Salerno, Beth A.

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Salerno, Beth A.


Ethnicity: "European heritage." Education: Haverford College, B.A., 1991; University of Minnesota, M.A., 1994, Ph.D., 2000.


Home—Weare, NH. Office—Department of History, St. Anselm College, 100 St. Anselm Dr., Manchester, NH 03102. E-mail—[email protected].


St. Anselm College, Manchester, NH, associate professor, 2000—.


American Association of University Professors, New England Historical Association, New Hampshire Humanities Council (member of board of directors), Phi Beta Kappa.


Fulbright scholar at Pyeongtaek University in South Korea, 2007.


Sister Societies: Women's Antislavery Organizations in Antebellum America, Northern Illinois University Press (DeKalb, IL), 2005.

Author of articles for scholarly journals, including the Radical History Review and the Women and Social Movements database.


Beth A. Salerno's Sister Societies: Women's Antislavery Organizations in Antebellum America is a "short but powerful book," according to Carol Faulkner in the Canadian Journal of History. It traces the origins of the first significant antislavery organizations in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1832, to the more than two hundred others that emerged across New England and the Midwest by the 1850s. Salerno briefly discusses the earliest attempts at abolition in 1760, when women engaged in charitable pursuits that raised awareness of the issue. By 1830 these benevolent societies began to focus more closely on antislavery issues. Influential women mentored younger women, and they established networks that enabled their influence to spread westward. They learned to lobby politicians, raise funds, petition Congress, hold conventions, and educate the masses through lectures and newspapers. For women, abolition was a moral issue, but their increasingly organized actions made it a political one, too. Eventually, women began to see themselves as worthy citizens whose voices should be heard, even if they were not allowed to vote.

These women sometimes met with violence, and condemnation of their actions sometimes came from high places. Many religious leaders spoke openly against them. Eventually, dissention fractured their own ranks, with more liberal women arguing that they belonged in the public sphere, and more conservative women stating they should remain within their traditional domain. They also differed in their feelings of letting African-American women participate in their groups, and whether or not they should accept an invitation to join the previously all-male American Anti-Slavery Society in 1840.

Salerno discusses these events through the experiences of specific women, notably poet and life-long activist Lydia Maria Child, who was one of the first to document dissent and backbiting within the feminine ranks; Elizabeth Heyrick, a British Quaker who had connections to the burgeoning American movement; and female black abolitionists such as Grace Douglass and Margaretta Forten who were in the forefront of African American antislavery societies.

Salerno also traces the slow decline of these organizations in the 1850s—well before emancipation, as infighting halted progress and the Fugitive Slave Law led to a more hands-on approach to rescuing slaves via the Underground Railroad. The author's research included the records of many original antislavery societies, private letters, published newspapers and journals. The result, according to Myra C. Glenn in a review for the online journal H-Net, is "a thoroughly researched, cogently argued, and tightly focused book." Faulkner wrote that Salerno's major contribution was uncovering so many previously forgotten female antislavery societies. Dan McKanan, writing in Church History, said that Salerno "succeeds admirably at fleshing out what may be a vague impression of the roles of rank and file women in the antislavery movement."



American Historical Review, October, 2006, Eric Burin, review of Sister Societies: Women's Antislavery Organizations in Antebellum America, p. 1175.

Canadian Journal of History, autumn, 2007, Carol Faulkner, review of Sister Societies, p. 353.

Choice, March, 2006, M.T. Huntsman, review of Sister Societies, p. 1290.

Church History, June, 2007, Dan McKanan, review of Sister Societies, p. 443.

Journal of American History, September, 2006, Debra Gold Hansen, review of Sister Societies, p. 527.

Journal of Southern History, November, 2006, Thomas F. Curran, review of Sister Societies, p. 931.

Journal of the Early Republic, spring, 2007, Bryan Rommel-Ruiz, review of Sister Societies, p. 184.

Signs, winter, 2007, Lyde Cullen Sizer, review of Sister Societies, p. 555.


H-Net, (May, 2006), Myra C. Glenn, review of Sister Societies.