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Specimen of Modern Printing Types, No. 844

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Specimen of Modern Printing Types, No. 844

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The image of the supplicant female slave, first introduced in 1826, was so widely reproduced over the next two decades that by 1845, it was offered as a design for printers by the Boston Type Foundry.

Although it is unclear who designed the original emblem, modeled after the famous Wedgewood medallion of a supplicant male slave, it was first used by members of the Ladies Negro's Friend Society of Birmingham, England. In addition to illustrating their First Report (1826) and Second Report, the women sewed the images onto "ornamental workbags" stuffed with antislavery pamphlets, which were then sold or given to influential women. The image attracted a great deal of attention, and was lampooned in a cartoon called "Offended Dignity," published as a broadside in 1830.

The kneeling woman first appeared in print in America in 1830, in the May issue of Benjamin Lundy's The Genius of Universal Emanicipation. Philadelphia poet Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, who directed the "Ladies' Department" of the paper, included a poem called "Kneeling Slave" that centered on the motto, "Am I Not a Woman and a Sister?"

By 1836, the image had been adopted as the emblem of the American antislavery women's movement, and numerous versions of it appeared. It was used as a needlework design, as a decoration on writing paper, and as an illustration for abolitionist books, including Maria Child's 1833 Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans and a number of books for children. Black abolitionists Sarah Mapps Douglass and Sarah Forten are among the many women who drew their own sketches of the figure.

The most important version of the image, one that produced a broad and impassioned response, was published in 1835 as the frontispiece for Child's The Fountain. Rather than the usual motto, the caption read, "Engraved by P. Reason, a Colored Young Man of the City of New York, 1835." Like Phillis Wheatley's portrait by Scipio Moorhead, an enslaved African [link], Reason's design challenged the idea that blacks were incapable of producing creative and artistic work.

Image Credit: Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

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Related Entries:
"Am I Not a Man and a Brother?"
William McLean, "Offended Dignity"
The Douglass family
The Forten women

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