March 10, 2013, marks the centennial of Harriet Tubman’s death. Tubman, a runaway slave born in 1822, became the most famous “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, the secret network of safe houses used by runaway slaves to escape to freedom. To mark the anniversary of Tubman’s death and to celebrate Women’s History Month, we present 12 women abolitionists who may not get enough credit for their work in the anti-slavery moment or who aren’t as well known.
Anthony's fight for women's rights is well-known, but what may not be widely known is that she was a key player in the abolitionist movement as well. In 1856 she joined the American Anti-Slavery Society, an organization co-founded by prominent abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. She often drew parallels between the rights of women and African Americans, once asking at a women's convention in 1859, "Where, under our Declaration of Independence, does the Saxon man get his power to deprive all women and Negroes of their inalienable rights?"
Pleasant was an abolitionist and entrepreneur who was known as the "mother of civil rights" for her attempts to desegregate San Francisco streetcars in the 1860s. At one point she was considered the richest black woman in America, and she used her considerable wealth to support efforts to end slavery.
The Grimké sisters were the privileged daughters of a South Carolina judge who was a proponent of slavery. But after witnessing the horrors of slavery firsthand on their family's plantation, the sisters became outspoken advocates in the anti-slavery movement. In 1838 they went to the Massachusetts Legislature to discuss African-American rights, becoming the first women ever to address a state legislature.
The black Salem, Mass., native was a well-known anti-slavery lecturer who spoke so eloquently about the horrors of slavery that she was sent to England in 1859 by the American Anti-Slavery Society. When the Civil War begin in 1861, and with England considering siding with the Confederacy because of its need for cotton, Remond was there to remind the Brits that ending slavery was more important than their economic interest.
Stewart was a lecturer and author who first came to prominence writing for William Lloyd Garrison's newspaper, the Liberator. She would become one of the first American women to speak to a mixed crowd of men and women, which was considered sacrilegious at the time. She would also become the first African-American woman to give public speeches about abolitionism and women's rights, especially black women's rights.
The daughters of Quaker parents grew up opposing slavery, since Quakers viewed slavery as evil. Lucretia, the older sister, founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, an integrated organization dedicated to ending slavery and racism. Martha, who lived in Auburn, N.Y., made her home part of the Underground Railroad, where she would harbor runaway slaves on their way to freedom, and she became friends with Harriet Tubman. The sisters were also active in the women's rights movement.
Webster risked life and limb to shepherd slaves to the Underground Railroad. While in Lexington, Ky., she hid a slave boy under her carriage seat with his parents, covered in flour, while riding above, in an attempt to get them to Ohio. Webster would eventually be arrested and convicted. But this didn't end her anti-slavery efforts. She continued to help slaves escape Kentucky until the townspeople delivered an ultimatum: Unless she stopped helping slaves escape, they would kill her livestock and burn down her home. This threat, along with days in a freezing jail cell, forced her to move to Indiana.
Child was an author, a women's rights advocate and a staunch abolitionist who believed that ending slavery needed to come before women could make progress toward equality. Her 1833 book, An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans, called for the immediate emancipation of slaves without compensation for slave owners. The book caused such an uproar that sales of her previous books plummeted and publishers rejected any other works. No matter — Child kept writing anti-slavery essays and supporting the abolitionist cause.
Chapman, along with her sisters, formed the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society because they believed that slavery was a violation of God's law. She stood up to angry pro-slavery mobs and faced public ridicule for her anti-slavery activities. She was also a prolific writer who penned the anti-slavery tract "How Can I Help to Abolish Slavery?" in 1855.
Harper was a writer and poet who used her literary gifts to speak out against slavery, racism and classism. Her poem "Bury Me in a Free Land" become one of her most famous works. At 67 years old, she became one of the first African-American women to publish a novel, Iola Leroy.