Richard Barrett, of London, published this poem as a broadside in the 1850s in an attempt to establish sisterhood between African American and white women to work together to end slavery. The poem appealed to the sentimentality of women. It was believed in the nineteenth century that women were the more emotional and pious sex. Women were expected to run the household, raise children, and exert a positive influence on their husbands and sons.
Barrett implored white women to think of enslaved African American women who were unable to raise their children and establish their families the way white women was could. The lines “ye wives, and ye mothers, your influence extend—/ye sisters, ye daughters, the helpless defend—/the strong ties are severed for one crime alone, / possessing a colour less fair than your own” attempt to establish bonds of female sisterhood among women even though they were of different races. Barrett hoped that those ties would influence more white women to press for the abolition of slavery. The female speaker of the poem entreated, “Then pity dear ladies and send me relief, / This poor heart is breaking with sorrow and grief: / Could you see my affliction your tears they would flow, / for women are tender by nature you know.” As the poem uses traditional gender roles to appeal to white women's sympathy, it also employs the popular image of the supplicant African American. The female supplicant design was common in newspapers and broadsides aimed at women and intended to inspire interracial sisterhood.
African American women were largely left out of the records of activism in the antebellum and immediate postwar years. This does not mean that they were not active, though. The most prominent was Sojourner Truth, a former slave and abolitionist. She traveled throughout the North to attend women's conferences and earned a living through her public appearances. Like the mainstream woman's rights movement, African American female activists grew out of the abolitionist movement. After emancipation, most antislavery activists, men and women of all races turned their focus to suffrage, causing a breach among them because they disagreed over the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment extended voting only to American men, leaving women disfranchised. Many women's groups who had supported abolition causes were dismayed that they were excluded. This caused a particular conflict of interest for African American women, as they were torn between loyalty to their race or to their sex.
1. When and where was this broadside printed?
2. What does this poem demonstrate about the way gender roles were perceived in the nineteenth century?
3. What is the signifigance of the chains at the woman's feet?
1. Who was the most famous female African American activist?
2. Compare this broadside to the petition from the women of August County. How do they both use acceptable gender roles to make their points? Both documents are antislavery, but how do they differ?
Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.