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Portrait Highlight - Sarah Parker Remond - African American abolitionist, lecturer & physician

Sarah Parker Remond (1826 - 1894) African American slavery abolitionist, lecturer and physician.

Born free in Salem, Massachusetts to John Remond and Nancy (née Lenox) Remond, Sarah was one of eight - eleven children (exact number unknown). Nancy had been born in Newton, the daughter of Cornelius Lenox, a Revolutionary War veteran who had fought in the Continental Army, and John Remond was a free person of colour who immigrated to Massachusetts from the Dutch colony of Curaçao as a 10-year old child in 1798. John and Nancy married in October 1807, in the African Baptist Church in Boston. Together they built a successful catering, provisioning, and hairdressing business in Salem, becoming well-established businesspeople and activists.

The Remonds tried to place their children in a private school, but they were rejected because of their race. When Sarah and her sisters were accepted to a local high school for girls which was not segregated, they were later expelled, as the school committee was planning to found a separate school for African American children. Sarah later described the incident as engraved in her heart "like the scarlet letter of Hester." In 1835, the Remond family moved to Newport, Rhode Island, in the hope of finding a less racist environment in which to educate their children, but they came up against the same problem - the schools refused to accept black students. As a solution, a private school was established by a group of influential African Americans and this is where Sarah finally received her education.

Charlotte Forten

Returning to Salem in 1841, Sarah continued her education on her own, attending concerts and lectures, and reading widely in books, pamphlets and newspapers borrowed from friends, or purchased from the anti-slavery society of her community, which sold many inexpensive titles. The Remond family also took in as boarders students who were attending the local girls' academy, including Charlotte Forten (later Grimké) who would go on to be an anti-slavery activist, poet, and educator.

The Remond family were hugely entrepreneurial; three of Sarah's sisters built a business together: Cecilia (married to James Babcock), Maritchie Juan, and Caroline (married to Joseph Putnam), "owned the fashionable Ladies Hair Work Salon" in Salem, as well as the biggest wig factory in the state. Their oldest sister Nancy married James Shearman, an oyster dealer. The Remond brothers were Charles Remond, who became an abolitionist and orator; and John Remond, who married Ruth Rice, one of two women elected to the finance committee of the 1859 New England Colored Citizens' Convention.

During the 1840s Salem was a centre of anti-slavery activity, and the whole Remond family was committed to the rising abolitionist movement in the United States. Their home was a haven for black and white abolitionists alike, and they hosted many of the movement's leaders, including William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, and more than one fugitive slave fleeing north to freedom. Her father was a life member of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and her mother was one of the founders of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society. Nancy not only taught her daughters the household skills of cooking and sewing but also to seek liberty lawfully as she wanted them to take part in society. Sarah's older brother Charles was the first black lecturer of the American Anti-Slavery Society's and considered a leading black abolitionist. With her mother and sisters, Sarah was an active member of the state and county female anti-slavery societies, including the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society, the New England Anti-Slavery Society, and the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. She also regularly attended antislavery lectures in Salem and Boston.

Charles Lenox Remond, Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison

With this familial support and financial backing behind her, Sarah became an anti-slavery lecturer, delivering her first lecture against slavery at the age of 16, with her brother Charles in Groton, Massachusetts, in July 1842. She rose to prominence among abolitionists in 1853, when she refused to sit in a segregated theatre section. She had bought tickets by post for herself and a group of friends, including historian William C. Nell, to the popular opera, Don Pasquale, at the Howard Athenaeum in Boston. When they arrived at the theatre, Sarah was shown to segregated seating. After refusing to accept it, she was forced to leave the theatre and pushed down some stairs. She sued for damages, won her case and was awarded $500, and an admission by theatre management that she was wronged; the court ordered the theatre to integrate all seating.

Susan B Anthony

In 1856 Sarah was hired as one of a team of lecturers by the American Anti-Slavery Society. Other lecturers included her brother Charles, already well known in the U.S. and Britain, and Susan B. Anthony. They were to tour New York State addressing anti-slavery issues. Over the next two years, she, her brother, and others also spoke in New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania. She and other African Americans were often given poor accommodation due to racial discrimination. Although relatively inexperienced, Sarah rapidly became an effective speaker. William Lloyd Garrison praised her "calm, dignified manner, her winning personal appearance and her earnest appeals to the conscience and the heart." Sarah Clay, one of the founders of the Lowell Female Anti-Slavery Society, wrote that Sarah's every word "waked up dormant aspirations which would vibrate through the ages." Over time, she became one of the society's most persuasive and powerful lecturers.

Reverend Samuel May, Jr

Not long after, Sarah was invited to take the cause of the American abolitionists to Britain, as her brother Charles had done ten years earlier. Accompanied by the Reverend Samuel May, Jr., she sailed from Boston for Liverpool on December 28, 1858, on the steamer Arahia. They arrived in Liverpool on January 12, 1859, after a discomforting trip in the winter. At Tuckerman Institute on January 21, 1859, Sarah gave her first antislavery lecture in England. Her second lecture, 'Slave Life in America', took place just a few days later. During these speeches, she spoke eloquently of the inhumane treatment of slaves in the United States, her stories shocking many of her listeners. She also described the discrimination endured by free blacks throughout the United States.

Over the next three years Sarah lectured to crowds in cities throughout the British Isles, raising large sums of money for the anti-slavery cause. Between 1859 and 1861, she gave more than forty-five lectures in England, Ireland, and Scotland. She also appeared at times with Frederick Douglass; an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman who had escaped from slavery in Maryland, and gone on to become a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York. Before she had sailed to the UK, Sarah had expected to confront similar prejudice such as that which she encountered in the United States, writing to fellow American abolitionist and radical social reformer Abby Kelley Foster, that she feared not "the wind nor the waves, but I know that no matter how I go, the spirit of prejudice will meet me”. However, she met with a greater acceptance in Britain. "I have been received here as a sister by white women for the first time in my life," she wrote; "I have received a sympathy I never was offered before.”

Abby Kelley Foster and Frederick Douglass

Sarah was praised for her speeches, in which she spoke out against slavery and racial discrimination, stressing the sexual exploitation of black women under slavery. She called on common themes found in sentimental fiction, such as family, womanhood, and marriage, to evoke an emotional response in her audience. During her tour of Ireland, she compared the plight of the African slave to the working-class labourers in her audience, which worried her middle and upper class sponsors somewhat. In her short autobiography, written in 1861, she observed that "prejudice against colour has always been the one thing, above all others, which has cast its gigantic shadow over my whole life."

Once the American Civil War (1861–65) began, Sarah worked to build support in Britain for the Union blockade of the Confederacy and the Union cause. Because British textile factories relied heavily on American cotton from the Southern United States, she focused on this in her lectures. In an 1862 speech, she implored her London audience to "Let no diplomacy of statesmen, no intimidation of slaveholders, no scarcity of cotton, no fear of slave insurrections, prevent the people of Great Britain from maintaining their position as the friend of the oppressed negro."

After the conclusion of the Civil War, her focus changed once more and she began to lecture on behalf of the millions of freedmen in the United States, soliciting funds and clothing for them. She was an active member of the London Emancipation Society and the Freedman's Aid Association in London. Her lecture 'The Freeman or the Emancipated Negro of the Southern States of the United States', delivered in London, was published in The Freedman (London) in 1867. In the mid-1860s, Sarah published a letter from London in the Daily News protesting that racial prejudice had worsened thanks to the efforts of planters in the West Indies and the American South.

Whilst in London Sarah undertook studies at Bedford College, later part of the University of London and now merged with Royal Holloway College (October 1859 to June 1861). She studied classical academic subjects: French, Latin, English literature, music, history and elocution, continuing to give her own lectures during college vacations. During this period, she also travelled to Rome and Florence in Italy. She continued to be involved in abolitionist and feminist causes in Britain. She was a member first of the London Emancipation Committee, and then helped found and served on the executive committee of the Ladies' London Emancipation Society, which was organised in 1863. Sarah is thought to be the only black woman who was among the 1500 signatories to a women-only, 1866 petition requesting the right of women to vote. During a brief return to the U.S., Sarah joined with the American Equal Rights Association working for equal suffrage for women and African Americans.

Sarah continued her studies at the London University College and graduated as a nurse. Then, at the age of 42 in 1867, she moved permanently to Florence. She entered the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital school as a medical student. At the time, the school was one of the most prestigious medical schools in Europe. After completing her studies and becoming a doctor, she remained in Florence for many years, then took up residence in Rome. In 1877 she married Lazzaro Pintor (1833–1913), an Italian office worker originally from Sardinia. She practiced medicine for more than 20 years, never returning to the United States. Her sister Caroline and Maritcha ended up joining her from the United States.

Sarah died on December 13, 1894, in Rome where is interred at the Protestant Cemetery.

In 1999 the Massachusetts State House honoured six outstanding women of the state by installing a series of six tall marble panels with a bronze bust in each; the busts are of Sarah, Dorothea Dix, Florence Luscomb, Mary Kenney O'Sullivan, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, and Lucy Stone. Two quotations from each of these women are etched on their own marble panel. The wall behind the panels has wallpaper made of six government documents repeated over and over, with each document being related to a cause of one or more of the women.

The 2019 anthology New Daughters of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby, includes two pieces by Sarah Parker Remond: 'Why Slavery is Still Rampant' and 'The Negro Race in America' (a letter to the editor of The Daily News, London, in 1866).

In 2020, the University College London renamed its Centre for the Study of Racism & Racialisation the Sarah Parker Remond Centre.


Sarah Parker Remond, pen on paper (2020)

Available as

- an art print (with customisable background)


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