LYDIA MARIA CHILD, 1802-1880
An author and abolitionist, Lydia Maria Child is ironically best known for a poem published in 1844 in Flowers for Children, Volume 2, entitled “The New England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving Day”. Put to music by an unknown composer, we know it as the popular song “Over the River and Through the Woods”. The poem, celebrating the author’s childhood memories of going to Grandfather’s house, was changed over time to Grandmother’s house. At the time of its writing, New England was experiencing much colder temperatures as part of the Little Ice Age, so unlike today, snow was often a Thanksgiving occurrence.
Born in Medford, MA, Lydia Child and her husband began to identify themselves with the anti-slavery cause in 1831 through the writings and personal influence of William Lloyd Garrison. Child, a women's rights activist, 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.
In 1833, Child published the book An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans arguing in favor of the immediate emancipation of the slaves without compensation to slaveholders. Considered the first white woman to have written a book in support of this policy, Child "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." The book was the first anti-slavery work printed in America in book form.
A strong supporter and organizer in anti-slavery societies, Child helped with fundraising efforts to finance the first anti-slavery fair, which abolitionists held in Boston in 1834. In 1839, Child was elected to the executive committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS), and became editor of the society's National Anti-Slavery Standard in 1840. While she was editor, 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. Eventually Child left the National Anti-Slavery Standard, because she refused to promote violence as an acceptable weapon for battling slavery. She continued to write for many newspapers promoting the rights and equality of women but, as a result of her experience with the AASS, did not work again in organized societies or suffrage.