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"Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind when it has once seized on it like a lichen on the rock." - Mary Shelly, Frankenstein, ch. XIII
Women Supporters of the Canterbury Academy, Black and White
Black and white women, across a vast spectrum of age, fame, and privilege, supported the Canterbury Female Academy during and after its existence. This is a strong record of interracial female support, forgotten in history. I consider it one of the great lost opportunities of American feminism that women did not see what a marvelous and precious coalition they were creating. The racist rifts that run through the post-Civil War Woman's Right movement and into the Second Wave were unnecessary, but regrettably all too easy and familiar as an option to which white women capitulated.
A small excerpt from my manuscript that I had to cut...but I love it, so here it is!
What if Women Could Have Endorsed the School Publicly?
Necessarily missing from The Liberator list of endorsers for the Canterbury Female Academy are the names of women, Black or white, as signatories. One record we have of Crandall's interaction with a Black woman Abolitionist is tantalizing. Elizabeth Hammond, a widow who ran a boarding house in Providence, was financially secure by comparison with many free Blacks, effectively a fledgling member of a Black middle class. Elizabeth Hammond encouraged Crandall, introduced her to other Black families in the area with daughters, and her own eldest, Ann Eliza, became one of Crandall's first Black students (later joined by her sister Sarah). Elizabeth Hammond also became the conduit through whom Crandall met the Benson family—white radicals, some of whom resided in Providence, but most of the family (and their considerable economic clout) lived only five miles north of Crandall in Canterbury, in Brooklyn, Connecticut.
The absence of women signatories followed the protocol of the time: a woman’s name on the list would have impugned the legitimacy of the school, by virtue of such un-ladylike conduct in adopting a public presence. But the remarkable influx of women, both Black and white, into the Abolitionist movement, can be seen in this fanciful alternative list of female endorsers. In constructing this list, I limited myself to women who were alive, adult, and active in abolition by 1833
Amy Matilda Williams Cassey (1808-1856) (Philadelphia, PA)
Maria Stewart (1803-1879) (Boston, MA)
Sarah Allen (1764-1849) (Philadelphia, PA)
Forten/Douglass/Bustill (Philadelphia, PA) - so many strong women here!
Elizabeth Hammond (fl. 1830s) (Providence, RI)
Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) (Philadelphia PA)
Mary, Sarah, Anna, and Helen Benson (Brooklyn CT)
Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880) (Boston MA)
Sarah Earle (1800-1834) (Worcester, MA)
Margaret Fuller (1810-1850) (Boston, MA)
Anna Almy (1790-1849) (Providence, RI)
Elizabeth Margaret Chandler (1807-1834) (Michigan)
This list was assembled to demonstrate the growth in feminist consciousness at this moment in history, and thus the energy lost by not having these women among the endorsers. This list also points to the richly multi-racial and gender inclusive world that pre-1840 Abolitionist culture manifested. Substantive intellectual and political thinkers (Maria Stewart, Lydia Maria Child, Margaret Fuller, Lucretia Mott), writers and editors (Elizabeth Chandler), activists (Amy Cassey), educators (Sarah Earle, Anna Almy), business women (Elizabeth Hammond), religious leaders (Sarah Allen) and intelligent women with the means to advance the causes they were passionate about (Douglass, Benson). It is a shame that this network could not be as visible in Crandall’s time as we can make it now. But this partially obscured female/feminist network complemented the integrated male leadership network activated by Crandall’s school.
Women who supported the Canterbury Female Academy and Prudence Crandall