Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Josephine Griffing

Born this day in 1814: Josephine Griffing (1814–1872), abolitionist who also supported equal rights for women and who assisted the newly emancipated

Griffing was born Josephine Sophie White in Hebron, Connecticut. She married Charles Stockman Spooner Griffing in 1836. The couple moved to Ohio, where they were both active in the abolition movement. They made their home a station on the Underground Railroad.
Griffing was a member as well as a paid agent of the Western Anti-Slavery Society. She gave speeches on the socieity’s behalf throughout the region and wrote articles for its newsletter. During the Civil War she was also active in the Women’s National Loyal League, a militant feminist group that lobbied the government for full emancipation.
Griffing was active in the women’s rights movement. She was a founding member of the Ohio Women’s Rights Association and was elected its president in 1853. She was also a founder, in 1866, of the American Equal Rights Association and served as its first vice president.  She was president and founder of the District of Columbia’s woman suffrage association in 1867. In 1869 she helped found the National Woman Suffrage Association and served as its corresponding secretary.
Griffing is most remembered, however, for work she did following the Civil War to aid the newly emancipated. She strongly believed that it was the nation’s duty, both in the public and private spheres, to help former slaves make a successful transition into lives of freedom.
Griffing moved to Washington, D.C., where many of the newly freed migrated to after the war. She began working for D.C.’ s national Freedman’s Relief Association. She oversaw the establishment of settlement programs and other relief. She also used her own network of friends to personally help many newly emancipated African Americans find jobs in the North. She was also influential in the creation of the Freedman’s Bureau. After the bureau’s demise, she continued to find other ways to assist the newly emancipated, including caring for many of the most needy, such as the elderly, in her home.

Below is an excerpt from an editorial she wrote for Harper’s Weekly, arguing for the necessity of the Freedman’s Bureau:

Now that the policy of the Government is maturely settled, it is clear that one of the chief questions of the immediate future will be the care of the freedmen. In ordinary times, when emancipation is enforced by law, as in the case of the British colonies, and especially in Jamaica, the rage and pride of the planters prevent a fair trial of the experiment. They refuse to treat honorably as paid laborers those whom they have been used to drive as cattle, and the inevitable consequence is that the great plantations fall into ruin.…The condition of our emancipated slaves is such as to require the most faithful and intelligent care. The operation of the act is to attract them to our lines. They come in groups of utterly destitute men, women, and children. The most unfortunate of human beings, they yet do not find corresponding sympathy. Even the Government which has freed them, and which invites them to enlist as soldiers, does not treat them honorably, and pays them not the wages of the white soldiers, with whom they bravely fight and nobly fall, but only the ten dollars a month allowed by the law for the general employment of contrabands. Homeless, almost houseless, utterly destitute and dependent, this rapidly-increasing class of our population demand a peculiar care. It is idle to say that no particular class of persons can be provided for, but they must all take their chance, because we recognize that common-sense is the basis of statesmanship when we establish a Bureau of Indian Affairs and a Department of Agriculture. Indians and farmers are the two classes directly interested; but does any body quarrel with the bureaus for that reason?

 The sagacity of the President will undoubtedly lead him to make some proposition to Congress for the establishment of a Freedman’s Bureau, charged with the care of this exceptional class.
—“A New Bureau,” Harper’s Weekly, December 26, 1863, page 818

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