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Remond, Sarah Parker (1826–1894)

Remond, Sarah Parker (1826–1894)

African-American anti-slavery advocate. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, on June 6, 1826; died in Rome, Italy, on December 13, 1894; daughter of John Remond and Nancy (Lenox) Remond; educated at Bedford College for Ladies in London; studied medicine at the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital in Florence, Italy, 1866–68; married Lazzaro Pinto, in April 1877.

First lectured against slavery (1842), at age 16; appointed as an antislavery agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society (1856); lectured against slavery extensively in Great Britain (late 1850s).

Sarah Parker Remond was born in Salem, Massachusetts, on June 6, 1826. Her father John Remond was a well-known member of the community, an immigrant from the West Indies whose business ventures included trading in food, wines, and spices, as well as wigmaking, hairdressing, and catering. He gained U.S. citizenship in 1811 and became a lifetime member of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in the 1830s. Her mother Nancy Lenox Remond had been a cakemaker before her marriage, and was an active member of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society after its founding in 1832. Remond had five sisters and two brothers.

Remond's educational experience as a child was marred by racial prejudice. She attended Salem public schools until 1835, when she attempted to enroll in high school and was refused entrance because of her color. (The previous year Salem had instituted a separate school for "African" children in response to public pressure to revoke integration at the public girls' school.) The Remonds relocated to Newport, Rhode Island, and enrolled their children in a private school for black Americans. The family returned to Salem in 1841, where Remond continued her education informally by reading newspapers and books borrowed from family friends. She was also heavily influenced by the many abolitionist leaders who came to the Remond home for discussion and fellowship, including William Wells Brown and William Lloyd Garrison.

Remond's brother Charles Lenox Remond, her elder by 16 years, became a well-known anti-slavery lecturer in both the United States and Great Britain in the early 1840s. Remond was 16 when she made her first public-speaking appearance, alongside Charles, in Groton, Massachusetts, in July 1842. Over the next ten years, she learned the techniques of political organizing and continued to improve her education and speaking ability at every opportunity. She first came to prominence among abolitionists in May 1853, when she and two friends refused to sit in the segregated section of the Howard Athenaeum in Boston, where they were attending a performance of a Mozart opera. As she was being roughly ejected from the hall by a police officer, she fell down a flight of stairs. She sued the officer and was awarded $500 in a civil suit, thereby setting an important legal precedent and upholding the principle of desegregation at the theater.

In 1856, at age 30, Remond became an agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society. For the next two years, she lectured widely with her brother in New York State and the eastern half of the United States. During her travels, she encountered many inconveniences brought on by discrimination against blacks and women. Often she had to arrange accommodations with private families because she could not find a hotel that would offer her a room. She came into contact with many other anti-slavery leaders and feminists on her lecture circuit, including Susan B. Anthony and Abby Kelley . In May 1858, she appeared on the platform of the annual Women's Rights Convention in New York City.

Looking for more freedom and for opportunities to further her education, which she considered deficient, Remond left the U.S. for Great Britain. She would spend nearly the whole of the rest of her life abroad. She disembarked in Liverpool in January 1859, and with the support of abolitionist Samuel J. May began an extensive lecture tour. While the last vestiges of slavery in the British Empire had been abolished in 1838, many large manufacturers in Britain were dependent upon cotton imported from the Southern states in the U.S., and thus upon slavery. Remond was the first black woman many Britons had seen, and this often drew very large audiences. If curiosity brought people to her lectures, her dignified and intelligent manner moved many to support her cause. She reduced some listeners to tears as she described the inhumanity and horrors of slavery. In London, Remond also met William and Ellen Craft , escaped slaves who had fled to England after the U.S. passed the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850.

In November 1859, Remond was involved in another highly publicized case of discrimination when Benjamin Moran, the American legation secretary in London, denied her request for a visa to travel to France on the grounds that because she was a person of color, she did not have rights as a U.S. citizen. In December, the London Morning Star picked up the story and ran a scathing article criticizing the United States, which was followed by an account of the incident by Remond. In February 1860, the decision to deny her a visa was upheld by the State Department. With help from some influential British friends, she eventually made her trip nonetheless.

Remond had returned to formal education in October 1859, by enrolling in the Bedford College for Ladies (later part of the University of London). During her two years of study, she continued to lecture during breaks and boarded with the college's founder, abolitionist Elisabeth Jesser Reid . Remond stayed in Great Britain throughout the Civil War, working to influence British public opinion to support the Union cause. When slavery was finally legally abolished, she turned her attention to the needs of the many newly freed slaves. Through her involvement with the London Emancipation Society and the Freedmen's Aid Association, she helped raise funds to support former slaves and their families.

After the end of the Civil War, Remond returned briefly to the United States to work with her brother Charles and with Frederick Douglass in the American Equal Rights Association, which sought universal suffrage. In 1866, she moved to Florence, Italy, where she studied medicine for two years at the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital. (It is believed she may have met Elizabeth Blackwell while studying at Bedford.) Her later life is not well documented, and no records have been found to prove that she enrolled in or completed medical school, although she appears to have worked as a physician. What accounts exist of her life after she left London are gleaned from reports by others, such as reformer Elizabeth Buffum Chace , abolitionist Parker Pillsbury, and Douglass, all of whom noted visits with her in their writings. Remond married an Italian, Lazzaro Pinto, on April 25, 1877. She died on December 13, 1894, at age 74, and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.

sources:

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Notable Black American Women. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.

Weatherford, Doris. American Women's History. NY: Prentice Hall, 1994.

Kari Bethel , freelance writer, Columbia, Missouri

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