Lydia Maria Child

American abolitionist, author and women's rights activist (1802-1880)

Lydia Maria Child (11 February 18027 July 1880) was an American abolitionist, women's rights activist, opponent of U.S. expansionism, Indian rights activist, novelist, and journalist.

I have lived too long, and observed too much, to be disturbed by the world's mockery.
Woman stock is rising in the market. I shall not live to see women vote, but I'll come and rap on the ballot box.


The government ought not to be invested with power to control the affections, any more than the consciences of citizens.
A man has at least as good a right to choose his wife, as he has to choose his religion.
I think we have reason to thank God for Abraham Lincoln. With all his deficiencies, it must be admitted that he has grown continually.
  • Pillars are fallen at thy feet,
    Fanes quiver in the air,
    A prostrate city is thy seat,
    And thou alone art there.
    • Marius amid the Ruins of Carthage
  • Genius hath electric power
    Which earth can never tame,
    Bright suns may scorch and dark clouds lower,
    Its flash is still the same.
    • Marius amid the Ruins of Carthage
  • England may as well dam up the waters of the Nile with bulrushes as to fetter the step of Freedom, more proud and firm in this youthful land than where she treads the sequestered glens of Scotland, or couches herself among the magnificent mountains of Switzerland.
    • Supposititious Speech of James Otis. The Rebels, Chap. iv
  • I was gravely warned by some of my female acquaintances that no woman could expect to be regarded as a lady after she had written a book.
    • "Concerning Women", Independent, 21 Oct 1869, as quoted in "Extracts from 'Concerning Women'" in A Lydia Maria Child Reader (1997), edited by Carolyn L. Karcher, p 403.


  • Every human being has, like Socrates, an attendant spirit; and wise are they who obey its signals. If it does not always tell us what to do, it always cautions us what not to do.

An Appeal on Behalf of That Class of Americans Called Africans (1833)

An Appeal on Behalf of That Class of Americans Called Africans (1833), Allen & Ticknor, Boston, Massachusetts
  • Neither the planters nor the Colonization Society, seem to ask what right we have to remove people from the places where they have been born and brought up, —where they have a home, which, however miserable, is still their home, —and where their relatives and acquaintances all reside. Africa is no more their native country than England is ours, —nay, it is less so, because there is no community of language or habits; —besides, we cannot say to them, as Gilpin said to his horse, "'Twas for your pleasure you came here, you shall go back for mine."
  • We first crush people to the earth, and then claim the right of trampling on them forever, because they are prostrate.
  • They [the slaves] have stabbed themselves for freedom—jumped into the waves for freedom—starved for freedom—fought like very tigers for freedom! But they have been hung, and burned, and shot—and their tyrants have been their historians!
  • In the first place, an unjust law exists in this Commonwealth, by which marriages between persons of different color is pronounced illegal. I am perfectly aware of the gross ridicule to which I may subject myself by alluding to this particular; but I have lived too long, and observed too much, to be disturbed by the world's mockery.
  • In the first place, the government ought not to be invested with power to control the affections, any more than the consciences of citizens. A man has at least as good a right to choose his wife, as he has to choose his religion. His taste may not suit his neighbors; but so long as his deportment is correct, they have no right to interfere with his concerns.
  • I do not know how the affair at Canterbury is generally considered; but I have heard individuals of all parties and all opinions speak of it—and never without merriment or indignation. Fifty years hence, the black laws of Connecticut will be a greater source of amusement to the antiquarian, than her famous blue laws.


  • I will work in my own way, according to the light that is in me.
    • Letter to Ellis Gray Loring (1843).
  • Over the river, and through the wood,
    To grandfather's house we go;
    The horse knows the way,
    To carry the sleigh,
    Through the white and drifted snow.

Letters from New York (1843)

  • Not in vain is Ireland pouring itself all over the earth. Divine Providence has a mission for her children to fulfill; though a mission unrecognized by political economists. There is ever a moral balance preserved in the universe, like the vibrations of the pendulum. The Irish, with their glowing hearts and reverent credulity, are needed in this cold age of intellect and skepticism.
  • Flowers have spoken to me more than I can tell in written words. They are the hieroglyphics of angels, loved by all men for the beauty of the character, though few can decypher even fragments of their meaning.
  • None speak of the bravery, the might, or the intellect of Jesus; but the devil is always imagined as a being of acute intellect, political cunning, and the fiercest courage. These universal and instinctive tendencies of the human mind reveal much.
  • The nearer society approaches to divine order, the less separation will there be in the characters, duties, and pursuits of men and women. Women will not become less gentle and graceful, but men will become more so. Women will not neglect the care and education of their children, but men will find themselves ennobled and refined by sharing those duties with them; and will receive, in return, co-operation and sympathy in the discharge of various other duties, now deemed inappropriate to women. The more women become rational companions, partners in business and in thought, as well as in affection and amusement, the more highly will men appreciate home.
  • Home—that blessed word, which opens to the human heart the most perfect glimpse of Heaven, and helps to carry it thither, as on an angel’s wings.
  • The eye of genius has always a plaintive expression, and its natural language is pathos.
  • Reverence is the highest quality of man’s nature; and that individual, or nation, which has it slightly developed, is so far unfortunate. It is a strong spiritual instinct, and seeks to form channels for itself where none exists; thus Americans, in the dearth of other objects to worship, fall to worshipping themselves.
  • Misfortune is never mournful to the soul that accepts it; for such do always see that every cloud is an angel’s face. Every man deems that he has precisely the trials and temptations which are the hardest of all others for him to bear; but they are so, simply because they are the very ones he most needs.
  • There was a time when all these things would have passed me by, like the flitting figures of a theatre, sufficient for the amusement of an hour. But now, I have lost the power of looking merely on the surface. Everything seems to me to come from the Infinite, to be filled with the Infinite, to be tending toward the Infinite. Do I see crowds of men hastening to extinguish a fire? I see not merely uncouth garbs, and fantastic, flickering lights, of lurid hue, like a trampling troop of gnomes—but straightway my mind is filled with thoughts about mutual helpfulness, human sympathy, the common bond of brotherhood, and the mysteriously deep foundations on which society rests; or rather, on which it now reels and totters.
  • Childhood itself is scarcely more lovely than a cheerful, kind, sunshiny old age.
  • That man’s best works should be such bungling imitations of Nature’s infinite perfection, matters not much; but that he should make himself an imitation, this is the fact which Nature moans over, and deprecates beseechingly. Be spontaneous, be truthful, be free, and thus be individuals! is the song she sings through warbling birds, and whispering pines, and roaring waves, and screeching winds.
  • The cure for all the ills and wrongs, the cares, the sorrows, and crimes of humanity, all lie in that one word LOVE. It is the divine vitality that produces and restores life. To each and every one of us it gives the power of working miracles, if we will.


  • Woman stock is rising in the market. I shall not live to see women vote, but I'll come and rap on the ballot box.
    • Letter to Sarah Shaw (1856)
  • The United States is...a warning rather than an example to the world.
    • To the twenty-fifth-anniversary meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society (1857)


  • All who strive to live for something beyond mere selfish aims find their capacities for doing good very inadequate to their aspirations. They do so much less than they want to do, and so much less than they, at the outset, expected to do, that their lives, viewed retrospectively, inevitably look like failure.
  • Neither lemonade nor anything else can prevent the inroads of old age. At present, I am stoical under its advances, and hope I shall remain so. I have but one prayer at heart; and that is, to have my faculties so far preserved that I can be useful, in some way or other, to the last.


  • That a majority of women do not wish for any important change in their social and civil condition, merely proves that they are the unreflecting slaves of custom.
    • Letter to the Advocates of Woman’s Suffrage (1870).
  • Yours for the unshackled exercise of every faculty by every human being.
    • Message to woman suffrage supporters (c. 1875)

Quotes about Lydia Maria Child

  • Although women were present at the founding meetings of the American Anti-Slavery Society and a few of them received permission to speak, they did not vote or otherwise partake in the decision-making apparatus of the convention. The AASS constitution provided that all persons except slaveholders, who subscribed to the organization's principles and supported it financially were eligible for membership. "For the first few years," one historian reported, "no one thought of defining 'persons,' and custom determined the respective roles of men and women members." In time, however, woman's prominence in the antislavery work became evident. Lydia Maria Child, for example, was probably as important as William Lloyd Garrison in the formative years of the AASS; and by 1837 Angelina and Sarah Grimké were among the best known public figures identified with the abolitionist cause.
    • Bettina Aptheker Woman's Legacy: Essays on Race, Sex, and Class in American History (1982)
  • Biographies of eminent women designed to appeal to literate women readers became a popular genre in the 19th century in England and in other European countries.In the United States this genre is represented by a two-volume History of Women by Lydia Maria Child. ... The only female sources she uses are travel writers and Phillis Wheatley. Her omissions are more interesting than her inclusions; for example, under "Vindications of Women" she lists Marguerite de Navarre but neither Christine de Pzan nor Mary Wollstonecraft. Frances Wright, who shortly before the publication of Child's book had given widely publicized and highly controversial public lectures in the Eastern seaboard cities advocating women's rights and sexual freedom, was dismissed by Child in a passing reference as a modern disciple of "the infidels of the French revolution Child's attempt at a cultural and societal discussion of the condition" of women is innovative, but her list is quite traditional.
  • Feminist writers, not trained historians, were the first to undertake a systematic attempt to approach the problem of women's role in American life and history. This took the form of feminist tracts, theoretical approaches, and compilations of woman's "contributions." The early compilers attacked the subject with a missionary zeal designed, above all, to right wrong. Their tendency was to praise anything women had done as a "contribution" and to include any women who had gained the slightest public attention in their numerous lists. Still, much positive work was done in simply recounting the history of the woman's rights movement and some of its forerunners and in discussing some of the women whose pioneering struggles opened opportunities to others. Feminist writers were hampered by a two-fold bias. First, they shared the middle-class, nativist, moralistic approach of the Progressives and tended to censure out of existence anyone who did not fit into this pattern. Thus we find that women like Frances Wright and Ernestine Rose received little attention because they were considered too radical. "Premature feminists" such as the Grimké sisters, Maria Weston Chapman, and Lydia Maria Child are barely mentioned.
    • Gerda Lerner, The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History’’ (1979)
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