Helen Pitts Douglass, Frederick Douglass’ wife at the time of his death, released In Memoriam: Frederick Douglass after his death. In this volume she shares many of the letters she received after her husband’s burial.
This letter was sent by the National Council of Women of the United States.
The National Council of Women of the United States was founded in 1888 with this preamble: “We, women of the United States of America, believing that the best good of humanity will be advanced by efforts toward greater unity of sympathy and purpose, and that a voluntary association of individuals so united will best serve the highest good of the family, the community, the state, do hereby freely band ourselves together into a federation of all races, creeds, and traditions, to further the application of the Golden Rule to society, custom, and law.“
Office of the President, Indianapolis, Ind.,
February 23, 1895.
To the Family of Frederick Douglass:
The National Council of Women of the United States send affectionate and sympathetic greeting to the bereaved.
At a meeting held by the working body of the National Council, it was ordered that through a committee appointed for the purpose, the National Council should express its consciousness of its own participation in the universal sense of loss experienced by the nation in the death of Frederick Douglass. The special committee thus constituted feels that the communication is properly of a fourfold character. Hence a resolution has been framed by a sub-committee, a copy of which will accompany this letter. Hence, also, a poem has been written by a patron of the National Council, appointed by this committee, a copy of which also will be found enclosed herein. The floral tribute, which this letter and its enclosures accompany, is another expression of the Council’s participation with you, the personally bereaved, in doing honor to the memory of him you mourn.
This letter would not be a proper medium for expressing the Council’s conception of the character of Frederick Douglass, or of his unique contribution to the solution of the vexed problems involved in the doctrine of human liberty, and if in other respects proper, it would surely be inadequate.
Therefore, in this letter, the Council, leaving the public rostrum, approaches your fireside in the spirit of those who “mourn with them that mourn.”
The women constituting the Council have so often been called upon to realize in their own experience and in the observation of their own sex, that capabilities of brain and heart do not exist in inverse, but in direct proportion with each other, that they would find it incredible that a man endowed with the intellectual powers of Frederick Douglass, should not be endowed also with a correspondingly universal capacity for affection.
Women have also observed, notwithstanding the almost universal misconception of them in this respect, that the women whose hearts are the quickest to respond to public appeals for help and sympathy are also quickest to respond to every private claim. Therefore, the women of the Council realize that the home at whose center beats a heart strong with love for all humanity, vital with affection, sympathy and tenderness, must feel, now that that heart has ceased to beat, that the world itself is cold and dead.
In the first hours of such bereavement, it is difficult to realize that there can be any compensation for their pain. But, while we mourn with you your present loss, we also rejoice with you in your past and therefore permanent possession; and, in a world wherein death has not yet been conquered and barred, is it possible to conceive of a more welcome shape in which it could come than that in which it came to your husband and father?
That one should “by reason of strength” approach fourscore years, and far from finding that all life is “vanity and vexation of spirit,” find that life is one precious opportunity, every fleeting moment of which has been used in its passing to its highest purpose — every fleeting moment has been so used that it has enriched the life of which it formed a part and every other with which that life touched.
To have come up to fourscore with an almost unimpaired physical vitality, with perfect vigor of intellect, and with unabated vivacity of emotion — this is to have drunk life from a full and sweet chalice.
To be permitted in this condition to meet the mysterious transition, is to be blessed indeed.
So, dear friends, we cannot wholly mourn, because of the rejoicing in our hearts that such a life has been; that such a valiant struggle has found issue in a certain victory.
The highest honor which we can show to the memory of him who has passed from the visible world to the world invisible — and to you whose longing eyes are straining into the impenetrable darkness to follow him — is to contemplate his life as an inspiration, and to respond to his example by an answering devotion to human liberty and to human equality.
May Wright Sewell,
President of the National Council of the Women of the United States
Susan B. Anthony,
Lillian M. N. Stevens,
Anna H. Shaw,
J. Ellen Foster,
Margaret Ray Wickens,