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That a majority of women do not wish for any important change in their social and civil condition, merely proves that they are the unreflecting slaves of custom… Lydia Maria Child

Imagine if you found out that the beautiful lady whose portrait as a young woman informed your ideas about the possibilities of beauty was a libertine. If  the sweet little old lady who wrote some of your favorite poems and stories had a hidden sideline as a pornographer and was a harridan at heart. This would be your plight if your grandmother was Lydia Maria Child who is – by the grace of God [and her own belief in birth control] – no one’s grandmother.

The larger cultural point is how sweet water may become bitter. Many, if not most, of us are familiar with her poem Over the River and Through the Woods and might, finding it charming if innocuous, go on to delve further into her works. Beneath the froth of juvenilia is a writhing cesspit favoring every sort of moral depravity in the name of liberty. What most fail to understand is that this was commonplace among the transcendentalists and abolitionists – and later the suffragettes – of the 19th century. They were the left wing occupy movement of their day and however much we may accept their idea of universal freedom we must realize that there are other and sounder philosophical underpinnings for that cause that not only create the atmosphere in which it may grow but in which it may flourish.

She was never that important. She has been forgotten. She should remain so.

The first woman in the republic : a cultural biography of Lydia Maria Child Durham : Duke University Press, 1994 Carolyn L. Karcher Child, Lydia Maria, 1802-1880 Hardcover. xxv, 804 p. : ill. ; 26 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG   

For half a century Lydia Maria Child was a household name in the United States – although since many of her “romances” bordered on the pornographic her name was not common in polite households. Hardly a sphere of nineteenth-century fringe thought can be found in which Lydia Maria Child did not figure prominently as an early feminist including promoting miscegenation, interracial marriage, sexual liberation and abolitionism. Her older brother was a Unitarian minister and founding member of the transcendentalists and she was complete in her embracing all of the principles of universalism and utopianism that were fostered by this sleepy group in sylvan New England to be adopted for the benefit of mankind without disturbing their retreat.

Although best known today for having Over the River and Through the Woods about Thanksgiving, she dabbled in almost every department of nineteenth-century American letters — the historical novel, the short story, children’s literature, the domestic advice book, women’s history, antislavery fiction, journalism, and the literature of aging. Offering her view of a nation and culture in flux, this cultural biography recreates the world as she saw it as well as the life of a minor nineteenth-century figure whose career as a writer and social reformer skirted the issues central to American history.


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