Preface and Acknowledgments
'*'
For half a century Lydia Maria Child (1802-80) was a household name in America.
The famous antislavery agitator William Lloyd Garrison hailed her as "the first woman
in the republic." The Radical Republican Senator Charles Sumner credited her with
inspiring his career as an advocate of racial equality and sought her advice on Recon-
struction policy. Samuel Jackson, an Mrican American correspondent of Garrison's
newspaper,
The Liberator,
proposed enshrining her alongside John Brown in the pan-
theon of his people's white benefactors. The suffragist leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton
cited Child's encylopaedic
History of the Condition of Women
(1835) as an invaluable
resource for feminists in their battle against patriarchal ideology. The Transcendental-
ist theologian Theodore Parker pronounced her monumental
Progress of Religious Ideas
(1855) "the
book of the age; and written by a
woman!"
A newspaperman ranked her
popular weekly column of the 1840s, "Letters from New-York," "almost at the head of
journalism in America .... " Edgar Allan Poe praised her novel
Philothea
(1836) as "an
honor to our country, and a signal triumph for our countrywomen." The
National Anti-
Slavery Standard
proclaimed her
Romance of the Republic
(1867) "one of the most thrill-
ing books ... ever written, involving the rights of the colored people - not excepting
Uncle Tom's Cabin." And Child's earliest biographer, the abolitionist Thomas Went-
worth Higginson, converted by her 1833
Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans
Called Africans,
paid tribute to it as the "ablest" and most comprehensive antislavery
book "ever printed in America." Tracing her "formative influence" on the activists of
his generation back to the "intellectual provision" she had furnished them in their
youth, he reminisced:
"In
those days she seemed to supply a sufficient literature for any
family through her own unaided pen. Thence came novels for the parlor, cookery
books for the kitchen, and the 'Juvenile Miscellany' for the nursery."!
Secure though her reputation seemed in the wake of the Civil War, Child was erased
from history when the backlash against Reconstruction that began even before her
death destroyed almost everything she had fought for. She survived in public memory
only through a children's Thanksgiving song whose authorship none but specialists
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