The Great Silent Army of Abolitionism: Ordinary Women in the Antislavery Movement

The Great Silent Army of Abolitionism: Ordinary Women in the Antislavery Movement

by Julie Roy Jeffrey

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By focusing on male leaders of the abolitionist movement, historians have often overlooked the great grassroots army of women who also fought to eliminate slavery. Here, Julie Roy Jeffrey explores the involvement of ordinary women--black and white--in the most significant reform movement prior to the Civil War. She offers a complex and compelling portrait of antebellum women's activism, tracing its changing contours over time.
For more than three decades, women raised money, carried petitions, created propaganda, sponsored lecture series, circulated newspapers, supported third-party movements, became public lecturers, and assisted fugitive slaves. Indeed, Jeffrey says, theirs was the day-to-day work that helped to keep abolitionism alive. Drawing from letters, diaries, and institutional records, she uses the words of ordinary women to illuminate the meaning of abolitionism in their lives, the rewards and challenges that their commitment provided, and the anguished personal and public steps that abolitionism sometimes demanded they take. Whatever their position on women's rights, argues Jeffrey, their abolitionist activism was a radical step--one that challenged the political and social status quo as well as conventional gender norms.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807866849
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 11/09/2000
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 328
Sales rank: 965,091
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Julie Roy Jeffrey is professor of history at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland.

Table of Contents


1. Recruiting Women into the Cause
2. Antislavery Societies: The 1830s
3. Persisting in the Cause: The 1840s and 1850s
4. Women Confront Their Churches and the World of Politics
5. Crisis and Confidence: The 1850s
6. Emancipation at Last

Antislavery alphabet
"Flogging American Women"
Page from the 1838 Anti-Slavery Almanac
Hutchinson family
Cover of the report on the 1854 Boston fair
Illustration from The Liberty Bell, a Boston fair giftbook
Antislavery song
Abolitionist meeting of the 1850s
Frances Watkins Harper
Antislavery meeting at Boston's Tremont Temple, 1860
Freedmen's school in Vicksburg, Mississippi

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

In the context of antebellum America, the decision to work on behalf of the abolition of slavery was a radical act, especially for women. The Great Silent Army of Abolitionism offers a superb analysis of women's antislavery activism, incorporating black and white women, local and national leaders, Garrisonians and political abolitionists. In providing the first book that captures the full scope, diversity and significance of women's work for emancipation, Julie Roy Jeffrey makes a compelling contribution to the history of both the antislavery movement and women's activism.—Nancy A. Hewitt, coeditor of Talking Gender: Public Images, Personal Journeys, and Political Critiques

Jeffrey's careful, detailed, and prescient examination of ordinary women in an extraordinary reform movement—abolitionism—extends the debate over gender and politics in the early Republic. . . . An important book.—Choice

Jeffery investigates the broader scope of the movement and brings antislavery into the realm of social history. . . . In the process, the book examines how abolitionism affected the lives of ordinary women and how women in turn influenced the abolitionist movement.—Journal of Southern History

Jeffrey's extensive research into the lives of ordinary women confirms much that has been said in shorter venues and adds intriguing new interpretations of its own as it broadens our considerations of abolition to include the articulate female majority in its rank and file. Useful to scholars, the book should also be accessible to advanced undergraduates because of its underlying chronological organization and brief summaries of important events in the history of abolition.—Journal of Southern History

A comprehensive study of women's participation in the abolitionist movement from the 1830s through the Civil War. . . . [Jeffrey] presents a new way of framing female abolitionist activism. . . . An important book for historians of abolitionism in particular and nineteenth-century social reform movements in general, for it demonstrates that women were not peripheral to abolitionist men, despite the patriarchal structure of national and state antislavery organizations.—American Historical Review

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