Self-educated, Lydia Maria Child showed her independence at the age of eighteen by opening a successful private academy. Upon her mother’s death, her father sent Child to live with her aunt in Maine, separating Child from her brother Convers. In 1821, she rejoined Convers, now a Unitarian minister, in Watertown, Massachusetts, where she began writing. Her first novel, the popular Hobomok (1824), included themes important to all of Child’s writing: advocacy for oppressed races, interracial marriage, and support for Native American self-governance. It was in Watertown that she also founded and taught at her successful private academy.
Image 4.11. Lydia Maria Child
In 1828, she married David Lee Child (1794–1874), an aspiring politician who opposed slavery and president Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policies. Child’s writing on housewifery, as well as stories for children published in The Juvenile Miscellany (1827), focused on subjects deemed suitable for conventional women. Nevertheless, Child took the radical step of using her profits from these publications to support their marriage. Acting against society’s expectations lost her many readers and adversely affected her independent income, particularly when she joined the Abolitionist movement and the American Anti-Slavery Society (1833–1870). She was made a member of the executive committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1839.
Her subsequent writing attested to her Abolitionist beliefs. In 1841, she became the editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard (1840–1870). She published An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans (1833); defended John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry; and published at her own expense The Freedmen’s Book (1865), a collection of biographies of freed slaves from the past, including Toussaint L’Overture and Phillis Wheatley, intended to give strength and courage to living freedmen. Child also wrote of slum conditions in New York and the mistreatment of blacks in that city.
Child’s writing laid bare outrageous injustices with concreteness, clarity, and logic—letting their horrors speak for themselves. In this way, she influenced citizens like Charles Sumner (1811—1874) and Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823—1911) to turn against slavery.