reconciled Maria Child to domestic work, of which she often complains here. On the other hand, she seemed to relish romance and also writes of her caring for a "wild Irish girl," and her poor niece Maria, and her taking in of Dolores, a poor Spanish woman, as her companion. Particularly relevant are her letters: (67) To Louisa L., December 1857, a story of two babies engaged in the struggle of the sexes; (71) To Anna L., July 1871, on suffrage for societal efficiency and female education.

Lydia Maria Child's letters also chart her critical attitude to religious and social injustice in general. This is born out in accounts of specific incidents of charity to orphans abandoned in the Tombs. Calling Angelina Grimké a "flaming Millerite," Maria Child also makes fun of her patron Isaac T. Hopper's Quakerism, claims to prefer the "Lord Pope" to the "Lord Presbyters," and "shocked... Christian piety by saying if Mendelssohn were a Jew, I hoped I should get into the Jew's Quarter in heaven." Her "dislike to respectable Puritanical character" crops up repeatedly in these letters. In one letter she jokingly claims her "right to be damned." She praises Plato as a forefather of "modern socialists" and writes of the world of the spirits and of her "bigotted Swedenborgian[ism]." In terms of her pacifism she recounts an argument she had with Samuel Colt over "his battery." Her letters moreover present a consistent picture of her preference for the soul-inspired music of the underdog against anything machine-like, or tainted by the "diseased ambition of wealth and show... and respectability." She criticizes the "ruffianly Forrest" and the Astor Place Riots for demagoguery and violence while repeatedly noting the blindness of aristocracy and arguing for a world in which "all ranks, and sexes, and sects, and barriers of all sorts," would be ignored. In an elusive search for freedom she claims pleasure in acting "contrary to statutes made and provided."

Subject Terms

    • Antislavery movements.
    • Fuller, Margaret, 1810-1850.
    • Men.
    • Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Felix, 1809-1847.
    • Mobs--New York (State)--New York.
    • Poor.
    • Spiritualism.
    • Women authors.
    • Women--Social conditions.
    • Child, Lydia Maria, 1802-1880.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   1  
    Lydia Maria Child papers,  1835-1894 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data

    List of Correspondence:

    • David Child to George Kimball (January 1835): Mexico project and new laws in the South.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (May 1836): Acquisition of Texas and Arkansas.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (April 1839): Business problems; Irish girl; "lost pleasure" in Anti-Slavery; Lewis Tappan.
    • Maria to Anna L. (Jun. 1840): Pleasures of countryside; gender divisions.
    • Maria to Anna L. (August 1840): Irish girl's language and upbringing.
    • Maria to Anna L. (December 1840): English politics; "our colored man" & Thanksgiving.
    • Maria to Anna L. (January 1841): "the spirit land"
    • Maria to Ellis L. (May 1841): Editing paper and salary; about "N. Organization."
    • Maria to Ellis L. (Jun. 1841): Dislikes job; Criticizes Democrats: Approves of Garrison vs. "New Organization."
    • Maria to Louisa L. (December 1841): Liberty Bell; Anti-Slavery Scrapbook.
    • Maria to Anna L. (December 1841).
    • Maria to Anna L. (February 1842): Excursion to Staten Island & John's charity.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (May 1842): Garrison's article & New York mobs; dislikes Boston "perpetual agitation" & Philadelphia "milk & water abolitionists"; Standard subscriptions.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (December 1842): Avoids large gatherings; meeting Samuel Colt.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (January 1843): Finds position for niece in a Community; Avoids associations of men; Mr. Page.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (February 1843): Not follow David; Give up Standard; Emerson.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (May 1843): John rescues girl from Tombs; New York Letters; Angelina Grimké.
    • Maria to Anna L. (August 1843): Beauty of city; Quaker girl.
    • Maria to James Munroe & Co. (May 1843): Publishing New York Letters.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (August 1843): Housework complaints; likes New York; dislikes Calvinists.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (October 1843): Annon flowers; New World; Letters selling well.
    • Maria to Anna L. (December 1843): Rescue boy from Tombs for Christmas.
    • Maria to Anna L. (January 1844): Rejects beach vacation.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (June 1844): Ole Bull & Friend Hopper; Anna Parson.
    • Maria to Anna L. (September 1844): Favors soul & New York over machine & Boston.
    • Maria to Anna L. (October 1844): Promenading Broadway; Ole Bull concerts; free nature.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (October 1844): Refuses travel and conventions; visits Singsing.
    • Maria to Anna L. (December 1844): Christ Child selling; seeing Ole Bull & Margaret Fuller.
    • Maria to Anna L. (January 1845): Broadway Journal; Ole Bull.
    • Maria to Anna L. (February 1845): Description Fuller's house; equates death with marriage.
    • Maria to Anna L.(August 1845): Columbian Magazine; volumes for children; composing.
    • Maria to Louisa L.(December 1845): Die of science, correctness, wealth & show of Boston.
    • Maria to Anna L. (December 1845): Fuller's literary set; John agent of Prison Association.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (September 1846): Fan mail; hermitage; prefers Catholicism and freedom.
    • Maria to Anna L. (September 1846): Fashion; artlessness "above" popular taste.
    • Maria to Anna L. (January 1847): Jewelry.
    • Maria to Ellis & Louisa L. (May 1849): Limited view from rich; Astor Place Riots.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (June 1849): French out of Italy; riot presence; Mendelssohn (Jew) & Margaret Fuller as Pope.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (June 1849): Right to be damned; Befriends Dolores who sells scarves.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (November 1849): "Dread... reformers"; Property and sex laws; Dolores.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (December 1849): Storm.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (February 1850): Girls Book; "small female minds both sexes"; husband's creditors and her rights.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (February 1850): Money as priority; dislike "respectable Puritanical".
    • Maria to Ellis L. (March 1850): Spirits' education; Melodrama and Mendelssohn.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (May 1850): Searching for peaceful place; Pages to Liverpool.
    • Anna & Ellis L. to Louisa L. (July 1850): Complain about Calvinist preaching; travels.
    • Maria to Anna L. (November 1850): Visit.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (December 1852): Charles Sumner; Catherine Beecher; Garrison; Lord Henry Stuart.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (August 1853): Reject Jewett's offer to republish.
    • David & Maria to Ellis L. (November 1854): Crichtlow as rogue; Buddhist tracts.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (January 1855): Crichtlow; against writing for periodicals.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (May 1855): Spirits speaking; Swedenborg & Dr. Chandler.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (June 1855): Mrs. Martineau in Paris; Mrs. Shaw in Europe.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (November 1855): Engages in phrenology of reactionary woman (& man).
    • David & Maria to L. (December 1855): Crichtlow; Spirits & Evangelists; Opponants attack her as woman.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (July 1856): Women's suffrage; rails against men; problems in Missouri.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (October 1856): Activism for Kansas; Buchanan or Frémont; urgency.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (November 1856): Father dying.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (November 1856): On death father.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (December 1856): On father's will.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (January 1857): Enjoys music, perfume, and being tipsy.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (July 1857):
    • Maria to Ellis L. (September 1857): Short magazine story.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (November 1857).
    • Maria to Ellis L. (November 1857): Niece & "all the progressive movts of the day"; Plato & socialism; Ellis as "benigted modern".
    • Maria to Ellis L. (November 1857): Louisa ill.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (December 1857): Wants Florida; Baby girl asserts her wits vs. baby boy.
    • Maria to unidentified recipient (January 1859): Complains "modern affectation" & intellect over moral sentiments.
    • Maria to Oliver Johnson ASS (December 1859): John Brown's execution and burial.
    • Maria to William Cutler (July, 1862): Public Enemy; higher law than slavery; free institutions/labor; problem of masters; laissez faire on social equality; English and Hindoos.
    • Maria to Anna L. (July 1871): European feminists; Suffrage as efficient & educational; Harmony of sexes; Prussian ambition, Communism, and Versailles Jesuits.
    • Maria to Anna L? (October 1871?): Chicago fire & KKK; Grant & South; Tweed Ring; German feminists; free labor.
    • Maria to Anna L. (November 1877): Birthday.
    • Lorings? (August 1894).
    • Maria to Anna L. (May, n.y.; NY): Hopper's Quaker conscience.
    • Maria to Louisa L. n.d. [July 1843]: "I become... bigotted Swedenborgian"
    • Maria to Louisa L. (July, n.y.; NY): Religious book; ackn. her depravity.
    • Maria to Anna L. (August, n.y.; NY): City people on vacation.
    • Maria to Anna L. (December, n.y.; NY): on a "citizen of the world" as "spirit of the age".
    • Maria to Anna L. n.d. (NY): Never come to Boston again.
    • Maria to Anna L. n.d. (NY): Giving New Year presents to poor.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (July 4, n.y.; NY): Dolores giving Spanish lessons in city; attacks statutes.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (September Newton): Work for poor; Dolores likes Ellis & learns English.
    • Maria to Louisa L. n.d.
    • Maria to Louisa L. n.d.: Distrusts David in California.
    • Maria to Ellis L. (Wayland).
    • Maria to Ellis L. (August n.y.): Biography on Mr. Hopper.
    • Maria to Louisa L. (July, NY): "I shall be glad when independence is over"
    • Maria to unidentified recipient n.d. [April, 1831]: School uniform and worship.
    • Maria (scraps): Christmas boy "obtained a good place in the city".
    Related Materials

    The following list contains published materials at the William L. Clements Library with content written or edited by Lydia Maria Child:


    Clifford, Deborah Pickman. Crusader for Freedom: A Life of Lydia Maria Child Boston: Beacon Press, 1992.

    Partial Subject Index
    Finance, Personal
    • 1839 April
    • 1850 February
    Frémont, John Charles, 1813-1890
    • 1856 October
    Fuller, Margaret, 1810-1850
    • 1844 December
    • 1845 February
    • 1845 December
    • 1849 June
    Garrison, William Lloyd, 1805-1879
    • 1841 June
    • 1842 May
    • 1852 December
    Grant, Ulysses S. (Ulysses Simpson), 1822-1885
    • 1871 October
    Great Britain--Politics and government
    • 1840 December
    Grimké, Angelina Emily, 1805-1879
    • 1843 May
    • 1862 July
    Hopper, Isaac Tatem, 1771-1852
    • 1844 June
    • n.d. (May)
    • n.d. (August)
    Husband and wife
    • See also Child, David Lee, 1794-1874
    • 1843 February
    • 1850 February
    Irish--United States
    • 1840 August
    • 1847 January
    • 1849 June
    • 1856 July
    • 1856 October
    Ku-Klux Klan
    • 1871 October
    Labor and laboring classes
    • 1862 July
    • 1871 October
    Liberty Bell
    • 1841 December
    • 1859 January
    • 1845 February
    Martineau, Harriet, 1802-1876
    • 1855 June
    • 1843 January
    • 1855 November
    • 1856 July
    • 1857 December
    Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Felix, 1809-1847
    • 1849 June
    • 1850 March
    Mobs--New York (State)--New York
    • See also Astor Place Riot, New York, N.Y., 1849
    • 1842 May
    National Anti-Slavery Standard
    • 1842 May
    • 1843 February
    New York (N.Y.)--Description and travel
    • 1843 August
    • 1844 October
    • 1844 September
    • 1842 December
    Parson, Anna
    • 1844 June
    • 1855 November
    • 1857 November
    • 1871 October
    • n.d.
    • n.d. (July 4)
    • n.d. (September)
    Presidents--United States--Election--1856
    • 1856 October
    • 1843 December
    • 1843 August
    • 1871 October
    Sing Sing Prison
    • 1844 October
    • 1862 July
    Slavery--Anti-slavery movements
    • 1835 January
    • 1839 April
    • 1841 May
    • 1841 June
    • 1841 December
    • 1842 May
    • 1843 May
    • 1852 December
    • 1859 December
    • 1862 July
    Slavery--Extension to the territories
    • 1836 May
    Social reformers
    • 1849 November
    • 1857 November
    • 1841 January
    • 1850 March
    • 1855 May
    • 1855 December
    Staten Island (N.Y.)--Description and travel
    • 1842 February
    Stuart, Henry
    • 1852 December
    Sumner, Charles, 1811-1874
    • 1852 December
    Swedenborg, Emanuel, 1688-1772
    • 1855 May
    • n.d. [July 1843]
    Tappan, Lewis, 1788-1873
    • 1839 April
    • 1836 May
    Tweed Ring
    • 1871 October
    • 1844 January
    Women authors
    • 1841 May
    • 1841 December
    • 1842 May
    • 1843 February
    • 1843 May
    • 1843 October
    • 1844 December
    • 1845 August
    • 1845 December
    • 1853 August
    • 1855 January
    • 1857 September
    Women--Social conditions
    • 1840 June
    • 1843 January
    • 1849 November
    • 1850 February
    • 1855 November
    • 1855 December
    • 1856 July
    • 1857 December
    • 1871 July
    • 1856 July
    • 1871 July