Lydia Maria Child
While Lydia Maria Child is best known for her work as an abolitionist, she began her public career as a writer and editor. From starting the Juvenile Miscellany, the first magazine for children in the United States, to writing the famous poem “Over the River and Through the Wood,” Child’s output was considerable. Hobomok, her first novel, was written in six weeks and published anonymously in 1824. Between 1827 and 1829, Child wrote several successful novels and the best-selling The American Frugal Housewife. In 1833, she published An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans, which caused her to lose her status in the Boston literary circle.
Inspired by a review of Yamoyden: A Tale of the War of King Philip in Six Cantos, Hobomok is a historical novel set in New England in 1643 that explores the subjects of race, religion, and gender, unconventional and ambitious topics for its time. Child published this, her first novel, under the pseudonym “An American.”
Written for women living in households of modest means, Child, a woman of modest means herself, offered practical advice for living affordably. Her tips ranged from reusing string to roasting coffee. Also included are her opinions on marriage for girls: “The greatest and most universal error is, teaching girls to exaggerate the importance of getting married; and of course to place an undue importance on the polite attentions of gentlemen.”
Child was perhaps the best-known woman writer in America when she wrote An Appeal in Favor…, but, as she knew before it was published, the book would make her very unpopular. One of the most radical arguments in favor of admitting African Americans fully into society, the volume is one of the first major American abolitionist tracts.
Child had been married to her husband for 25 years before she wrote this letter. While they had serious marital difficulties, many of them financial, she still cared deeply about him:
The loneliness became so intolerably oppressive to me, that I have run away. I intend to return Wednesday morning, if I have news that you are likely to come by that time. If not, I think I shall stay in Boston…
Acknowledging that she is no longer one of America’s most popular writers, Child says that fame does not matter to her:
I thank you for the good opinion so courteously expressed in your letter. Of course, I am perfectly aware what is the reason that I am not invited to write for the popular periodicals of the day; for it requires no extraordinary vanity to suppose that I could write better articles than some who are invited. But this effect of unpopularity is no inconvenience to me; for I could not write for such publications if I were ever so much urged. Life is growing too earnest with me to admit of my writing “pretty stories.”