Lydia Maria Child

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Lydia Maria Child
Lydia Maria Child engraving.jpg
An 1882 engraving of Child.
BornFebruary 11, 1802
Medford, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedOctober 20, 1880(1880-10-20) (aged 78)
Wayland, Massachusetts, U.S.
Resting placeNorth Cemetery
Wayland, Massachusetts, U.S.
Occupation abolitionist, women's rights activist, novelist, journalist
Literary movementAbolitionist, feminism
Notable works An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans , "Over the River and Through the Wood", Hobomok, a Tale of Early Times.
Spouse David Lee Child (m. 1828)
Relatives Convers Francis (brother)

Signature Signature of Lydia Maria Child.png

Lydia Maria Francis Child (born Lydia Maria Francis) (February 11, 1802 October 20, 1880), was an American abolitionist, women's rights activist, Native American rights activist, novelist, journalist, and opponent of American expansionism.

Abolitionism in the United States Movement to end slavery in the United States

Abolitionism in the United States was the movement before and during the American Civil War to end slavery in the United States. In the Americas and western Europe, abolitionism was a movement to end the Atlantic slave trade and set slaves free. In the 17th century, enlightenment thinkers condemned slavery on humanistic grounds and English Quakers and some Evangelical denominations condemned slavery as un-Christian. At that time, most slaves were Africans, but thousands of Native Americans were also enslaved. In the 18th century, as many as six million Africans were transported to the Americas as slaves, at least a third of them on British ships to North America. The colony of Georgia originally abolished slavery within its territory, and thereafter, abolition was part of the message of the First Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s in the Thirteen Colonies.

Womens rights rights claimed for women and girls worldwide

Women's rights are the rights and entitlements claimed for women and girls worldwide, and formed the basis for the women's rights movement in the nineteenth century and feminist movement during the 20th century. In some countries, these rights are institutionalized or supported by law, local custom, and behavior, whereas in others they are ignored and suppressed. They differ from broader notions of human rights through claims of an inherent historical and traditional bias against the exercise of rights by women and girls, in favor of men and boys.

Native Americans in the United States Indigenous peoples of the United States (except Hawaii)

Native Americans, also known as American Indians, Indigenous Americans and other terms, are the indigenous peoples of the United States, except Hawaii. More than 570 federally recognized tribes live within the US, about half of which are associated with Indian reservations. The term "American Indian" excludes Native Hawaiians and some Alaska Natives, while "Native Americans" are American Indians, plus Alaska Natives of all ethnicities. The US Census does not include Native Hawaiians or Chamorro, instead being included in the Census grouping of "Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander".


Her journals, both fiction and domestic manuals, reached wide audiences from the 1820s through the 1850s. At times she shocked her audience as she tried to take on issues of both male dominance and white supremacy in some of her stories.

Fiction any story or setting that is derived from imagination, can be conveyed through any medium (films, books, audio plays, games, etc.)

Fiction broadly refers to any narrative that is derived from the imagination—in other words, not based strictly on history or fact. It can also refer, more narrowly, to narratives written only in prose, and is often used as a synonym for the novel. In cinema it corresponds to narrative film in opposition to documentary as far as novel to feature film and short story to short film.

Despite these challenges, Child may be most remembered for her poem "Over the River and Through the Wood." Her grandparents' house, which she wrote about visiting, was restored by Tufts University in 1976 and stands near the Mystic River on South Street, in Medford, Massachusetts.

"The New-England Boy's Song about Thanksgiving Day", also known as "Over the River and Through the Wood", is a Thanksgiving poem by Lydia Maria Child, originally published in 1844 in Flowers for Children, Volume 2.

Grandfathers House building in Massachusetts, United States

Grandfather's House, also known as the Paul Curtis House, is a historic house at 114 South Street in Medford, Massachusetts. It is claimed to be the original house named in the American poem "Over the River and through the Wood" by Lydia Maria Child.

Tufts University private research university in Medford/Somerville, Massachusetts

Tufts University is a private research university in Medford and Somerville, Massachusetts. A charter member of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), Tufts College was founded in 1852 by Christian universalists who worked for years to open a nonsectarian institution of higher learning. It was a small New England liberal arts college until its transformation into a larger research university in the 1970s. The university emphasizes active citizenship and public service in all its disciplines, and is known for its internationalism and study abroad programs.

Early life and education

She was born Lydia Maria Francis in Medford, Massachusetts, on February 11, 1802, to Susannah (née Rand) and Convers Francis. She went by her middle name, and pronounced it Ma-RYE-a. [1] Her older brother, Convers Francis, was educated at Harvard College and Seminary, and became a Unitarian minister. Child received her education at a local dame school and later at a women's seminary. Upon the death of her mother, she went to live with her older sister in Maine, where she studied to be a teacher. During this time, her brother Convers, by then a Unitarian minister, saw to his younger sister's education in literary masters such as Homer and Milton. In her early 20s, Francis lived with her brother and met many of the top writers and thinkers of the day through him. She also converted to Unitarianism. [1]

Medford, Massachusetts City in Massachusetts, United States

Medford is a city 3.2 miles northwest of downtown Boston on the Mystic River in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, United States. In the 2010 U.S. Census, Medford's population was 56,173. It is home to Tufts University, which has its campus along the Medford and Somerville border.

Convers Francis was a Unitarian minister from Watertown, Massachusetts.

Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement named for its belief that the God in Christianity is one person, as opposed to the Trinity which in many other branches of Christianity defines God as three persons in one being: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unitarian Christians, therefore, believe that Jesus was inspired by God in his moral teachings, and he is a savior, but he was not a deity or God incarnate. Unitarianism does not constitute one single Christian denomination, but rather refers to a collection of both extant and extinct Christian groups, whether historically related to each other or not, which share a common theological concept of the oneness nature of God.

Francis chanced to read an article in the North American Review discussing the field offered to the novelist by early New England history. Although she had never thought of becoming an author, she immediately wrote the first chapter of her novel Hobomok . Encouraged by her brother's commendation, she finished it in six weeks and had it published. From this time until her death, she wrote continually. [2]

<i>North American Review</i> journal

North American Review (NAR) was the first literary magazine in the United States. It was founded in Boston in 1815 by journalist Nathan Hale and others. It was published continuously until 1940, but was inactive from 1940 to 1964, until it was revived at Cornell College (Iowa) under Robert Dana. Since 1968, the University of Northern Iowa has been home to the publication. Nineteenth-century archives are freely available via Cornell University's Making of America.

New England Region in the northeastern United States

New England is a region composed of six states in the northeastern United States: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. It is bordered by the state of New York to the west and by the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick to the northeast and Quebec to the north. The Atlantic Ocean is to the east and southeast, and Long Island Sound is to the south. Boston is New England's largest city, as well as the capital of Massachusetts. The largest metropolitan area, with nearly a third of New England's population, is Greater Boston, which also includes Worcester, Massachusetts, Manchester, New Hampshire, and Providence, Rhode Island.

<i>Hobomok</i> book by Lydia Maria Child

Hobomok, a Tale of Early Times. is a novel by the nineteenth-century American author and human rights campaigner Lydia Maria Child. Her first novel, published in 1824 under the pseudonym "An American," was inspired by John G. Palfrey's article in the North American Review. It is set during the late 1620s and 1630s. Among other themes, it relates the marriage of a recently immigrated white American woman, Mary Conant, to the eponymous Native American and her attempt to raise their son in white society.

Francis taught for one year in a seminary in Medford, and in 1824 started a private school in Watertown, Massachusetts. In 1826, she founded the Juvenile Miscellany , the first monthly periodical for children published in the United States, and supervised its publication for eight years. [2] After publishing other works voicing her opposition to slavery, much of her audience turned against her, especially in the South. TheJuvenile Miscellany closed down after book sales and subscriptions dropped. [1]

Seminary, school of theology, theological seminary, and divinity school are educational institutions for educating students in scripture, theology, generally to prepare them for ordination to serve as clergy, in academics, or in Christian ministry. The English word is taken from the Latin seminarium, translated as seed-bed, an image taken from the Council of Trent document Cum adolescentium aetas which called for the first modern seminaries. In the West, the term now refers to Catholic educational institutes and has widened to include other Christian denominations and American Jewish institutions.

Watertown, Massachusetts City in Massachusetts, United States

Watertown is a town in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and is part of the Greater Boston area. The population was 31,915 in the 2010 census. Its neighborhoods include Bemis, Coolidge Square, East Watertown, Watertown Square, and the West End. It is one of thirteen Massachusetts municipalities that retain the title of “town” while functioning under state law as cities.

<i>Juvenile Miscellany</i>

The Juvenile Miscellany was a 19th-century American bimonthly children's magazine published in Boston, Massachusetts between 1826 and 1836. It was founded by Lydia Maria Child. Publishers varied over the years, but the original publisher was John Putnam. Sarah Josepha Hale edited the magazine as a monthly between September 1834 and April 1836.

In 1828, she married David Lee Child and moved to Boston.


Early writings

Following the success of Hobomok, Child wrote several novels, poetry, and an instruction manual for mothers, The Mothers Book; but her most successful work was The Frugal Housewife. Dedicated to those who are not ashamed of Economy. This book contained mostly recipes, but also contained this advice for young housewives, "If you are about to furnish a house, do not spend all your money.... Begin humbly." [1] First published in 1829, the book was expanded and went through 33 printings in 25 years. [3] Child wrote that her book had been "written for the poor … those who can afford to be epicures will find the best of information in the Seventy-five Receipts" by Eliza Leslie. [4]

Child changed the title to The American Frugal Housewife in 1832 to end the confusion with the British author Susannah Carter's The Frugal Housewife first published in 1765, and then printed in America from 1772. Child wrote that Carter's book was not suited "to the wants of this country". [4] To add further confusion, from 1832 to 1834 Child's version was printed in London and Glasgow.

Abolitionism and women's rights movements

Child in 1870, reading a book. Lydia Maria Child.jpg
Child in 1870, reading a book.

In 1831, Lydia Child and her husband began to identify themselves with the anti-slavery cause through the writings and personal influence of William Lloyd Garrison. [5] [2] 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. As she worked towards equality for women, Child publicly said that she did not care for all-female communities. 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 and participation in the American Anti-Slavery Society, provoking a controversy that later split the movement.

Illustration from An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans 190.png
Illustration from An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans

In 1833, she published her book An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans . It argued in favor of the immediate emancipation of the slaves without compensation to slaveholders. She is sometimes said to have been the first white woman to have written a book in support of this policy. She "surveyed slavery from a variety of angles—historical, political, economic, legal, and moral" to show that "emancipation was practicable and that Africans were intellectually equal to Europeans." [6] In this book, she wrote that, "the intellectual inferiority of the negroes is a common, though most absurd apology, for personal prejudice." [1] The book was the first anti-slavery work printed in America in book form. She followed it with several smaller works on the same subject. Her Appeal attracted much attention, and William Ellery Channing, who attributed to it part of his interest in the slavery question, walked from Boston to Roxbury to thank Child for the book. She had to endure social ostracism, but from this time was considered a conspicuous champion of anti-slavery. [2]

Lydia Maria Child, from a 1910 publication. LydiaMariaChild1910.png
Lydia Maria Child, from a 1910 publication.

Child, a strong supporter and organizer in anti-slavery societies, helped with fundraising efforts to finance the first anti-slavery fair, which abolitionists held in Boston in 1834. It was both an educational and a major fundraising event, and was held annually for decades, organized under Maria Weston Chapman. In 1839, Child was elected to the executive committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and became editor of the society's National Anti-Slavery Standard in 1840. While she was editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, Child wrote a weekly column for the paper called "Letters from New-York," which she later compiled and published in book form. Child's management as editor and the popularity of her "Letters from New-York" column both helped to establish the National Anti-Slavery Standard as one of the most popular abolitionist newspapers in the US. [7] She edited the Standard until 1843, when her husband took her place as editor-in-chief. She acted as his assistant until May 1844. During their stay in New York, the Childs were close friends of Isaac T. Hopper, a Quaker abolitionist and prison reformer. After leaving New York, the Childs settled in Wayland, Massachusetts, where they spent the rest of their lives. [2] Here, they provided shelter for runaway slaves trying to escape the Fugitive Slave Law. [1]

Child also served as a member of the executive board of the American Anti-Slavery Society during the 1840s and 1850s, alongside Lucretia Mott and Maria Weston Chapman.

During this period, she also wrote short stories, exploring, through fiction, the complex issues of slavery. Examples include "The Quadroons" (1842) and "Slavery's Pleasant Homes: A Faithful Sketch" (1843). She wrote anti-slavery fiction to reach people beyond what she could do in tracts. She also used it to address issues of sexual exploitation, which affected both the enslaved and the slaveholder family. In both cases she found women suffered from the power of men. The more closely Child addressed some of the abuses, the more negative reaction she received from her readers. [6] She published an anti-slavery tract, The Duty of Disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Act: An Appeal to the Legislators of Massachusetts, in 1860. [8]

Eventually Child left the National Anti-Slavery Standard, because she refused to promote violence as an acceptable weapon for battling slavery. The abolitionists’ inability to work together as a cohesive unit angered Child. The conflicts and arguments resulted in her feeling a permanent estrangement, and she left the AASS. In quotes, Child stated that she believed herself to be "finished with the cause forever."

"Over the River and Through the Wood" (1844) as performed by Grant Raymond Barrett, 2006

She did continue to write for many newspapers and periodicals during the 1840s, and she promoted greater equality for women. However, because of her negative experience with the AASS, she never worked again in organized movements or societies for women's rights or suffrage. In 1844, Child published the poem "The New-England Boy's Song about Thanksgiving Day" in Flowers for Children , Volume 2, that became famous as the song "Over the River and Through the Wood".

In the 1850s, Child responded to the near-fatal beating on the Senate floor of her good friend Charles Sumner, an abolitionist Senator from Massachusetts, by a South Carolina congressman, by writing her poem entitled "The Kansas Emigrants". The outbreak of violence in Kansas between anti- and pro-slavery settlers, prior to voting on whether the territory should be admitted as a free or slave state, resulted in Child changing her opinion about the use of violence. Along with Angelina Grimke, another proponent for peace, she acknowledged the need for the use of violence to protect anti-slavery emigrants in Kansas. Child also sympathized with the radical abolitionist John Brown. While she did not condone his zealous violence, she deeply admired his courage and conviction in the Raid of Harper's Ferry. She wrote to Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise offering her services at Brown's sickbed.

In 1861, Child was invited to write a preface to Harriet Ann Jacobs' slave narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. She helped edit the work for publication that year, and supported efforts to gain attention for book sales, but the work was overwhelmed by the start of the American Civil War.

Native American rights work

Title page of Hobomok, 1824 Hobomok 1824.jpg
Title page of Hobomok , 1824

Child published her first novel, the historical romance Hobomok, A Tale of Early Times , anonymously under the gender-neutral pseudonym "an American". The plot centers on the interracial marriage between a white woman and a Native American man, who have a son together. 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. [9]

During the 1860s, Child wrote pamphlets on Native American 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. It contributed to the founding of the U.S. Board of Indian Commissioners and the subsequent Peace Policy in the administration of Ulysses S. Grant.

Freethought beliefs

Born to a strict Calvinist father, Child slept with a bible under her pillow when she was young. However, although she joined the Unitarians in 1820, as an adult she was not active in that, or any other, church. [10] In 1855 she published the 3-volume “The Progress of Religious Ideas Through Successive Ages”, within which she rejected traditional theology, dogma, and doctrines and repudiated the concept of revelation and creeds as the basis for moral action, [11] arguing instead “It is impossible to exaggerate the evil work that theology has done in the world” and, in commenting on the efforts of theologians “ What a blooming paradise would the whole earth be if the same amount of intellect, labor, and zeal had been expended on science, agriculture, and the arts!” [12]

Personal life

Lydia Francis taught school until 1828, when she married Boston lawyer David Lee Child. [5] His political activism and involvement in reform introduced her to the social reforms of Indian rights and Garrisonian abolitionism. She was a long-time friend of activist Margaret Fuller and frequent participant in Fuller's "conversations" held at Elizabeth Palmer Peabody's North Street bookstore in Boston.

Child died in Wayland, Massachusetts, aged 78, on October 20, 1880, at her home at 91 Old Sudbury Road. She was buried at North Cemetery in Wayland. [13] At her funeral, abolitionist Wendell Phillips shared the opinion of many within the abolition movement who knew her, "We felt that neither fame, nor gain, nor danger, nor calumny had any weight with her." [1]



See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "Lydia Maria Child" (PDF). Center for Women's History. New-York Historical Society. Retrieved 31 July 2018.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Wikisource-logo.svg  Wilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1900). "Child, David Lee"  . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography . New York: D. Appleton.
  3. "Lydia Maria Child". Feeding America. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  4. 1 2 "The American Frugal Housewife" . Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  5. 1 2 Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Child, Lydia Maria"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 135–136.
  6. 1 2 Samuels, Shirley. The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender and Sentimentality in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford UP, 1992: 64-70.
  7. Bruce Mills, "Introduction," Letters from New-York.
  8. Child, Lydia Maria (1860). The Duty of Disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Act: An Appeal to the Legislators of Massachusetts. Boston: American Anti-Slavery Society. Lock-green.svg
  9. Samuels, Shirley. The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender and Sentimentality in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford UP, 1992: 59.
  10. Gaylor, Annie Laurie (1997). Women without superstition. Madison, WI, USA: Freedom From Religion Foundation. pp. 55–60. ISBN   1-877733-09-1.
  11. "Giving thanks where thanks is due (podcast)". Freethought Radio. Freedom From Religion Foundation.
  12. Child, Lydia Maria (1855). The Progress of Religious Ideas, Through Successive Ages, Volume 3. Ulan Press reprinted 2012.
  13. Ehrlich, Eugene and Gorton Carruth (1982). The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 63. ISBN   0-19-503186-5.
  14. National Women's Hall of Fame, Lydia Maria Child
  15. "Letters from New-York". Retrieved 2016-11-18.
  16. "Lydia Maria Child papers 1835–1894". Retrieved 2016-11-18.
  17. "Lydia Maria Child, Letters of Lydia Maria Child, Introduction". Retrieved 2016-11-18.

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