“Lydia Maria Child has a good letter to the editor.”
Clarissa Goodell to Lavinia Goodell, March 3, 1866
Best known for her Thanksgiving poem “Over the river and through the woods,” Lydia Maria (pronounced Mar – eye – ah, the same pronunciation as Lavinia Goodell’s sister Maria Goodell Frost’s name) Child was an influential nineteenth century woman author. She was also an ardent abolitionist who was well known to Lavinia Goodell and her family. (In an 1861 letter, Child mentioned Lavinia’s father William, complimenting the “close, hard logic of Goodell.”)
Child was born Lydia Maria Francis in Massachusetts in 1802. She wrote her first book at age 22, Hobomok, A Tale of Early Times, a scandalous novel for its time telling the story of a Native American warrior who fell in love with a white woman. Child’s rapidly rising literary star gained her friends in the highest pantheons of literature, including Edgar Allen Poe and John Greenleaf Whittier. Children’s books and a children’s magazine, The Juvenile Miscellany, followed.
In 1828, she married David Lee Child, an idealistic lawyer, writer, abolitionist, and believer in women’s rights. His reckless business ventures condemned the couple to a life of debt, and the money Maria earned from her writing barely kept them afloat.
In the early 1830s, the Childs met William Lloyd Garrison and became active in the antislavery movement, a commitment shared by the Goodell family.
Soon Maria Child began writing about the horrors of slavery. Abolition was deeply unpopular at the time, even in the north, and sales of her children’s writings plummeted, but she did not waver, saying, “I want to shoot the accursed institution from all quarters of the globe. I think, from this time till I die, I shall stop firing only long enough to load my guns.”
In 1841, Maria Child became the editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard and served on the executive committee of Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society. She resigned two years later, frustrated with the infighting between various factions of the antislavery movement. She published a book titled Letters from New-York, which reprinted a popular column she had written for the Standard.
Child was not afraid to support unpopular causes or confront powerful people. In 1860, the year after John Brown was hanged following his unsuccessful raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, she published Correspondence between Lydia Maria Child and Gov. Wise and Mrs. Mason of Virginia, in which she praised John Brown’s intentions but condemned his methods. Responding to a letter from a wealthy Virginia woman who defended slavery by noting the kindness Southern women showed to slave women who had given birth, Child shot back, “here in the North, after we have helped the mothers, we do not sell the babies.”
After the end of the Civil War, Child wrote a book titled The Freedmen’s Book, which was intended to promote self-respect and self-reliance of former slaves. She continued to speak out against injustices suffered by the Freedmen. In February 1866 she wrote a lengthy letter to the editor of the Independent newspaper in which she soundly criticized President Johnson, accusing him of doing more to help former Confederate slaveholders than the former slaves.
Read the entire letter here.
The Goodell family subscribed to the Independent, read Childs’ letter, and agreed with her sentiments, including her low opinion of President Johnson. Lavinia Goodell’s mother wrote:
Well, what do you think now of Andy Johnson? He develops rapidly of late, does he not? What will become of our country with such a president at the head…. Do you see the Independent? Lydia Maria Child has a good letter to the Editor of that paper in the last one. Your Father says he thanks God he did not vote for Andy Johnson as Mr. Tilton tried to have him. Your Father is not easily soft soaped.
Child published her last novel, A Romance of the Republic, in 1867 hoping to raise public awareness about the evils of slavery. Critical reception was poor, and Childs lived her remaining years largely as a recluse. She died in 1880, the same year as Lavinia Goodell, at age 78.
Sources consulted: Clarissa Goodell’s letter to Lavinia Goodell (March 3, 1866); The Independent (February 29, 1866); letter from L. Maria Child to Henrietta Sargent (July 26 1851); Lydia Moland, Lydia Maria Child: A Radical American Life, (The University of Chicago Press, 2022); https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moa/AFW4585.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext; https://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2013/02/lydia-maria-child.html;
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