Building the Future: White Women, Black Education, and Civic Inclusion in Antebellum Ohio
Abstract

This essay traces the origins of the Ohio Ladies’ Education Society, an organization committed to the cause of both radical abolition and African American education in antebellum Ohio. From 1838 to 1848, this organization filed petitions for common school reform, raised funds to support black independent schools, and recruited and compensated teachers who taught in Ohio’s black settlements. This essay argues that the white female leadership of the Ohio Ladies’ Education Society was drawn to the cause of African American education because they envisioned schooling as a route for African Americans to gain citizenship and to experience civic inclusion. These white women abolitionists sought to advance a rival racial ideology whereby schools could fit African Americans for freedom and civic membership. Through their activism, these abolitionists actually redefined the meaning and practice of civic inclusion, specifically, and American citizenship, broadly. The best citizens were learned, moral, and benevolent Christians who participated fully in the civic affairs of a community. This essay reveals how the fight for abolition, African American education, and the civic ideal of building peaceful, egalitarian communities converged in the battleground of the West.


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