Born in Medford, Massachusetts, in 1802, Lydia Maria was the youngest of six children. She became a prolific writer of novels, children’s stories, poetry, and political tracts.
Lydia and her husband, David Lee Child, began to identify themselves with the anti-slavery cause in 1831 through the personal influence and writings of William Lloyd Garrison, publisher of The Liberator. Child 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.
Lydia and David Lee Child helped found the National Anti-Slavery Standard, he official weekly newspaper of the American Anti-Slavery Society.
Despite the fact that she worked towards equality for women, she made it 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 later split the movement.
Today most Americans may have forgotten her name, but most would recognize some version of her famous twelve stanza poem “A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day” that opens with:
Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather’s house we go;
the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow.
Over the river, and through the wood,
to Grandfather’s house away!
We would not stop for doll or top,
for ’tis Thanksgiving Day
Child’s first novel, the historical romance Hobomok: A Tale of Early Times (Read it on Google Books), was published anonymously under the gender-neutral pseudonym “an American.” The plot centers on the interracial marriage between a white woman and a Native American man, with whom she bore a son. The heroine later remarries, reintegrating herself and her child into Puritan society. The issue of miscegenation caused a scandal in the literary community and the book was not a critical success.
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.
One of her novels, The First Settlers, had the white main characters who identified more with the Indians of early America than with the Puritan settlers. Her positive treatment of Native American religion and her vision of a multiracial democracy caused little controversy, but only because she was unable to get book promoted widely after publication.
By the time of her death in 1880 her position among the outspoken proponents of equal rights for all Americans was clear. A year after her death, her name is invoked along with Douglass, Lucretia Mott, the Beechers, John Brown, and Abraham Lincoln.
The Christian Recorder
October 20, 1881
During this week, beginning yesterday and closing Friday evening, a series of exercises will be held in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, at the corner of Charles and Mount Vernon streets. “A grand jubilee meeting among the colored citizens of Boston,” it is called, and its object is announced as follows:
- To commemorate the issuing of the proclamation of emancipation, September 22, 1862, which was the dawn of the liberty which we now enjoy.
- To have a series of social, intellectual and musical entertainments of home talent, and effect a more perfect union among our citizens.
- To do something practical on this occasion, by trying to extricate from embarrassment one of the greatest enterprises of the colored citizens of Boston,
Rev. J.T. Jenifer, Pastor A.M.E. Church, Boston. Dr. Jenifer began the address of the afternoon with a rapid review of the leading events in our national history which resulted in freedom and self-government for the whites, and then mentioned the prominent agitators for negro freedom and the ante-bellum outbreaks in consequence. The names were called of Greeley, Sumner, Lovejoy, Douglass, Lucretia Mott, Lydia Maria Child, the Beechers, Andrew, Wilson, John Brown, the fifty-fourth and fifty-fifth Massachusetts regiments and last and greatest of all, Abraham Lincoln.
In the great conflict for freedom, said Dr. Jenifer, the colored race bore a important part. It has been identified with the people ever since the settlement of the country. For 257 years the blacks have been held in slavery. They have been the toilers and sufferers of the nation, and today they are six and a half millions strong, an important factor in the national population. They have had to suffer in their transfer from barbarism to civilization. Now they are ready to enter with their white brethren upon the second century of national life. But they are yet on probation before public opinion. Their social condition is not decided. They have surprised the unbelieving by the progress they have made in the last two decades, but many think that they must continue to remain inferior. But in such a condition it behooves the blacks to combine their resources and help each other. Union and co-operation are characteristics of the age. The boys and girls of the colored people should can find lucrative occupation if they set about it. Boston and New England have made their position by their industry, and show what can be done.
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