#19forthe19th: Women Abolitionists

Fittingly, the US National Archives Instagram Challenge in honor of the centennial of the 19th Amendment has assigned the theme of Women Abolitionists to fall on June 19th, Juneteenth, the day that remaining enslaved people were emancipated in the state of Texas in 1865 after the end of the Civil War. The celebration of freedom on Juneteenth has spread across the United States.

The long road to freedom and the abolition of slavery was paved by many people working towards that goal, including men and women, black and white, Northerners & Southerners.

Today I want to focus on a few women abolitionists and their roles in the movement.

Many African American abolitionists were former slaves, who had either gained freedom through “official” means (were emancipated by those who enslaved them) or had escaped slavery. Free blacks in the north were often part of the abolitionist movement as well.

Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery in Edenton, North Carolina in 1813. She is most well-known as the author of a series of newspaper articles later turned book entitled Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl which was a memoir of her life in slavery. The book was published in 1861 and is one of the earliest accounts of the struggles women especially faced when enslaved including sexual harassment and abuse and roles as enslaved mothers without legal rights to their own children. Harriet escaped into hiding in 1835 and then in 1842 was able to flee to the North. She became involved in the American Anti-Slavery Society, giving talks to support the cause and raise money. Her later memoir was also used to raise awareness, encourage the Civil War to be rightfully seen as a war against slavery by Union backers, and to especially appeal to white women by focusing on how slavery impacted black women’s ability to remain chaste and to be good mothers. During and after the war, Jacobs worked with fleeing refugees, and former slaves helping to provide food, shelter, etc. in the Washington, D.C. area where she lived the rest of her life.

Whites who were involved in the abolitionist movement were often members of liberal religious groups, such as the Quakers, which saw all souls as equal. White women, especially those of middle and upper classes had more ability to be involved in the movement than black women owing to being allowed more education, more freedom of movement, and access to resources and financing that allowed them to concentrate their time on the effort. Many northern abolitionists are well known such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony, and Harriet Beecher Stowe and many went on to also be prominent in the women’s suffrage movement.

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The false-bottom wagon is now kept at Mendenhall Homeplace.

Southern white women abolitionists are less often spoken about. One such woman was Abigail Stanley. She and her husband, who were part of a Quaker community in Guilford County, made their home part of the Underground Railroad and owned a wagon with a false bottom that they would use to help enslaved people escape. When many Quakers left the state as the debate over slavery grew increasingly heated, Abigail and her husband Joshua remained in North Carolina. Abigail petitioned the North Carolina legislature in 1838 to abolish slavery and worked to that end through her participation in the Underground Railroad and her writings.

Check out the hashtag #19forthe19th and #rightfullyhers to see more posts about women abolitionists and to follow along with the US National Archives challenge.

The full text of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs is available through the University of North Carolina’s Documenting the American South here: https://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/jacobs/jacobs.html 

Book Review: Still Me

Still Me by Jojo Moyes

Been awhile since I updated on my books to read this year. Since I wrote about The Art of Racing in the Rain, I have started several books and finished one. None of these books were on my original list because, as I stated when I made the list, I have a book buying problem in that I buy books and then it takes me awhile to read them. This of course leads to a whole list of books that I own but have not yet read. I started to read Anna Faris’ Unqualified and Molly’s Game by Molly Bloom, but it is Jojo Moyes’ Still Me that I have completed.

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Still Me is the third book in a series by Moyes that began with Me Before You, the novel behind the movie starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin. All three books follow Louisa Clark, a young woman from a working class English family whose world is thrown open and upside down by a young quadriplegic man whose caretaker she becomes. Not to spoil the first book, but the second two follow Louisa as she deals with the loss of Will and ultimately finds herself.

Still Me specifically follows Louisa to New York City where she is taking a job as a personal assistant in a wealthy family. She leaves new boyfriend Sam behind in England and they struggle with the long distance relationship as Louisa struggles to find her role as an assistant surrounded by affluence.

The book’s theme revolves around finding a place in the world and being caught between worlds as both Louisa and her employer’s wife, Agnes, find themselves struggling between two worlds, two lives, and two identities. Agnes, an immigrant who worked as a masseuse before meeting and falling in love with her husband, struggles to fit in at the many charity benefits and events she must attend with her husband, whose ex-wife is often in attendance as well. She also harbors a secret that leads to mood swings and depression.

Louisa’s friendship with Ashok, her employers’ building door man, and his wife Meena, opens her eyes to the other side of New York, away from the wealthy bubble she had been exposed to. She helps them with their protest to save a library in Washington Heights that serves the diverse community. This story line again explores the concept of being caught between two worlds as both Louisa and Ashok work for the wealthy but reside in a different world.

Louisa misses Sam and her family, but finds herself growing and blossoming in the Big Apple. When Agnes’ secret finally catches up to her it is Louisa who initially must take the fall and she loses her job and thus housing and must quickly make new arrangements; however, it is this seemingly bad break that leads to Louisa finding her real passion.

Louisa’s family back home also work through transitions and changes and finding new roles after loss.

I’m being somewhat vague as not to spoil the book, which was a wonderfully fun read. Louisa Clark’s character is complex and multi-dimensional. I would recommend the entire series of books, with each taking on difficult subjects from assisted suicide to dealing with grief and depression, to estranged families, coming out, class differences, immigration, and more, but doing it with ease and grace, without feeling forced.