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date: 25 October 2021

Remond, Sarah Parkerfree

(1826–1894)

Remond, Sarah Parkerfree

(1826–1894)
  • Willi Coleman

Remond, Sarah Parker (1826–1894), slavery abolitionist and doctor, was born on 6 June 1826 in Salem, Massachusetts, one of at least eight children of John Remond, a migrant from Curaçao, and his wife, Nancy, née Lenox, who had been born into a free black family in Newton, Massachusetts. The Lenox family had roots going back to the revolutionary war. The large household was sustained with the expectation that everyone would find a place somewhere in the family enterprises. Starting out with a hair salon, the Remonds eventually branched out into fancy food preparation and delivery. Like other free blacks they were also actively involved in the campaign for the abolition of slavery and the fight for African-American civil rights. In 1835 Sarah passed the examination to Salem High School, but was refused entry; she therefore attended a private school in Newport, Rhode Island.

The best-known of the Remond clan was Sarah's brother Charles Lenox Remond (1810–1873), an activist who set the tone for his younger siblings. In 1840 while serving as a delegate to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, Charles joined William Lloyd Garrison to protest against the exclusion of women from some of the proceedings. Growing up in such an environment prepared the younger females in the household to stage their own forms of protest. Sometimes joining forces, the Remond sisters deliberately challenged segregation. Their behaviour included a simple on-the-spot refusal to comply as well as lodging formal complaints through the legal system. In 1853 Sarah was awarded $500 damages after she was pushed down a flight of stairs at the Howard Athenaeum in Boston, having refused to sit in a segregated section for a performance of the opera Don Pasquale. By the mid-1850s she was joining her brother as an anti-slavery lecturer. She started by honing her skills in several north-eastern states and Canada. Within a few years both her confidence and her desire for change called for a different audience and a larger stage.

In January 1859 Sarah Remond arrived in Liverpool, and almost immediately began her work as an anti-slavery lecturer. Starting in Liverpool she lectured in Warrington, Manchester, London, and Leeds. With London as a base she was also able to take her message into Ireland and Scotland. In addition to joining London's growing women's rights community she began to take courses at Bedford Women's College.

With the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 Sarah Remond's life and lectures began to take yet another turn. In spite of Britain's official declaration of neutrality she demanded that the British empire should actively support only those efforts that would serve to help rather than hinder oppressed blacks. She spoke forcibly in favour of the Union blockade of the Confederacy and against the use of cotton grown by slave labour, noting that the same product could be purchased in India. When able to do so she sent funds to help the American anti-slavery press. She also joined the Ladies' London Emancipation Society. With a mission to educate the English public on conditions faced by blacks as a result of the civil war, the organization put her skills to good use. She assembled information and wrote for the society's publication. She also raised funds for the Freedman's Aid Association.

The end of the American Civil War in 1865 did not mean the end of Sarah Remond's fight against racial oppression. As Americans began to accept the prospect of more than three million non-enslaved blacks Great Britain was confronted with its own black rebellion (known as the Morant Bay rebellion) on the island of Jamaica. In response to what appeared to be public support of harsh measures to quell the uprising and punish black rebels Remond penned a letter to the London Daily News. Seemingly disillusioned with her adopted homeland she charged the British with behaving like their white brethren in the United States.

In 1866 Sarah Remond left England, and after visiting Switzerland settled in Florence where she trained as a doctor at the Santa Maria Nuova hospital. She then practised as a physician for twenty years. On 25 April 1877 she embarked on a short-lived marriage to Lazzaro Pintor, a native of Sardinia. But in 1885 Sarah Remond was joined in Italy by two of her sisters, Caroline and Maritche Juan. She died in Florence on 13 December 1894 and was buried in the protestant cemetery in Rome.

Sources

  • D. B. Porter, ‘Sarah Parker Remond, abolitionist and physician’, Journal of Negro History, 20/1 (Jan 1935), 287–93
  • D. C. Hine, ed., Black women in America: an historical encyclopedia, 2 (1972), 972–4
  • D. B. Porter, ‘The Remonds of Salem Massachusetts: a nineteenth century family revisited’, American Antiquarian Society, 95 (1985), 284–8
  • C. P. Ripley, The black abolitionist papers, 1 (1991), 438, 445–6, 457, 459, 476
  • W. S. McFeely, Frederick Douglass (1991), 310, 328–9
  • W. Coleman, ‘“Like hot lead to pour on the Americans…”: Sarah Parker Remond — from Salem, Mass., to the British Isles’, Women's rights and transatlantic antislavery in the era of emancipation, ed. K. Sklar and J. Stewart (2007), 173–88

Likenesses

  • photograph, Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts, USA; repro. in Hine, Black women in America, 973