Monday, December 24, 2012

Elizabeth Chandler

[I]t is impossible that it can be improper for us to solicit for another, what under the same circumstances it would be right to seek for ourselves. In fact, if we confine our views to the female slaves, it is a restitution of our own rights for which we ask: — their cause is our cause—they are one with us in sex and nature—a portion of ourselves; and only deprived by injustice of the immunities which we enjoy. Therefore as they cannot protect themselves, it becomes an imperative duty to claim for them the respect due to the female character, and we should feel her indignity as painfully as though nature had placed no distinguishing mark of colour between us.
 —Elizabeth Chandler

Born this day in 1807: Elizabeth Chandler (1807–1834), abolitionist who used poetry and essays to draw people, especially women, into the anti-slavery cause

Elizabeth Chandler was born in Delaware, but raised in Philadelphia, mostly by her grandmother after being orphaned at age 8. She was raised as a Quaker and became an active abolitionist and writer at a young age.
In 1826  she won a prize from her local newspaper for her anti-slavery poem “The Slave-Ship.” Hew work caught the eye of abolitionist Benjamin Lundy, who editied the Genius of Universal Emancipation. He reprinted the poem and began regularly publishing her work. In 1829 he asked Chandler to join the paper and edit its “Ladies Repository.” Chandler contributed many of the essays and poetry that appeared in the section. She urged women to take a more active role in the abolitionist movement and to feel a kinship with enslaved women. She promoted the Free Produce movement, boycotting goods producted by slave labor, such as molassas, cotton, rice, and tea. This was one way, she felt, that women could weild their influence.
“You may altogether avoid lending your support to the slave system, by refusing to be benefited by its advantages; and you can aid its extinction, by giving on every occasion the preference to the products of free labor.…[W]ill you not stand boldly and nobly forth, in the face of the world, and declare that American women will never be tamely made the instruments of oppression?”
Women, she believed, should use their position as mothers to teach their families the wrongs of slavery. She also pushed back against those who criticized women’s role in the movement by responding that slavery was as much a moral as a political, issue and therefore most definitely in the woman’s sphere.
Her poems and essays were widely reprinting, making her influential in drawing people into the abolitionist cause, especially women. Several of her poems were set to music and became hymns for the cause and played regularly during anti-slavery meetings.
In 1830 she moved with a brother and an aunt to Michigan. There Chandler founded Michigan’s first anti-slavery society in 1932. It became a way station to Canada on the Underground Rail Road. Chandler died of a fever just two years later at age 28. Her collected poems were published in two volumes in 1836 (The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Margaret Chandler: With a Memoir of Her Life and Character and Essays, Philanthropic and Moral). Proceeds of the sale of her works were used to further the abolitionist cause.

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