October 23, 2010

Child: We are not dead; we are the living

After an accomplished career as a writer and a proponent of reform movements (including abolitionism), Lydia Maria Child died at the age of 78. Two days later, on October 23, 1880, her funeral was held before her burial at North Cemetery in Wayland, Massachusetts. There were very few in attendance — friends, neighbors, nieces, the few remaining fellow abolitionists, and "poor people who had been recipients of her charity."

Child's majors works included a domestic manual for those with only a modest income and her Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans (1833). The book, printed still early in the active anti-slavery movement, was controversial; the Boston Athenaeum even revoked Child's free library privileges. It argued that slavery was destructive to everyone, including slave owners, and urged northerners to take action. It was read by people like William Lloyd Garrison, Charles Sumner, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and Wendell Phillips. Phillips in particular credited Child's book as a main source of inspiration for his own anti-slavery efforts.

In fact, it was Phillips that presented the eulogy at Child's funeral in 1880. "Mrs. Child's character was one of rare elements," he said, "and their combination in one person rarer still." Phillips said that she always followed one divine rule: "Bear ye one another's burdens." He also noted that she never slowed down, even inher old age. She had "still the freshness of girlhood... [with] ready wit, quick retort, mirthful just." He also claimed that, in their last meeting, Child thought "spirit hands" had given her the words which should inscribe her epitaph: "You think us dead. We are not dead; we are the living." Those words were, in fact, inscribed on her gravestone.

Child's good friend John Greenleaf Whittier was particularly saddened by her death. To her, he dedicated his poem "Within the Gate." The poem concludes:

And so, since thou hast passed within the gate
      Whereby awhile I wait,
I give blind grief and blinder sense the lie:
      Thou hast not lived to die!

1 comment:

  1. I found the American Frugal Housewife when researching a paper about "domestic economy" in the 19th century, and recently found out about the Mother's Book and the Girl's Book. I didn't read up much on her bio until I saw this entry of yours--she was also wrote adamantly for social justice for Native Americans. What a great lady! (And here I was just enjoying her recipes for pound cake...)