29 Pages

Feminist Abolitionists in Boston and Philadelphia: Liberal Religion and the Reform Impulse in Antebellum America

WithCarolyn Williams

As women abolitionists struggled against slavery and racial oppression, some called attention to limits to the freedom of women. The first wave of antislavery reform that emerged in the late eighteenth century was rooted in the secular political ideology of the American Revolution. Jane and William H. Pease argue that nothing in Maria Weston's background "impelled her irresistibly into antislavery." Neither her ancestry, education, nor social position marked her for a life of reform. Joseph Priestley's unorthodox religious views and radical political outlook, forced him to leave England. Priestley was among the Unitarians who assisted the early English antislavery movement. By the 1820s Unitarianism, unlike the movement in Great Britain, had become the religion of the New England establishment, particularly in Massachusetts. Maria Weston Chapman further demonstrated her support of the Grimkes by including statements in the BFASS 1838 annual report. The British reformers were generally more conservative than the Americans on matters like women's rights.