Lydia Maria Child

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Lydia Maria Child
An 1882 engraving of Child.
An 1882 engraving of Child.
Born February 11, 1802
Medford, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died October 20, 1880(1880-10-20) (aged 78)
91 Old Sudbury Road
Wayland, Massachusetts, U.S.
Resting place North Cemetery
Wayland, Massachusetts, U.S.
Occupation abolitionist, women's rights activist, novelist, journalist
Language English
Nationality American
Literary movement Abolitionist, femininsm
Notable works "Over the River and Through the Wood"
Spouse David Lee Child (m. 1828)
Relatives Convers Francis (brother)

Signature L. Maria Child

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

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

Despite these challenges, Child may be most remembered for her poem "Over the River and Through the Wood" about Thanksgiving. 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.

Early life and education[edit]

She was born Lydia Maria Francis in Medford, Massachusetts on February 11, 1802, to Susannah (née Rand) and Convers Francis. 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.

Lydia Maria 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 published it. From this time until her death, she wrote continually.[1]

Francis taught for one year in a seminary in Medford, and in 1824 started a private school in Watertown. In 1826, she founded the Juvenile Miscellany, the first monthly periodical for children published in the United States, and supervised it for eight years.[1]


Abolitionism and women's rights movements[edit]

Child in 1870, reading a book.

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.[1] 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 societies. 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.

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 person 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."[2] 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.[1]

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. 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.[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.[2]

Finally Child decided to leave 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."

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 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' autobiographical novel, 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.

Indians' rights work[edit]

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.[3]

During the 1860s, Child wrote pamphlets on Indian 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.

Personal life[edit]

Child taught school until 1828, when she married Boston lawyer David Lee Child.[4] 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.[5]


Child's friend, Harriet Winslow Sewall, arranged Child's letters for publication after her death. The Liberty ship Lydia M. Child, named after Child, was launched on January 31, 1943, seeing service during World War II.


  • Hobomok: A Tale of Early Times. 1824. 
  • The Rebels, or Boston before the Revolution (1825). 1850 ed., Google books
  • Juvenile Miscellany, a children's periodical (editor, 1826–1834)
  • The First Settlers of New England. 1828. 
  • The Indian Wife. 1828. 
  • The American Frugal Housewife, a book of kitchen, economy and directions (1829; 33rd edition 1855)
  • The Mother's Book (1831), an early American instructional book on child rearing, republished in England and Germany (1831)
  • Coronal. 1931. , a collection of verses
  • The Ladies' Family Library, a series of biographies (5 vols., 1832–1835)
  • The Girl's Own Book. 1833. 
  • Child, Lydia Maria (1833). An Appeal on Behalf of That Class of Americans Called Africans. Boston: Allen & Ticknor. Retrieved November 17, 2013. 
  • The Oasis. 1834. 
  • Philothea. 1836. , a romance of Greece set in the days of Pericles
  • The Family Nurse. 1837. 
  • The Liberty Bell. 1842. , included stories such as The Quadroons
  • Slavery's Pleasant Homes: A Faithful Sketch. 1843. , a short story
  • Letters from New York, written to the Boston Courier (2 vols., 1843–1845)
  • "A Boy's Thanksgiving Day" 1844
  • "Hilda Silfverling, A Fantasy" 1845
  • Flowers for Children (3 vols., 1844–1846)
  • Fact and Fiction. 1846. 
  • Rose Marian and the Flower Fairies. 1850. 
  • The Power of Kindness. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 1851. 
  • The Progress of Religious Ideas through Successive Ages, an ambitious work, showing great diligence, but containing much that is inaccurate (3 vols., New York, 1855)
  • Isaac T. Hopper: A True Life. 1853. 
  • Autumnal Leaves. 1857. 
  • Looking Toward Sunset. 1864. 
  • The Freedmen's Book. 1865. 
  • A Romance of the Republic. 1867. 
  • An appeal for the Indians. 1868. 
  • Aspirations of the World. 1878. 
  • A volume of her letters, with an introduction by John G. Whittier and an appendix by Wendell Phillips, was published after her death (Boston, 1882)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Child, David Lee". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 
  2. ^ a b Samuels, Shirley. The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender and Sentimentality in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford UP, 1992: 64-70.
  3. ^ Samuels, Shirley. The Culture of Sentiment: Race, Gender and Sentimentality in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford UP, 1992: 59.
  4. ^  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Child, Lydia Marie". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  5. ^ Ehrlich, Eugene and Gorton Carruth (New York). The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States. Oxford University Press. p. 63. ISBN 0-19-503186-5.  Check date values in: |date= (help)


  • Baer, Helene Gilbert The Heart is Like Heaven: the life of Lydia Maria Child, 339 pages, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964.
  • Karcher, Carolyn L. The First Woman in the Republic: A Cultural Biography of Lydia Maria Child. Durham: Duke UP, 1994.
  • Harrold, Stanley. American Abolitionists. Essex, England: Pearson Education Limited, 2001.
  • Salerno, Beth A. Sister Societies: Women’s Antislavery Societies in Antebellum America. DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005.
  • Teets- Parzynski, Catherine. “Child, Lydia Maria Francis.” American National Biography Online.
  • "Child, Lydia Maria (Francis)" American Authors 1600–1900. H. W. Wilson Company, NY 1938.
  • WorldCat Accessed March 14, 2008
  • Accessed March 14, 2008
  • "A Boy's Thanksgiving Day." Women's History: Poems by Women. Jone Johnson Lewis, editor. URL: Accessed March 14, 2008

External links[edit]