Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Slavery and the Making of AmericaPhoto of African-American children reading
Time and Place Slave Memories Resources The Slave Experience

The Slave Experience: Education, Arts, & Culture
Intro Historical Overview Character Spotlight Music in Slave Life Personal Narratives Original Docs
Character Spotlight Education, Arts, & Culture

Photo of actor portraying Maria Stewart in SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA.
Photo of actor portraying Maria Stewart
Maria Stewart (1803-1879)

Born free in Boston, Maria Stewart was orphaned at five years old and hired out as a domestic. As a young woman, Maria met David Walker, author of AN APPEAL TO THE COLORED PEOPLE OF THE WORLD, a controversial and well-read treatise against slavery. After Walker's death in 1830, Maria carried on his legacy. She wrote articles for THE LIBERATOR, an abolitionist newspaper, published anti-slavery tracts, and became the first American woman to speak in public.

Photo of dramatic re-enactment of Maria Stewart in SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA.
Photo of Maria Stewart from the dramatic re-enactment
Maria, who was largely self-taught, stressed the importance of morality and self-improvement to her audiences. In addition to religion, she insisted that blacks pursue education. When "knowledge would begin to flow," she wrote, "the chains of slavery and ignorance would melt like wax before flames." Maria went on to become a public school teacher in New York and the founder of schools in Baltimore and D.C. Her dedication to fighting black oppression through teaching, writing, and speaking was relentless.

Illustrated headline of THE LIBERATOR newspaper.

Photo of two former slave women reading from a book.
In October 1831, Maria Stewart published "Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality: The Sure Foundation on Which We Must Build" in THE LIBERATOR. Although education is not mentioned explicitly in this title, it was undeniably one of Stewart's keystones for creating liberty and equality. In her speech she called on mothers to fulfill their responsibilities towards their children. She demands:

You can have them taught in the rudiments of useful knowledge; and then you can have private teachers who will instruct them in the higher branches; and their intelligence will become greater than ours, and their children will attain to higher advantages, and their children still higher; and then, though we are dead, our works shall live ...
Find out more about Stewart's beliefs and philosophies in MARIA W. STEWART: AMERICA'S FIRST BLACK WOMAN POLITICAL WRITER by Marilyn Richardson (Indiana UP, 1987)

email this page to a friend
About the Series K-12 Learning Feedback Support PBS