June 6th in (Feminist) History

CaptureOn this day in 1826 was the birth of Sarah Remond, an African-American abolitionist and talented orator. With slavery abolished, Sarah’s mother had been born free, and along with her father (who had come from the West Indies), the family became well-known in the abolitionist movement, especially as a safe place for those escaping slavery in the states where it was still legal. Her family, which was well off thanks to a catering business and a hair salon, placed a high emphasis on education; Sarah and her sister attending elementary school in Salem, and both later passed the exams for a new girls’ academy. Unfortunately, they were rejected due to their race, after which the Remonds moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where both Sarah and her siblings were able to attend and all-black private school.

Sarah had a love for education outside of school, and supplementing her schooling with attendance at plays and concerts, and the reading of books, plays, and poetry. After Sarah left school, her family moved back to Massachusetts and she joined the Salem Female Anti-Slavery society, eventually following in her older brother’s footsteps to give lectures and speeches to anti-slavery societies. Known as a talented orator, Sarah gave her first public speech at the age of 16, in an era where women very rarely gave public speeches. Sarah spent the next decade organizing for anti-slavery, as well as giving lectures. One of her boldest efforts involved an attempt to sit in the white section at an opera in Boston. Angry police pushed her down the stairs, and she sued the city for the injuries they caused. She won, and a panel of (white male) jurors awarded her $500.

In 1856 she was hired by the American Anti-Slavery Society to travel nationally, giving speeches out west. She broke even more barriers in this, as she traveled without a male escort, something that broke the moral rules and codes of the time. In 1859, she traveled to England at the request of the AASS, and became what she saw as a representative of her people. Again she caused a stir, this time when she fought (and prevailed against) the American Embassy in London’s refusal to grant her a passport to France. When the Civil War began, Sarah had to remain in England, but she didn’t cease in her cause. She worked for much of the war speaking to Britons who might be inclined to support the Southern cause (cotton was vital to British textile mills), reminding them that human rights and the end of slavery were far more important. While in London, she also enrolled at the Bedford College for Ladies (the female college of the University of London), where she studied music, as well as French and Latin.

She returned to the U.S. in 1867 and joined an attempt to revise the New York constitution to remove references to white males, and expand rights to women and black people. After the failure of this attempt, she moved permanently to Europe. She lived the rest of her life in Italy, enrolling to study medicine at Santa Maria Nuova Hospital. After becoming a Doctor, she later built a medical practice in Rome, and practiced medicine for 20 years. She never returned to the U.S., living out the rest of her life in Italy, where she was later joined by two of her sisters. She did not marry until she was 50 years old, and died in 1894, at the age of 68.

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