UU History Corner: Lydia Maria Child

Lydia Maria Child (1802- 1880) – abolitionist.

Lydia Maria Child was brought up in Medford, Massachusetts in the Calvinist First Parish Church and went to local schools. Her brother went to Harvard and became a Unitarian minister, but like most women of the time Child was not allowed advanced schooling and was largely self-educated. After the death of her mother in 1812 she lived for a while with a sister in Maine and became interested in Native Americans. After returning to Boston she wrote Hobomok: A Tale of Early Times which was the first historical novel published in the United States and was sympathetic to native Americans. She wrote other novels and was the editor of The Juvenile Miscellany, a children’s magazine. Child was drawn to the sermons of William Ellery Channing, but was frustrated by his failure to embrace the cause of abolition. She found Unitarianism “a mere half-way house, where spiritual travelers find themselves well accommodated for the night, but where they grow weary of spending the day.”

Child married David Child in 1828. David Child was a lawyer whose high ideals led him to support many good but impractical causes. He was heavily in debt and Lydia Maria Child was the more reliable breadwinner throughout the marriage. Her book The Frugal Housewife (written from experience) was popular and helped support the family. She wrote five volumes for The Ladies Family Library, a series written for middle class women.

William Lloyd Garrison drew her into active work for abolition. In 1831 she wrote An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans, knowing at the time that it would be unpopular and cost her sales of her other publications. She also lost her editorial position with The Juvenile Miscellany due to her public stance against slavery. She was the editor of the  National Anti-Slavery Standard from 1841 to 1843. She was strongly supportive of John Brown’s raid on the Harper’s Ferry Arsenal and offered to come and nurse him. During the Civil War she gathered supplies for slaves who had escaped to the North. She wrote a reading primer for former slaves called The Freedmen’s Book. After the war she shifted her energies to suffrage and the rights of Native Americans.

She joined the Free Religious Association (founded in 1867 by a group pf Unitarians) finding it suited her religious views better than traditional churches (including Unitarian churches). In 1878 she published a book of quotations from the world’s religions Aspirations of the World, her motive, “to do all I can to enlarge and strengthen the hand of human brotherhood.”

Adapted from an article by Joan Goodwin in the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography, UUA website.

Thank you to Vicki Clabaugh and Kate O’Hare for curating this for us each week!