How a popular children’s writer’s 1829 self-help book ‘The Frugal Housewife’ was based on the same democratic principles that made her a champion of the abolitionist cause.
When Abraham Lincoln was elected, Lydia Maria Child had been fighting to end slavery for thirty years. Lincoln’s careful negotiations with Southern states, guaranteeing that slavery could continue if they stayed in the Union, enraged her. Activists’ job, she argued, was to hold politicians at the “point of a moral bayonet” to ensure that moral progress would not be bargained away.
White abolitionists Lydia Maria Child and Maria Weston Chapman were allies in the fight against slavery but fell out with each other over tactics and philosophy. In the years following their split, they both retreated from the abolitionist movement, only reengaging as the slide into war accelerated. Black abolitionists such as Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Harriet Tubman, and Sarah Mapps Douglass fought on without the benefit of time away, illustrating a fundamental inequity in activist movements that continues today.
When Lydia Maria Child and other women became leaders in the abolitionist movement, conservative men tried to stop them. The struggle that ensued had poisonous consequences that prevented true collaboration between white women and Black women–consequences that continue to be felt today.
Long before the contentious school board fights of today, Lydia Maria Child tried to help America’s children understand their country’s racial transgressions.
Abolitionist Lydia Maria Child despaired about her country’s moral progress when Andrew Jackson was elected president. Two decades later, she wrote to a nephew enlisted in the Civil War to assure him that the Union’s cause was just. Between those moments, she threw herself into the antislavery struggle in every way she knew how.
On a day that white supremacists threatened to convene in Boston in 2017, I reflected on Lydia Maria Child’s condemnation of the Northern racism that made Southern slavery possible and on my own struggles as a white Northerner to come to terms with prejudice in my own backyard.
On the anniversary of John Brown’s abolitionist raid in 1859, I reflect on Child’s reaction and her belief that those of us who believe in nonviolence have a duty to fight for justice. Otherwise, “the end cometh by violence, because come it must.”
Lydia Maria Child and Maria Weston Chapman were the 19th-century version of frenemies: fierce allies in the crusade to end slavery but sometimes personally at odds. Their falling-out in the 1840s was heartbreaking. Here I review Linda Hirschman’s wonderful book that highlights Chapman’s long-neglected status in the abolitionist movement. A pdf of the review is here.
Blog of the American Philosophical Association: “The Philosophical Activism of Lydia Maria Child”
In the nineteenth century, women philosophers were rare, but women activists were not. Lydia Maria Child, I argue, was both. What kind of philosophizing did Child do to sustain a lifetime of radical antislavery activism?
What Lydia Maria Child learned about slavery in Medford, MA, and what Frederick Douglass taught her about forgiveness.
Interview with Megan Marshall at Massachusetts Historical Society
I talk with Stephanie Bastek of American Scholar’s “Smarty Pants” about the historical use of children’s literature to teach about racism, the tension of being a pacifist supporter of the Civil War, and how I justify writing a biography about someone who didn’t want to be a hero.
The incomparable Chris Lydon–who taught me everything I know about radio– and I recorded this interview about Lydia Maria Child and her Boston roots at the Harvard Book Store in November.
Former US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer and I talk about Lydia Maria Child’s passion for justice and sense of her own unfinished business at the end of her life.
Friday Power Lunch with Network NOVA
I join the powerful women at Network NOVA and two wonderful Gen-Z activists for a conversation about history and change.
Monte and I talk about radical abolitionism, beet sugar, and the irony of fighting for racial justice your whole life but only being famous for writing “Over the River and Through the Wood.”
Host Nick Charlie Key and I talk about finding political principles scattered among recipes in Child’s Frugal Housewife and how growing beets can be political too.
The wonderful Kelly Therese Pollock and I discuss why Lydia Maria Child remains unsung and why her example of earning with one hand and giving with another continues to be an important lesson for activists today. Features an adorable reading of “Over the River” by Kelly’s son.
Interview with Robert Harrison about Child’s philosophical claims and influences, the love of country that inspired her activism, and her hope, as a “declarative American,” that that country would someday live up to its promise.
Interview with Jennifer Borgioli Binis about Lydia Maria Child’s complicated life, the ways she sought and used the power accessible to her, and the choices she made as a well-educated white woman with a fierce commitment to social justice.
Professor Buzzkill and I bust some myths about the abolitionist movement, Lydia Maria Child’s role in it, and who the real Mrs. Mason in Child’s viral pamphlet about John Brown’s raid was (hat tip to J.C. Hallman!).
Hosts Allie Bayne and Katie Greenwood ask great questions about Lydia Maria Child AND we concoct a recipe for an LMC-themed cocktail that includes–what else?–beet juice!
Wayland First Parish and Museum and Historical Society
In honor of Wayland–where Child lived her last two decades and where she is buried– I tell the story of Child’s complicated relationship with her husband and the happiness they found in Wayland, where he ultimately died in her arms.
Jennifer Skoog asks very thoughtful questions about the difficulties of being an activist and the hope and discouragement that come with looking to previous crusaders for justice when confronting our own present.
Conversation with Linda Hirshman and dann j. Broyld, sponsored by the Mark Twain House and Museum and the Amistad Center
Interview about Lydia Maria Child on New Books Network podcast “How to Be Wrong” with John Kaag and John Traphagan, including a discussion of what she, and I, have gotten wrong and why.
I speak with Lee Wright and Carrie Lund about Black abolitionist David Walker, Lydia Maria Child’s anti-slavery activism, and the challenges of staying in love with an incompetent husband.
Interview with Chris Fournier, host of “Unscripted” radio show on Valley Free Radio
We talk about the Childs’ sugar beet experiment in Northampton, vacationing Southerners and people they enslaved, and how Mainers really feel about Massachusetts.
Interview with Michael Schur, creator of NBC’s “The Good Place,” and William Jackson Harper, who plays Chidi, at WBUR’s CitySpace.
Interview with Michael Schur about his book “How to Be Perfect,” at WBUR’s CitySpace.
What can we learn from nineteenth-century antislavery abolitionists like Lydia Maria Child about abolitionist movements now?
On Christopher Lydon’s program celebrating the 200th birthday of Henry David Thoreau, I talk about Lydia Maria Child’s connection to Thoreau’s generation of writers, including her more radical antislavery politics. We talk particularly about her spat with Governor Henry Wise of Virginia over John Brown’s raid, which went the nineteenth-century equivalent of viral. Here is a transcript of the interview.
Global Justice, Local Focus (Faculty Panel, Colby College)
At an inauguration event for Colby’s president David Greene, I talk about what art can tell us about national collective responsibility, especially as regards Native Americans in Maine.