Click here for the home page View a list of full-text sources - i.e. works, books etc.. View a list of all authors in the database View a list of all documents (e.g. letters, speeches etc...) in the database View a list of all document projects (collections of primary texts organized to answer a specific question) Browse a list of documents organized by subject Find sources (i.e. books, pamphlets etc...) by specific criteria In-depth text searching with more than 20 fields Click here for comprehensive help View all lesson plans, document based questions and other teaching tools Browse a list of social movements in the United States and go directly to documents View a list of all images in the database

Robinson, Marcia C., fl. 2007. "Review of Women's Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery in the Era of Emancipation". In Collected Book and Web Reviews (Alexander Street Press, Alexandria, VA, 2005) pp. [N pag] [Bibliographic details]

Women's Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery in the Era of Emancipation

[pp. [NA]]

Women's Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery in the Era of Emancipation

Edited by Kathryn Kish Sklar and James Brewer Stewart (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007. 416 pp. Paperback, $35.00, ISBN 9780300115932).

Reviewed by Marcia C. Robinson, Syracuse University

Kathryn Kish Sklar's and James Brewer Stewart's anthology is an impressive collection of original essays by a distinguished group of seventeen scholars, including David Brion Davis, Ellen Carol DuBois, Nancy Hewitt, Julie Winch, Jean Fagan Yellin, Carla Peterson, and Jane Rhodes. The broad focus of the anthology is the emergence of women's rights - particularly European, African-American, and Euro-American women's rights - out of the transatlantic and transcultural contexts of the abolitionist movement, from 1770 to 1870. The anthology is divided into five parts that alternate between European and Euro-American women and African-American women.

Part I sets the stage for this dialectic of gender and race. David Brion Davis discusses the ways in which European and Euro-American women abolitionists used the idea of slavery to characterize their situations, particularly as married women in white patriarchal societies. In doing so, he briefly traces the use of the link between women and slavery from antiquity into the nineteenth century, and then ponders the effect of this linkage on the abolitionist movement in nineteenth-century America. Judith Resnick examines the relationship between women's rights and the abolition of slavery in the present day by focusing on the ways in which 20th-century "transnational women's rights groups used the term slavery and emphasized the system of violence against women to redefine war crimes under international law" and "to organize legal opposition to trafficking in persons" (20).

[pp. [NA]]

Part II, "The Impact of Antislavery on French, German, and British Feminism," takes up the historical, political, legal, and transnational themes of Part I in four essays. Karen Offen's essay examines seventeenth- to nineteenth-century French feminists' use of the image of slavery to characterize the condition of married French women. Bonnie Anderson's essay studies nineteenth-century German women's emancipation efforts, particularly as they utilized French developments, including the woman-slave or marriage-slavery analogy. Seymour Drescher's essay discusses the contrast between French and British women activists in regard to women's rights and abolitionism. And Clare Midgley's essay identifies nineteenth-century British women's abolitionism as an imperial feminism that attempted to share British women's purported "imperial privilege" with non-British women. Particularly noteworthy in this section is Offen's essay on French feminists, and the ways in which Anderson and Drescher either elaborate upon or check the claims of Offen.

Offen seeks to change the way in which we think about women in the Enlightenment era. In tracing the analogy of European women's marital conditions to slavery from popular, mid-seventeenth-century feminist novels to the writings of nineteenth-century French radicals, Offen reveals a trajectory of early French feminism that undergirds both the feminism of French revolutionaries and, as Anderson then reveals, the feminism of nineteenth-century German, British, and Euro-American abolitionists and women's rights activists as well, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton - and I would add Sarah Grimké.

Seymour Drescher questions the connection between French feminism and antislavery. In his article, the reader clearly sees that French feminists who utilized slavery as a metaphor for marriage were not necessarily concerned about or even primarily connected to abolitionist efforts - something that Offen acknowledges, but does not elaborate. In contrast to British abolitionism, Drescher also makes clear

[pp. [NA]]

that anti-slavery activism in France was never strong or organized; hence, there was never any institutional abolitionism for French feminists to emerge from, as there was in Britain and especially the United States.

Part III, "The Transatlantic Activism of African-American Women Abolitionists," is comprised of four essays that represent two shifts in the anthology. The first is a shift away from Europe to the United States. The second is a shift away from white women and the woman-slave analogy to the transatlantic nature of African-American women's abolitionism. These shifts make it possible for the contributors to fill gaps in the secondary literature on several prominent nineteenth-century black women. Julie Winch's essay on Sarah Forten and Willi Coleman's essay on Sarah Remond provide little-known biographical information on these women and their struggles. Similarly, Jean Yellin's essay on Harriet Jacobs's trips abroad and Carla Peterson's essay on Frances Watkins Harper's conception of black maroonage draw attention to the transatlantic dimension of these women's activism and writings in a manner seldom done.

Three of the four essays in Part IV, "Transatlantic Influences on the Emergence of Women's Rights in the United States," parallel Part III in looking at the transatlantic nature of Euro-American women's abolitionism. Sklar's essay on Angelina Grimké, Deborah Logan's essay on Harriet Martineau and the Boston Garrisonian women, and Ellen DuBois's essay on Ernestine Rose all demonstrate the scope of their subject's activism. While Logan's essay on Martineau is particularly engaging, Sklar's and DuBois's essays are significant for the way in which they take religion seriously as an important aspect of nineteenth-century women's lives. Sklar attends carefully to the role of religion in Grimké's development as an abolitionist, while DuBois demonstrates the way in which Rose, a secular Polish Jew, constantly confronted her Jewishness in working with Protestant activists in the United States.

[pp. [NA]]

Hewitt's essay, though, more than any of the other essays in this section clearly harks back to Part II. By discussing the tendency of many American abolitionists - black and white, male and female - to see women's rights and abolitionism as human rights movements, she underscores a basic reason for the slippage between the two.

Part V, "Transcultural Activism Against Slavery by African-American Women," closes the anthology with three essays focusing on black women's struggles with and negotiations of gender conventions. Erica Armstrong Dunbar looks at female literary societies as training grounds for black female public figures; Carol Lasser examines African-American women at Oberlin College; and Jane Rhodes discusses the life and activism of Mary Ann Shadd Cary. While all of these essays address dimensions of black women's activism needing more attention, Rhodes's essay is particularly noteworthy. Its focus on a single woman both illuminates issues of gender and class within race, and allows the transnational theme of the book to arise easily.

As with most anthologies, there are structural problems that have to do with the conceptual layout of the book. The essays of Parts I and II introduce the highly-charged, problematic woman-slave analogy, and beg a detailed response that the essays of Parts III-V do not provide. If the anthology had a sixth part addressing the complex relations between African-American and Euro-American women - particularly around the dialectical images of the "white lady" and the "black female slave," the anthology might well have more structural cohesiveness. For example, an essay on Sarah Grimké, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and their relationships with black women and use of French feminism could easily deal with this issue precisely by picking up the threads of Offen's and Anderson's essays.

That said, this anthology is a valuable collection of essays that addresses the relationship between women's rights and abolitionism in transatlantic and transcultural contexts. Hopefully, it will spur

[pp. [NA]]

further discussion.

Marcia C. Robinson is Assistant Professor of Religion at Syracuse University, where she teaches the History of Christian Thought and Culture with a broad focus on nineteenth-century Europe and the United States. She is currently writing a book on Frances Ellen Watkins Harper's anti-slavery lecture tour of Maine in the mid-1850s.

Copyright © 1997-2006 by Thomas Dublin, Kathryn Kish Sklar and Alexander Street Press, L.L.C.  All rights reserved.
Send mail to with questions or comments about this web site.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.