Lydia Maria Child, Wayland's famous author and abolitionist, was
born more than two hundred years ago, but it wasn't until much later
that she was nominated by the Wayland Historical Society and
inducted into The National Women's Hall of Fame, Seneca Falls, NY.
Child was inducted in ceremonies October 5,2002.
Child who is known for her work in the women's rights and
antislavery movements and for her pioneering role in children's
literature, was a Wayland resident for the last twenty-seven years
of her life. Born Lydia Francis in Medford, Massachusetts in 1802,
she adopted the middle name "Maria" and preferred it to
"Lydia" all her life. She was educated in Medford public
schools and spent a year in seminary, but it was her brother, the
Rev. Convers Francis, a leading Transcendentalist, who was her most
important educational influence.
Child's first book, Hobomok, a romantic novel that dealt
with the then scandalous notion of an Indian warrior in love with a
white woman, catapulted her to fame when she was just 22. Because
the novel used Colonial-era historical material as background, it
has been called New England's first historical novel. With the
publication of Hobomok and the appearance a year later of The
Rebels, Child became a literary sensation. She was invited by
the governor to the reception for Lafayette and entertained by
Boston's elite in the grand houses of Beacon Hill.
When Child began writing, there was virtually nothing published
especially for children. In 1826 she started the first children's
magazine, Juvenile Miscellany, a tiny paper periodical she
edited, writing many of the didactic little stories herself. The
publication enjoyed wide support for nearly ten years.
Child's successful literary career came to an abrupt end in 1833
when she published An Appeal in Favor of That Class of
Americans Called Africans, often cited as the first
antislavery book. In it she reviewed the history of slavery. She
insisted that slavery had an evil impact on both slave and
slaveholder, and she outraged her Boston friends by describing
Northerners' prejudice against blacks and the segregation that
existed in Northern cities. As a result, subscriptions to Juvenile
Miscellany were cancelled and Child was forced to resign as
editor. Her readers stopped buying her books. The Boston Athenaeum
trustees revoked her library privileges. Nevertheless, long before
Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was
published, Child's book won many converts to the antislavery cause.
She married David L. Child, a young lawyer and editor for the
Massachusetts Whig Journal. David was an idealistic young man, whose
editorial opinions got him sued on more than one occasion and even
jailed, and whose business schemes always seemed to turn out badly.
A firm abolitionist and true believer in women's rights, he was
proud of his wife's achievements and never limited her freedom to
write or work, as many husbands of the period might have. But his
reckless business ventures kept the couple continually in poverty
and debt. Throughout most of their 46-year marriage, Maria was the
major family breadwinner.
In 1841 David and Maria were appointed co-editors of the
Massachusetts Whig Journal, the official weekly newspaper of the
American Anti-Slavery Society. Both were reluctant to take on the
responsibility. Because David was involved in another ill-fated
venture, a sugar beet farm in Northhampton, Maria shouldered the job
alone, although both names ran on the masthead. Besides editing the
paper, Maria was charged with building up the newspaper's
readership, serving on the formerly all-male executive committee,
and balancing the conflicting demands of different antislavery
factions. During her years living alone in New York, Child wrote the
two-volume, Letters from New York, and also the story
of the Quaker Abolitionist, Isaac T. Hopper.