August 15, 2013

A Cradle Quilt: "For That Poor Mother Pray"

The Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society (1833-1840) was founded the same year that William Lloyd Garrison founded the American Anti-Slavery Society at a convention in Philadelphia and passed a resolution to entrust the abolitionist cause to women as well as to men.  At the time, Garrison urged women to form their own auxiliaries of the American Anti-Slavery Society.  Women answered the call, often founding auxiliaries before those founded by their male counterparts.  Approximately seventy-five of the one thousand auxiliaries formed by 1837 were those organized by and comprised of women.

Members of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1837 included free black women, Quakers (in particular Abby Southwick who was also a delegate to the second Women's Anti-Slavery Convention in Philadelphia in 1838 - see our post of January 18, 2012), and women from a variety of other faiths.  The group was organized and ably led by Maria Weston Chapman, a Unitarian whose zeal for the abolitionist cause and superb organizational skills created an (at the time) unparalleled fund-raising event that would be replicated by many other female anti-slavery societies--the Boston Anti-Slavery Fair.

Maria Weston Chapman (1806-1885).  Photograph courtesy
of Wikimedia Commons.
Women's sewing circles, within Boston and throughout Massachusetts, were established to make items that could be sold at the Fair and also serve as a means to inform and recruit more women to the cause.  The products of the sewing circles displayed heavy use of mottoes designed to be effective tools of "moral suasion".  Quilts were labeled "Weapons for Abolitionists", pen wipers displayed the inscription "Wipe out the blot of Slavery", and the words "May the points of our needles prick the slaveholders' conscience" were stitched on needle books.
Lydia Maria Child, a members of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society and also a reporter for the feature "Ladies Department" in William Lloyd Garrison's publication The Liberator, reported annually on the success of the Fair.  In early 1837, she described an inscribed cradle quilt of star patchwork sold at the December 1836 Fair.  The poignant inscription would be phrased differently today, but the verse is powerful in the context of its era.
"Mother when around your child,
You clasp your arms in love,
And when with grateful joy you raise
Your eyes to God above -
Think of the negro- mother,
When her child is torn away -
Sold for a little slave - ah, then
For that poor mother pray!"
Cradle quilt sold at the December, 1836 Boston Anti-Slavery Fair.  Photograph courtesy of
Historic New England, Boston.
Close-up of the poem inscribed on the cradle quilt.  Photograph courtesy of Historic New England,
Some have speculated that this cradle quilt was made by none other than Lydia Maria Child herself because she is known to have written in a letter to a friend:  "You have doubtless learned the success of our Fair . . . My cradle-quilt sold for $5."
Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880).  Photograph courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons.
The success of the Boston Anti-Slavery Fair, held in late December each year, is demonstrated by the money it raised for the abolitionist cause during its years of operation.  In 1834, for example, it raised $600, in 1845 it raised $3,700, and in 1854 it brought in $5,000.  The significance of these amounts is better understood when they are converted to 2012 dollars.  Six hundred dollars in 1834 is the equivalent of $13,586.75 in 2012 dollars; $3,700 in 1845 is the equivalent of $89,879.47 in 2012; and, $5,000 in 1854 is the equivalent of $125,880.50 in 2012.
As should be apparent by the funds raised, the goods made by women's sewing circles were not the only items sold at the Boston Anti-Slavery Fair.  Its monetary success rested largely on the quality and quantity of donated items solicited by Maria Weston Chapman that were sold along with needlework.  Many of these were imported from Europe and were purchased by wealthy Bostonians and other Fair-goers as Christmas gifts for friends and family.  These items included crystal, perfumes, tapestries, vases, art work, drawing room furniture, china, bronzes, and many other attractive and expensive goods.
As a means to inspire the contributors of such goods, Maria Weston Chapman and her Weston sisters introduced a new and sophisticated form of anti-slavery literature in the form of a gift book titled The Liberty Bell.
A copy of The Liberty Bell, 1848, and the frontispiece to the edition published
in 1839.  Both images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The Liberty Bell was given to contributors and Fair workers, and was also sold at the Fair as a memento of the occasion.  It was just one more innovative idea that made Maria Weston Chapman an effective fund-raiser and a successful promoter of the abolitionist cause.  In the words of Lydia Maria Child, Maria Weston Chapman was "one of the most remarkable women of the age".
Brown, Ira V.  "'Am I Not a Woman and a Sister', The Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women, 1837-1830."  In History of the American Abolitionist Movement, A Bibliography of Scholarly Articles, Abolitionism and Issues of Race and Gender, John R. McKivigan, ed. (New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999.)
Chambers-Schiller, Lee.  "A Good Work among the People", The Political Culture of the Boston Antislavery Fair."  In The Abolitionist Sisterhood, Women's Political Culture in Antebellum America, Yellin, Jean Fagan and John C. Van Horne, eds.  (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1994.)
Hedges, Elaine, Pat Ferrero and Julie Silber.  Hearts and Hands, Women, Quilts, and American Society.  Nashville: Rutledge Hill Press, 1987.
Yellin, Jean Fagan.  Women and Sisters: The Anti-Slavery Feminists in American Culture.  New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1989.
The Inflation Calculator at was used to convert 19th century dollar figures to their 2012 equivalents.
(c) Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2013.


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