Everyone is aware of prominent Black women such as Maya Angelou, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth who played a role in shaping America’s history. Not many people are aware of Maria Stewart’s role in helping shape American history. Maria Stewart was the first woman to give political lectures in public to a mixed crowd of men and women in the early nineteenth century. Hence Maria Stewart’s role in shaping the early Abolitionist and Women’s Suffrage Movement will be discussed as well as the reason why her accomplishments have been overlooked.
Maria Stewart was born Maria Miller in Hartford, Connecticut on June 6, 1803. She was orphaned by age five. She worked as an indentured servant to a clergyman. She attended Connecticut Sabbath schools and read the books in the clergyman’s libraries. Then she started to work as a servant when she was fifteen to support herself and keep herself afloat.
In 1826, she married John Stewart, a former War of 1812 veteran. Her marriage to John Stewart elevated her to the status of well to do and middle class. She became involved in the institutions in her community such as the Massachusetts Colored Association that fought to abolish slavery of Black people. Then John Stewart died. She became impoverished due to the fact that the pension money from her husband’s estate was stolen by White real estate owners. Her husband’s death initiated an religious conversion in her life. Maria Stewart felt that she was called to become “warrior” “for God and for freedom” and “for the cause of oppressed Africa hence the inspiration for her work as an abolitionist and feminist.
Maria Stewart worked for abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and wrote articles for his paper,the Liberator. Her first essay, Religion and the Pure Principles for Morality was published as a pamphlet. Religion and the Pure Principles For Morality spoke out against the evils of slavery and racism that many Black people endured at the time. Her pamphlet was grounding to the point
In 1831, she began public speaking to a mixed crowd of men and women. Her speaking out against slavery and the injustices that women went through was controversial due to the fact that it was forbidden for women to speak out in public. Especially to a mixed crowd of men and women. Regardless of the racism and sexism that permeated society, Maria’s courage to speak in public rendered her a powerful force to be reckoned with.
In 1832, She spoke to a predominately female audience at the African American Female Intelligence Society. Maria Stewart used religious references from the Bible to support her cause and fight for equality for Black women in the country at the convention. That same year, she gave a second lecture to both Black men and women about abolition of slavery. She spoke about whether or not free Blacks were better off than slaves. Her lectures were published in the Liberator. She gave several speeches throughout 1832 and 1833 and returned to Boston. She received mixed reviews from critics and others about her lecturing in public. Many abolitionists praised her work while there were others who believed that a woman especially a Black woman shouldn’t be speaking out in public. Hence the importance of Maria Stewart’s work in the context of social and historical context.
Why is Maria Stewart’s contribution to nineteenth century Woman’s Suffrage left out of the history books?
Maria Stewart’s contribution to the nineteenth century Woman’s Suffrage was and still is left out of the history books because including her in the history books would mean admitting that it was a Black American woman who influenced the Suffrage Movement. History revisionists don’t want to credit a Black woman for influencing feminism because it would show Black women’s contribution and work in shaping feminism in America. Learning about Maria Stewart would also help break the misconception that feminism is a ”White woman’s thing” and that feminism is for every woman, White, Black, Hispanic etc.
The Woman’s Suffrage Movement and mainstream feminism is associated with White women. The Grimke Sisters are given the credit as the first women to lecture in public to a mixed audience due to the fact that history is usually written by older, White historians. White women such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth B. Cady are given the credit as pioneers and inventors of the Woman’s Suffrage Movement. The Grimke Sisters and Susan B. Anthony were important figures in the Woman Suffrage Movement however women of color like Maria Stewart’s contributions oftentimes went unacknowledged.
What became of Maria Stewart?
She moved to New York City and taught public schools as a teacher for years. She participated in Women’s and Black organizations centered on Women’s suffrage and abolitionist causes. She published her collection of works, Production of Mrs. Maria Stewart in 1835. Her work had influenced many women to lecture in churches and town hall meetings to speak out against the causes that were important to them. Then she moved to Washington D.C. where she opened a school for children whose families had escaped slavery. She taught these pupils and helped them adjust to life as a freedman.
In the 1870s, she was appointed the head matron of the Freedman’s Hospital and Asylum. It served as a hospital and refugee camp to help freedman adjust to society after slavery. Despite working as a head matron, she continued to teach students. She received a pension for her deceased husband’s work as a shipping clerk in the War of 1812 after a law was passed that granted pensions to widows of War of 1812 veterans. She used this pension to live comfortably and publish her final work, Meditations from the Pen of Mrs. Maria Stewart.
On December 17, 1879, Maria Stewart died peacefully.
Ultimately, I believe that it is important for Black women to know who Maria Stewart is because she helped advance the Woman’s Suffrage Movement. Plus it is always important to learn about the history of your ancestors helps others gain an insight about the past. And learning about the past will help others learn from the mistakes of the past so that they wouldn’t repeat them in the future. Most of all, I believe that learning about Maria Stewart will change the perspective of Black women’s involvement in feminism.
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