A side note on Harriet Jacobs’ editor

In class this week, we briefly talked about Harriet Jacobs’ circle of contacts once she was in New England and the fact that almost all of them were women. I thought at the time that any one of these women would be worth finding out more about, as they were writing, publishing, and being activists and community leaders at a time when women generally did not participate in the working world. So I thought I would write a bit about Lydia Maria Child, the original editor of Jacobs’ narrative and the woman who wrote the second introductory piece for the book. In finding out more about Child’s life, it was interesting to see that her involvement with Jacobs’ book is almost a footnote to her own life and her other accomplishments are many.

Child, as we know, lived in Boston and was an activist in the abolitionist movement there. She also was opposed to American expansionist policies and an outspoken voice for Native American (then Indian) rights and women’s rights. She began her activism surrounding women’s rights, but took to advocating for abolition as she believed that nothing would be done about women’s rights until slavery was abolished. According to that great, online resource Wikipedia:

“In 1833 her book An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans was published. It argued in favor of the immediate emancipation of the slaves without compensation to slaveholders, and she is sometimes said to have been the first white person to have written a book in support of this policy.”

Child also wrote a novel which was quite scandalous at the time, entitled Hobomok: A Tale of Early Times, which depicted the romance between a white woman and a Native American man. Interestingly, Child published her book anonymously, using only the term “an American” to identify its author. This effort aside, she was a successful writer, publishing many books and pamphlets about race, gender and American domestic life. Her pamphlets and speeches on behalf of Native Americans were integral to the beginnings of somewhat more favorable government policies in Indian affairs.

Because of Child’s dual interests in women’s rights and the rights of African and Native Americans, she “dealt with issues of both male dominance and white supremacy in some of her stories.”

One minor aside about Jacobs as well: Child’s family– her father and her five siblings– lived in Medford , MA. Her father was a baker who was apparently quite famous for his “Medford Crackers.” Seems crackers were quite the thing to bake in both the North and the South, as we read that Jacobs’ grandmother had a good reputation for the ones she made as well.

I realize this is all a diversion from the Jacobs story, and I don’t mean to take anything away from the important discussion of direct accounts of America’s slave history, but I was curious about the intelligent and courageous women who offered Jacobs assistance in the editing and publication of her book.

If you would like to read more, here are a couple of “lite sites”:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lydia_Maria_Child and


One Response to “A side note on Harriet Jacobs’ editor”

  1. Richards says:

    Even as we momentarily detour out of the South, Kathleen has nicely reminded us of the importance of Lydia Maria Child, who is finally getting her due as a major literary figure of the antebellum period. For the longest time, it was just poor ol’ lonely Emily Dickinson, the kangaroo among the beauty of Emerson, Whitman, and other guys; then feminist canon reformation brought in Stowe and Jacobs. But within the last fifteen years, a great deal of attention has been rightly given to Child. (A major critical figure here–a parallel to Yellin with Jacobs–is Carolyn Karcher, who edited A Lydia Maria Child Reader (Duke University Press, 1997) and wrote The First Woman in the Republic: A Cultural Biography of Lydia Maria Child (Duke University Press, 1998).) And, as Kathleen nods to, for those of you who like your sex a little freaky as far as racial combinations, see Child’s novel Hobomok, where a white woman *chooses* the hot male Indian for some sumpin-sumpin in the woods.