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TheCanadian Review of American Studies, Volume 12, No. 2, Fall 1981 Abolitionism, Women's Rights, Labor Reform and Evangelicalism: TheSearch for Connections David L. Lightner ~tarcus Cunliffe.Chattel Slave1:vand Wage Slm•e1y: The A11!flo-American Context, 1830-1860.Mercer University Lamar ~1emorialLectures No. 22 Athens: University of Georgia Pres~.1979. 128+xix pp. ·½alter M.Merrill,ed. Let the Oppressed Go Free, 1861-1867. Vol. Vof TheLetters of William Lloyd Garrison. Cambridge, Mass.: TheBelknapPress of Harvard University Press, 1979.597 + xxx pp. Lewis Perryand Michael Fellman, eds. Antislave1:vReconsidered: Nall'Perspectiveson the Abolitionists. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UniversityPress, 1979.348 + xvi pp. Thetopic of abolitionism no longer engages histo.rians in quite the way that itdidback in the 1960s when the parallels between the antebellum campaign againstslavery and the modern struggle for civil rights fired the imagination ofa generation of young scholars. 1 Nowadays, historians are tending to approachabolitionism obliquely, less for its own sake than for the light that itthrowsupon other aspects of American social development. Antislave,y Reconsideredis a sampler of recent'research. Its editors, Lewis Perry and MichaelFellman, have collected fourteen essays, most of them appearing herefor the first time, and many of them concerned with the connections betweenabolitionism and such contemporaneous phenomena as evangelicalism ,labor reform and women's rights. With today's women's movement making headlines, the topic of nineteenth -century feminism is now attracting historical attention somewhat comparableto that lavished upon abolitionism a decade ago. Therefore, it comesasno surprise that Antislave1y Reconsidered includes two selections whichexplore the link between abolitionism and feminism. In their respectiveessays ,both Ellen DuBois and Blanche Glassman Hersh begin with the wellknown fact that antislavery women provided the leadership of the antebellumwomen 's rights movement. From that starting point, however, their interpretations take different paths. 226 David L. Lightner Ellen DuBois says that it is wrong to attribute women's consciousness about the oppression of their sex to the impact of the abolition movement. While it is undeniable that feminist rhetoric frequently used the slaven metaphor to describe the status of women, DuBois points out that man,· women's rights leaders exhibited a caste consciousness and a sense ofdi~conten t-what DuBois labels "protofeminism" - prior to and independent of their antislavery involvement. Susan B. Anthony, for example, defended the right of women to speak publicly in New York state teachers' conventions well before her first contact with abolitionists. Therefore, says DuBois. American feminism developed within the context of abolitionism not because involvement in antislavery work taught women that they themselves were oppressed, but rather because such involvement taught them how to build a social movement based upon that perception. As Garrisonian abolitionists. women learned to be critical of institutionalized religion. They masteredthe technique of biblical exegesis and used it against their clerical foes,skillfully matching them verse for verse. Garrisonian women also learned the tactic of agitation, seeking to overcome public indifference by a prolonged process of education.Just as Garrisonians adopted the demand for immediate emancipation as a means of mounting an ideological attack upon white racism, so feminists called for women's suffrage precisely because it wasan extreme demand and therefore a means of forcing public opinion to grapple with the principle of sexual equality. In an essay adapted from her recent book, The Slave,y of Sex. 2 Blanche Glassman Hersh sees these matters differently. For one thing, Hersh doesnot portray the feminists as having learned so much from abolitionism as DuBois would have us believe. On this issue Hersh scores a telling point whenshe describes the liberal religious backgrounds of many of the women who emerged as early advocates of women's rights. Maria Weston Chapman and Lydia Maria Child were Unitarians; Elizabeth Chandler, Lucretia Mott, Angelina and Sarah Grimke and Abby Kelley all were Friends. Womenof Quaker background did not need a Garrison to teach them that, spiritually at least, women were the equals of men. Nor did they have to learn to rebel against clerical authority or fundamentalist interpretation of the scriptures, for the Quaker concept of the inner light made the individual rather than the church the center of moral authority. Hersh does not deny DuBois' assertion that many...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 225-234
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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