Lydia Maria Child

by Esther from Virginia

Lydia Maria Child (
Lydia Maria Child (

Many people throughout the years have sung "Over the river and through the woods" from the song "A Boy's Thanksgiving." Yet few know of the woman, Lydia Maria Child, who penned these famous words. Born Lydia Maria Francis in 1802 in Medford, Massachusetts, Child attended a local dame's school and then taught herself for some time before moving in with her brother's family. Her brother influenced Child to write her first book, Hobomok, in 1824. Hobomok told a story of romance between a white woman and a Native American man, an unusual topic in the 1800s. Child chose to write on this subject because she believed in the equality of the races and looked favorably upon interracial marriage, unlike most people of her day. Throughout her life she used her writing to promote her social views. Lydia Maria Child actively advocated abolition, promoted racial justice, and challenged common opinions.

Putting her writing skills to work for a worthy cause, Child supported abolition and pointed out slavery's flaws. In her magazine for children, Juvenile Miscellany, Child often wrote stories and columns about the wrongs of slavery. Soon after being convinced of the wrongs of slavery, she wrote a pamphlet in 1833 entitled An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans. Afterwards, she edited the abolitionist newspaper National Anti-Slavery Standard for two years. Many years later, after Virginia authorities arrested John Brown in 1859 for his attack on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Child wrote two letters, which The New York Tribune later published, to Virginia governor Henry Wise. In the letters she praised Brown's spirit, though not his actions, and argued convincingly that slavery violated the U. S. Constitution, writing, "Slavery is, in fact, an infringement of all law, and adheres to no law, save for its own purposes of oppression" ( During the Civil War, Child collected supplies for escaped slaves and also wrote The Freedman's Book, a reading primer to help former slaves to learn how to read. Her writings throughout the years helped to publicize and to promote the abolitionist movement.

Not simply concerned about the enslaved African-Americans, Child also advocated fair treatment of Native Americans. She firmly believed in the right of America's native peoples to retain their own traditions, language, and religion. Juvenile Miscellany often carried stories or articles regarding the mistreatment of Native Americans. In 1868 Child wrote An Appeal for the Indians, requesting justice for these abused tribes. Child showed compassion for the oppressed ethnic groups around her and worked for their relief.

Child openly risked public displeasure several times for the sake of abolition's cause. Her first antislavery publication, An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans, shocked her readers and editors in its attack against slavery, who did not expect a publication so condemning of slavery. Fictional books by Child, once bestsellers, did not sell as well after this, and publishers would not accept her manuscripts. This downturn in her financial situation forced her to fold Juvenile Miscellany. Later, in 1861, Child edited Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, in which Harriet Jacobs exposed the sexual mistreatment of slave women at the hands of their masters. This "indecency" in openly discussing sexual matters horrified critics and the public. Disregarding public approval, Child exposed the truth to Americans.

While many people have opinions on controversial subjects, rarely do they publicly advocate their stance and spend much of their life working for it. Lydia Maria Child did just that. Convinced of the evils of slavery, Child worked whole-heartedly to aid slaves, by supporting the abolitionist movement, and Native Americans, while ignoring the repercussions of supporting these unpopular causes. Her work remains an example to us all. She supported right and just causes with the talents that she possessed, paying more attention to the plight of others than her own discomfort.

Page created on 8/9/2009 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 1/5/2017 11:56:51 PM

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Related Links - Read a biography of Lydia Maria Child.
Letters of Lydia Maria Child
American Experience: The Time of the Lincolns - Literary Women: Margaret Fuller, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Lydia Maria Child.

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