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Women Against Slavery

It is only relatively recently that historians have explored the activities of women abolitionists. When looking at local provincial sources, autobiographies, historical objects and sites it becomes clear that women played a significant and, at times, pivotal role in the campaign to abolish slavery.

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These women came from a range of backgrounds. The tactics they used boycotting slave-produced sugar and other goods, organising mass petitions and addressing public meetings proved highly effective.

Earthenware sugar bowl with gilt inscription:
© Norfolk Museums Service

Hannah Moore

Hannah Moore (from 1745 to 1833) was an educator, writer and social reformer. Born in Bristol, she was strongly opposed to slavery throughout her life. She encouraged women to join the anti-slavery movement.

Painted portrait of elderly lady (Hannah Moore) seated.
© National Portrait Gallery 412 portrait

In 1787 she met John Newton and members of the Clapham Sect, including William Wilberforce with whom she formed a strong and lasting friendship. Moore was an active member of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the African Slave Trade. Her writings reflected her opposition to slavery and "Slavery, a Poem" which she published in 1788 is regarded as one of the most important slavery poems of the period.

Ill health prevented Moore from taking an active role in the 1807 campaign to end the slave trade but she continued to write to Wilberforce and other campaigners.

She lived just long enough to see the act abolishing slavery passed. She died in September 1833 and is buried with her sisters in the south-east corner of All Saints' Churchyard, Station Road, Wrington, Bristol, BS40.

Mary Prince

Mary Prince (from 1788 to around 1833) was the first black woman to publish her account of being an enslaved woman. She was born in Bermuda in 1788 and endured a life of violence and abuse through a succession of slave-owners. 

Her owners, the Woods, brought Mary to England. To escape their cruelty she ran away to the Moravian Church in London's Hatton Gardens. Members of the Anti-Slavery Society took up her case and they encouraged her to write her life story.

Published in 1831 as "The History of Mary Prince", this extraordinary story describing ill treatment and survival was a rallying cry for emancipation. The book provoked two libel actions and had three editions in its year of publication.

In 2007 Camden Council and the Nubian Jak Community Trust placed a plaque near to the site where she lived at Senate House, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HU.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (from 1806 to 1861) is commemorated with two plaques in Marylebone, London. A brown Society of Arts plaque is at the site of her former home at 50 Wimpole Street, London W1G 8SQ. There is a bronze plaque at 99, Gloucester Road, London W1U 6JG.

Barrett Browning's father, Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett (from 1785 to 1857), inherited 10,000 acres of sugar plantations in Jamaica, with an annual income of £50,000. Her maternal grandfather John Graham-Clarke (from 1736 to 1818) was a Newcastle merchant who owned sugar plantations, trading ships and many more businesses associated with slavery. At his death his assets were equivalent to around £20 million today.

Barrett Browning was aware of the source of her family's wealth:

I belong to a family of West Indian slave-owners and if I believe in curses, I should be afraid.

Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to John Ruskin in 1855.

In 1849 she published an anti-slavery poem "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point". It portrayed a slave woman cursing her oppressor after she had been whipped, raped and impregnated.

Elizabeth Jesser Reid

A social reformer and philanthropist, Elizabeth Jesser Reid (from 1789 to 1866) is best known for founding Bedford College for Women in London in 1849. The College is now part of Royal Holloway, University of London.

Black and white photo of Elizabeth Jesser Reid seated.
© Courtesy of Royal Holloway, University of London

Jesser Reid was also an anti-slavery activist and she attended the Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840 and was a member of the Garrisonian London Emancipation Committee. A green plaque has been placed at her former home, 48 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3DR to commemorate Reid and the first site of the college.

While living at 48 Bedford Square, Reid entertained Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1853. She also shared her house with the African American abolitionist Sarah Parker Remond whilst she studied at the College between 1859 and 1861.

Sarah Parker Remond

Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Sarah Parker Remond (from 1826 to 1894) came from a family that was deeply involved in the abolitionist campaign in the United States. Her brother Charles Lenox Remond was the first black lecturer in the American Anti-Slavery Society.

Parker Remond was such an impressive speaker and fund-raiser for the abolitionist movement that she was invited to take the anti-slavery message to Britain. Soon after arriving here in 1859 she embarked upon a nationwide lecture tour. In 1866 she left London to study medicine in Italy. She practised as a doctor in Florence, where she settled.

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