Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook

By Denise D. Knight | Go to book overview

LYDIA MARIA CHILD
(1802-1880)

Hildegard Hoeller


BIOGRAPHY

Lydia Maria Child was born as Lydia Francis on February 11, 1802, as the youngest of five children to Convers Francis and Susannah (Rand) Francis in Medford, Massachusetts. Unlike her brother Convers, who was allowed to study at Harvard, Child never received a formal college education. She visited Miss Swan's Academy in Medford in 1814 but then, a year later, moved to Norridgewock, Maine, to live with her sister. While teaching school, Child mostly educated herself, despite her isolation, by reading classics and corresponding with her brother; she began to live with him in the summer of 1821. In 1824, and within only six weeks, Child wrote her first novel Hobomok, a bold depiction of miscegenation and Puritan society. The same year, she published Evenings in New England and met her future husband, David Lee Child. The next years saw not only her engagement to Child but also an impressive list of publications: among them many short stories, as well as The Rebels in 1825; Juvenile Miscellany, Emily Parker, and The Juvenile Souvenir in 1827; Moral Lessons in Verse ( 1828); and The First Settlers of New England ( 1829). By the end of 1829, when Child published her best-selling The American Frugal Housewife, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison rightly called her "the first woman in the republic." This period of great popularity and success on the literary market was disrupted when Child became an outspoken abolitionist during the early 1830s. As she began to publish abolitionist short stories and finally, in 1833, An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans, subscriptions to her Juvenile Miscellany dropped and forced Child to give up its publication in 1834; one year later, her library privileges at the Boston Athenaeum--which only one other woman had held during her time--were revoked. Contemporary reviewers, even when hailing her precise insight into the problems of slavery,

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