Challenging traditional histories of abolition, historian Stacey Robertson shifts the focus away from the East to show how the women of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin helped build a vibrant antislavery movement in the Old Northwest.
Robertson argues that the environment of the Old Northwest (what is now part of the Midwest)–with its own complicated history of slavery and racism–created a uniquely collaborative and flexible approach to abolitionism. Western women helped build this local focus through their unusual and occasionally transgressive activities. They plunged into Liberty Party politics, vociferously supported a Quaker-led boycott of slave goods, and tirelessly aided fugitives and free blacks in their communities. These women worked closely with male abolitionists, belying the notion of separate spheres that characterized abolitionism in the East. The contested history of race relations in this part of the nation also affected the development of abolitionism in the region, necessitating a pragmatic bent in their activities. Female antislavery societies focused on eliminating racist laws, aiding fugitive slaves, and building and sustaining schools for blacks. This approach required that abolitionists of all stripes work together, and women proved especially adept at such cooperation.
Stacey M. Robertson is Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at Central Washington University and Co-Director of Historians Against Slavery. She is also the author of Parker Pillsbury: Radical Abolitionist, Male Feminist and Betsy Mix Cowles: Champion of Equality.
This program is co-sponsored by the Newberry’s Dr. William M. Scholl Center for American History and Culture.
Free and open to the public; no registration required.