Lydia Maria Child

Carolyn L. Karcher

in American Literature

ISBN: 9780199827251
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Lydia Maria Child


Lydia Maria Child, née Francis (b. 1802–d. 1880), the daughter of a baker in Medford, Massachusetts, and almost entirely self-educated, rose to fame at age twenty-two with the publication of her novel Hobomok: A Tale of Early Times (1824) and remained a household name and a central figure in 19th-century American culture for the next five decades. She pioneered almost every department of American letters: the historical novel, the short story, children’s literature, the domestic advice book, women’s history, antislavery fiction, and journalism. She also created a distinctive style of transcendentalist writing. Child’s corpus amounts to forty-seven books and tracts (including four novels and three collections of short stories). A reformer as well as a writer, Child played a leading role in the crusade against slavery and racism; campaigned for justice for Native Americans; participated in the movement for women’s rights; spoke out against capital punishment and in defense of immigrants, prisoners, prostitutes, and the urban poor; and called for religious tolerance. She reached the height of her popularity by founding and editing the nation’s first successful children’s magazine, the Juvenile Miscellany (1826–1834) and by publishing two best-selling domestic advice books, The Frugal Housewife (1829) and The Mother’s Book (1831). With her public embrace of the abolitionist cause, Child forfeited her popularity but achieved her greatest fame and broadest influence. Besides editing the National Anti-Slavery Standard for two years (1841–1843), she produced more than a dozen books, countless articles, and a number of short stories aimed at converting readers to abolitionism and promoting racial equality. Of these the most important are An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans (1833), The Freedmen’s Book (1865), and A Romance of the Republic (1867). Four other works that deserve special mention are Child’s innovative journalistic sketches Letters from New-York (1843, 1845), ranked by many as her best work; her History of the Condition of Women, in Various Ages and Nations (2 vols., 1835), a valuable resource for the nascent women’s rights movement; The Progress of Religious Ideas through Successive Ages (3 vols., 1855), an encyclopedic comparative study of the world’s religions; and An Appeal for the Indians (1868). Despite Child’s prominence in her time, she disappeared from history after her death, but the late 20th and early 21st centuries have witnessed an outpouring of scholarship on her life and writings, and literary critics and historians alike now recognize her key role in shaping 19th-century US culture.

Article.  12894 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (American)

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