Envelope, letter written by Thomas Townes to his father, Moses Townes, August 1919
In honor of Black History Month, I looked into our holdings to highlight a manuscript collection created primarily by African Americans. While we have many collections centered on the history of African Americans, many of these materials were written and maintained by white abolitionists with the hopes of raising the status of blacks in nineteenth-century America. I made it my goal to find a collection written by African Americans. This led me to MSS 349, the Townes Family Papers, 1911-1931, which includes materials created by three generations of an African American family from Newburyport, Massachusetts. Read more
Valentines by Louis Prang, circa 1880s
The ancient custom of observing St. Valentine’s Day began with the early Romans, but the first written message using St. Valentine’s name is found in England in the late 1600s. The oldest valentines that the Phillips Library holds are these two in the Spitzenbilder style. Folk artists created papercuts in Germany in the 17th century. Austrian monks and nuns went on to create “Spitzenbilder,” splendid “lace-pictures” of cut paper.
Angelina Emily Grimké Weld (1805–1879) Copy of engraved portrait of Angelina Grimké, ca. 1845. From Woman's Rights Collection, 1853–1958, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute.
I recently finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings, a novel about an urban slave in early 19th-century Charleston, South Carolina, and her owners, the Grimké family. The author tells us that she was inspired by the historic figures of Sarah and Angelina Grimké, the first female abolition agents and among the earliest American feminists. According to Kidd, “Sarah was the first woman in the United States to write a comprehensive feminist manifesto, and Angelina was the first woman to speak before a legislative body.” After Sarah moved to Philadelphia and became a Quaker, she began speaking publicly against slavery and crusading for women’s rights. With her sister, Angelina, and Angelina’s husband, Theodore Weld, she wrote American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, a book that influenced Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published 13 years later.
Since we have a well-developed collection of abolitionist materials, I decided to check out our catalog to see if the Phillips Library held any books by or about the Grimkés. We have copies of several of their published works, including American Slavery mentioned above.