Women against Slavery: The British Campaigns, 1780-1870

Women against Slavery: The British Campaigns, 1780-1870

Women against Slavery: The British Campaigns, 1780-1870

Women against Slavery: The British Campaigns, 1780-1870

Synopsis

This comprehensive study of women anti-slavery campaigners fills a serious gap in abolitionist history. Covering all stages of the campaign, Women Against Slavery uses hitherto neglected sources to build up a vivid picture of the lives, words and actions of the women who were involved, and their distinctive contribution to the abolitionist movement. It looks at the way women's participation influenced the organisation, activities, policy and ideology of the campaign, and analyses the impact of female activism on women's own attitudes to their social roles, and their participation in public life. Exploring the vital role played by gender in shaping the movement as a whole, this book makes an important contribution to the debate on 'race' and gender.

Excerpt

On 20 September 1840 anti-slavery campaigner Anne Knight wrote to her friend Lucy Townsend, who fifteen years before had founded the first women's anti-slavery society in Britain. Anne called on Lucy to put herself forward for inclusion in the commemorative group portrait of the World Anti-Slavery Convention which had been held in London that June:

My dear long silent friend my slave benefactress Not now would I trouble thy retirement but I am very anxious that the historical picture now in hand of Haydon should not be performed without the chief lady of the history being there…in justice to history and posterity the person who established woman agency…has as much right to be there as Thomas Clarkson himself, nay perhaps more, his achievement was in the slave trade; thine was slavery itself the pervading movement the heart-stirring the still small voice….

In the event Lucy Townsend was not included in the oil painting which Benjamin Robert Haydon produced, and I have been unable to locate any surviving image of the woman who initiated women's anti-slavery organisations in Britain. Nevertheless Haydon's group portrait (Figure 1) did include a number of women campaigners. The bonneted figure of Mary Clarkson, accorded a place on the platform by virtue of her relationship to Convention president Thomas Clarkson, is visible in the left foreground of the picture. Other women, confined to the visitor's gallery, are mostly represented by Haydon as tiny unidentifiable figures in the background. However, because of his desire to make individual portraits of some of the women present, Haydon brought forward a group along the right-hand side of the picture, separated from the men by an almost invisible red barrier. In the key to the painting they are identified as follows: Mrs Tredgold and Mrs John Beaumont, the wives of two leading male activists; leading local women campaigners Mary Anne Rawson of Sheffield, Elizabeth Pease of . . .

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