- Women, Dissent, and Anti-Slavery in Britain and America, 1790–1865 ed. by Elizabeth J. Clapp, Julie Roy Jeffrey
While much solid scholarship has demonstrated the role Quaker women played in the abolition of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, research on the roles of dissenting women has been less prolific. Elizabeth J. Clapp and Julie Roy Jeffrey fill that gap with this fine collection. Clapp and Jeffrey’s purpose is to demonstrate “how religious ideas, values, and practices [of dissenters] contributed to female anti-slavery campaigns” (2) [End Page 208] within Britain and America. The collection’s introduction, by Clapp, provides a concise overview of the history of the slave trade, slavery, and the Puritan and dissenting traditions. Here, Clapp argues that within dissenting religious groups, women in Britain and America could expand their roles to include activities such as benevolent reform work (16). It was these “church networks” that allowed religious women to promote anti-slavery and eventually participate in “the public arena” (17). The collection demonstrates how the dissenting traditions allowed women to participate in anti-slavery activism, what the gendered interpretations of religious values and practices were, and how these traditions gave women more (or less) space for activism. Essentially, this text argues that “for these women, their anti-slavery commitment was integral to their religious faith” (19).
David Turley’s chapter is a second introduction and provides a detailed overview of anti-slavery narratives and texts, focusing on the history of women in the movement. While Turley provides a solid overview of white women abolitionists and their textual productions, he includes only one short paragraph on black women’s texts, specifically mentioning Charlotte Forten and Francis Ellen Watkins Harper.
Timothy Whelan’s chapter is the first of three fascinating and detailed individual recovery pieces. His focus is on Martha Gurney, a prominent British Baptist printer, “the only woman” of “approximately sixty-five printers and booksellers in London who printed or sold at least one work related to the slave-trade controversy in the 1780s and ’90s” (45). Gurney’s life shows that British women had diverse experiences in anti-slavery work and that Baptists in Britain played prominent roles in abolition. Gurney sprang to fame when she began selling William Fox’s pamphlets and eventually became part of the campaign to boycott slave-produced sugar, which led to the “final dissolution” of slavery in the British empire (65).
Alison Twells’s chapter also recovers the roles of specific British women, specifically Baptists and Congregationalists, whose parts in the anti-slavery movement “have received scant attention by historians” (68). Twells’s “essay explores the commitment to obeying God before man in the context of two local dissenting cultures in Britain”—those of the Rawson women, Congregationalists in urban northern England, and the Saffery and Whitaker women, Baptists in rural western England (69). In particular, Twells focuses on the manifestation of piety in these women’s writings that will “yield a deeper understanding of the contributions of evangelical nonconformist women” in the anti-slavery movement (70). The texts that Twells explores are family letters, which show the home or domestic space as not “simply a ‘private’ space but as intimately connected with chapel, missionary, and wider reform communities” (86).
Clare Midgley recovers the “dissenting voice” of Elizabeth Heyrick, whose pamphlet Immediate, Not Gradual Abolition (1824) was known for “radicalizing the transatlantic anti-slavery movement” (89). Her tract eventually influenced [End Page 209] American activists Angelina Grimké and William Lloyd Garrison. Heyrick herself was part of the group of dissenting women in Britain who were “less willing to conform to restrictive notions of female roles” and engaged in the “public sphere and political issues” through correspondence with other like-minded women, such as Anna Letitia Barbauld (93).
Carol Lasser’s chapter serves as a transatlantic bridge by providing a history of British and American women’s exchanges of ideas and goods. Specifically, Lasser examines how dissenting British women’s efforts to curtail the...