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By focusing on male leaders of the abolitionist movement, historians have often overlooked the great grassroots army of women who also fought to eliminate slavery. Here, Julie Roy Jeffrey explores the involvement of ordinary women—black and white—in the most significant reform movement prior to the Civil War. She offers a complex and compelling portrait of antebellum women's activism, tracing its changing contours over time.
For more than three decades, women raised money, carried petitions, created propaganda, sponsored lecture series, circulated newspapers, supported third-party movements, became public lecturers, and assisted fugitive slaves. Indeed, Jeffrey says, theirs was the day-to-day work that helped to keep abolitionism alive. Drawing from letters, diaries, and institutional records, she uses the words of ordinary women to illuminate the meaning of abolitionism in their lives, the rewards and challenges that their commitment provided, and the anguished personal and public steps that abolitionism sometimes demanded they take. Whatever their position on women's rights, argues Jeffrey, their abolitionist activism was a radical step—one that challenged the political and social status quo as well as conventional gender norms.
1. Recruiting Women into the Cause
2. Antislavery Societies: The 1830s
3. Persisting in the Cause: The 1840s and 1850s
4. Women Confront Their Churches and the World of Politics
5. Crisis and Confidence: The 1850s
6. Emancipation at Last
"Flogging American Women"
Page from the 1838 Anti-Slavery Almanac
Cover of the report on the 1854 Boston fair
Illustration from The Liberty Bell, a Boston fair giftbook
Abolitionist meeting of the 1850s
Frances Watkins Harper
Antislavery meeting at Boston's Tremont Temple, 1860
Freedmen's school in Vicksburg, Mississippi