Part 1: 1450-1750
Part 2: 1750-1805
Part 3: 1791-1831
<---Part 4: 1831-1865

Narrative | Resource Bank | Teacher's Guide

People & Events
Other Abolitionists
1831 - 1865

Resource Bank Contents

The abolitionist movement was composed of thousands of people who devoted significant portions of their lives to ending slavery. Its leadership was not confined to famous figures such as David Walker, Harriet Tubman, William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. Many others made significant contributions to the abolitionist crusade. Here are a few examples.

MARIA STEWART (1803-1879)

Maria Stewart, a free-born African American woman, was the first American-born woman of any color to deliver a series of public lectures. Fired by political and religious zeal, Stewart began lecturing and writing pamphlets in 1831. She felt driven to better the lives of her fellow African Americans, and lectured on a whole range of topics of vital importance to the black community, including abolition, equal rights, colonization, educational opportunities, and racial pride and unity. She advocated black self-determination and independence from whites. In this sense she was one of the most radical spokespersons of her time.

Her career as a public speaker was cut short, however. There was strong opposition to women lecturing in public, even from some members of the black community. Stewart weathered the criticism valiantly for about a year, but then decided to cease lecturing. Instead, she launched a long and distinguished career as an educator. Stewart taught in New York and eventually opened two schools for free African American children in Washington, D.C.


Lydia Maria Child was a Massachusetts-born white woman who was a prolific anti-slavery writer and activist. She published numerous works, including essays, articles, letters, and novels, and edited The Anti-Slavery Standard and a children's magazine. Through her work she advocated racial and gender equality, as well as the abolition of slavery. She participated in numerous anti-slavery organizations and worked to promote the purchase of items produced by free labor as an alternative to that produced by slave labor. She also edited Harriet Jacobs' narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

During her lifetime Child promoted interracial marriage as a solution to racial inequality and advocated on behalf of Native Americans. During Reconstruction she worked to promote equality, suffrage and land reform for freedpeople and to advance women's rights.


Mary Ann Shadd was born to free African American parents who were active abolitionists. She began teaching at the age of sixteen, but when the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was passed, she joined the waves of black migrants moving to Canada. In 1853 in Canada, she established the Provincial Freeman, the first newspaper founded by a black woman anywhere in North America. In her paper and in pamphlets, Shadd wrote about the anti-slavery movement. In blunt, scathing language she denounced those whom she felt were damaging the cause with their actions: racist white abolitionists, anti-slavery agents who "begged" for donations, and others. She promoted black self-sufficiency and immigration to Canada.

In 1854 Shadd returned to the United States to conduct an anti-slavery lecture tour. By this time the pressure against women speaking in public, though still prevalent, was less severe than it had been in Maria Stewart's day. The following year, Shadd applied for admittance to the National Negro Convention, which traditionally did not accept women. Frederick Douglass was one of those who argued that she should be allowed to participate, and she was admitted.

By 1856, Shadd was back in Canada, where she married Thomas F. Cary. During the Civil War she became a Union army recruiting officer and organized a black regiment. Following the war, she attended Howard University law school, and in 1870 became the first black woman lawyer in the United States. Shadd Cary then challenged the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee for the right of suffrage, and became one of the few women to vote during Reconstruction. She continued to fight for women's rights until her death in 1893.

WILLIAM STILL (1821-1902)

William Still was born in New Jersey, the son of former slaves. In 1847 he married Letitia George, and began working in the office of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery. He was soon assisting fugitive slaves on their flight north, and when Philadelphia abolitionists organized a vigilance committee in response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, they named Still as its chairman. In addition to harboring countless fugitives, Still also wrote a chronicle entitled The Underground Railroad. In it he countered the image fostered by many white abolitionists of the helpless, dependent runaway. He provided countless examples of courageous, self-reliant fugitives making their own way toward freedom.

Still worked throughout his life for African American equality. In 1859 he led an effort to end discrimination in Philadelphia railroad cars; eight years later the campaign was successful. He also participated in numerous organizations which advanced black causes, including educational institutions and the Freedmen's Aid Commission.


Frances Ellen Watkins was the best-known and most respected nineteenth century African American poet and novelist. She was also a powerful abolitionist and tireless community activist.

Watkins was born into a free black family in Baltimore, but was orphaned and raised by relatives. In 1850 she moved to Ohio, where she became the first female faculty member of Union Seminary (later to become Wilberforce University).

In 1853 Watkins moved to Philadelphia to work as an abolitionist. She lived with William Still and his family, helping them with their work in the Underground Railroad movement. She then became an anti-slavery lecturer, travelling throughout New England, southern Canada, and as far west as Michigan and Ohio. During this time she also published her poetry, and her reputation as a gifted lecturer and poet grew. In 1854 she published Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects, which sold over 10,000 copies in three years. Through her writing and lecturing, Watkins affirmed her commitment to both Christian integrity and non-violent direct political action.

In 1860 Watkins married Fenton Harper, and family commitments removed her briefly from public life. But upon Fenton's death in 1864, Watkins Harper returned to the lecture circuit. She became a pivotal force in the Reconstruction effort, and continued to work for social equality for African Americans and for women. Watkins Harper was a founder of the American Woman Suffrage Association and the National Association of Colored Women, and a leader in other influential groups. She also continued to be a prolific writer, publishing numerous novels, essays, and books of poetry.

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Related Entries:
David Walker
William Lloyd Garrison
Henry Highland Garnet
Frederick Douglass
Harriet Tubman

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