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Chandler, Elizabeth Margaret

CHANDLER, Elizabeth Margaret

Born 24 December 1807, Wilmington, Delaware; died 2 November 1834, Tecumseh, Michigan

Daughter of Thomas and Margaret Evans Chandler

The youngest child and only daughter of a prosperous Quaker farmer of English stock, Elizabeth Margaret Chandler lost her mother in infancy, was orphaned at nine, and was raised by her grandmother and three Quaker aunts in Philadelphia. She attended Quaker schools until only twelve or thirteen and was an avid reader all her life. At an early age she showed her talents as a poet: at nine she produced a poem called "Reflections on a Thunder Gust," at sixteen she began to publish a few poems in the public press. At eighteen "The Slave Ship" brought her a prize from the editors of Casket, in which it was published.

Benjamin Lundy, the antislavery publisher, noticed "The Slave Ship" and reprinted it in the Genius of Universal Emancipation. Lundy recruited Chandler as a regular contributor, and two years later she became the editor of the "Female Repository," the women's department of his paper. Chandler moved with her brother to the Michigan frontier in 1830, but continued as editor of the Genius's women's department until her death, despite Lundy's complaints about the difficulties of regular communication with a forest outpost.

Chandler was the first American woman author to make slavery the principal theme of her writing. Half of her published poems and essays dealt with slavery, African life, the emancipation movement, or the American Indian. "The Slave Ship" employed a poignant theme which she used repeatedly: the wrenching despair and horror experienced by proud and independent Africans snatched from their native shores and transported in chains to the Americas and lifelong slavery. In "The Afric's Dream" she shows the fettered slave remembering his former home where he lay under his own banana tree: "My own bright stream was at my feet, /And how I laughed to lave, /My burning lip and cheek and brow, /In that delicious wave!" Chandler showed amazing empathy with the black slave of whom she could have had no direct knowledge. Most of her poems have strong rhythms as well as vivid imagery. Frequently they were sung as hymns at antislavery meetings, or recited as dramatic presentations.

Chandler also wrote about nature, especially the wilderness beauty of her beloved Michigan. Lundy, in the preface to Chandler's collected works, has high praise for her poetic skill: "Though she was by no means deficient in prose, either for elegance of diction, or force of expression, she excelled in poetry. Her style was easy and graceful, while the flights of her fancy were lofty and soaring and her imagery natural and pleasing." The romantic intensity of Chandler's poetry sometimes approaches sentimentality, but she evoked vivid imagery in describing the natural world.

In her essays Chandler emphasized the contradiction between slavery and the Declaration of Independence, the degrading effect of slavery on master as well as slave, and the need to destroy the economic base of slavery by refusing to use products which were produced by slave labor. In a series of lively pieces, "Letters to Isabel," published in the Genius, Chandler berates an imaginary friend for hesitating to forego the pound cakes and ice creams made with slave-produced sugar, for "devotion to the cause of justice and mercy."

Chandler was also an early believer in the need for women to champion humane causes. In her essay "To the Ladies of the United States," which appeared in Genius, she chided women for deceiving themselves when they protested that they had no power to ameliorate the horrors of slavery: "American women! Your power is sufficient for its extinction! And, oh! by every sympathy most holy to the breast of women, are ye called upon for exertion of that potency."

In Opinions she wrote that emancipation might require "the energies of men, but it requires also the influence of women." Her articles were extensively reprinted in the U.S., Canada, and the British Isles by the more popular periodicals of the time. William Lloyd Garrison wrote her obituary for the Liberator: "There is not a female in the United States, who has labored so assiduously, or written so copiously in the cause of the oppressed." Lundy placed her only after Elizabeth Heyrich of England among women writing in the antislavery cause and believed had she lived longer her fame would easily have rivaled that of Heyrich.

Other Works:

Essays, Philanthropic and Moral (1836). The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Margaret Chandler (1836).

Bibliography:

Clark, G., The Liberty Minstrel (1844). Dillon, M. L., "E. Chandler and the Spread of Anti-slavery to Michigan," in MichH (Dec. 1955). Griswold, R. W., The Female Poets of America (1859). Lundy, B., "A Memoir of Her Life and Character," in The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Chandler (1836).

Reference Works:

DAB. NAW, 1607-1950 (1971). Woman's Record (1853).

—RUTH BORDIN

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