Lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society
Sarah Parker Remond was an African American abolitionist, doctor and lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society. She delivered speeches throughout the United States on the horrors of slavery. Because of her eloquence, she was chosen to travel to England to gather support for the abolitionist cause in the United States.
Sarah Parker Remond was born in 1826 in Salem, Massachusetts, one of eight children. Her mother Nancy was the daughter of a man who fought in the Continental Army. Her father John was a free black who arrived from the Dutch island of Curacao as a boy of ten. The Remonds built a successful catering and hairdressing business in Salem.
Sarah received a limited education in the primary school and educated herself by reading newspapers and books she borrowed or bought from the Anti-Slavery Society, which sold many titles at a cheap price. Along with cooking and sewing, Nancy Remond taught her daughters that being black was not a crime.
In l835, Sarah and her sister passed the entrance examination to Salem High School. A few days later, the segregationist school board forced them to leave school. The Remonds were outraged and soon moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where Sarah attended a private school for blacks. Sarah’s father campaigned to desegregate the Salem schools, and when he succeeded in 1841, the family came home.
Sarah’s family included many abolitionists, and from childhood she learned of the horrors of slavery. Her home was a haven for black and white abolitionists. Charles Remond, her older brother, was the American Anti-Slavery Society’s first black lecturer. Sarah became determined early in life to fight the prejudice she encountered because of her color.
In May 1853, she purchased a ticket to attend the opera Don Pasquale at the Howard Athenaeum in Boston. She was forcibly removed from the theater and pushed down a flight of stairs, because she refused to sit in the segregated gallery. She suffered an injury, sued the managers, and won her suit.
In 1856, the American Anti-Slavery Society hired a team of lecturers, including Sarah and her brother Charles, to tour New York State. Sarah and the others addressed many antislavery meetings in Massachusetts, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania between 1856 and 1858, though they faced prejudice many times. Some boarding houses and hotels refused to give them a room, and they had to seek shelter in private homes.
There was another Massachusetts woman in that group, Abby Kelly Foster, who had encouraged Sarah to become a lecturer. “I feel almost sure,” Sarah wrote to Abby, “I never should have made the attempt but for the words of encouragement I received from you. Although my heart was in the work, I felt that I was in need of a good English education.”
Over time, Sarah proved to be such a good speaker that she was invited to lecture in Great Britain, which her brother had done ten years earlier. As she sailed for England in September 1858, she was concerned that she might find prejudice there, as well, but she was warmly welcomed.
“I have been received here as a sister by white women for the first time in my life,” she wrote. She was the first educated black woman the British had ever seen. She spoke out against the sexual exploitation of enslaved black women and drew the attention of British abolitionists to the indignities suffered by free black people in America.
Between 1859 and 1861, Sarah gave over forty lectures in England, Scotland and Ireland. The press generously covered her speeches and the reactions of her enthusiastic audiences. She raised a sizable sum of money for the anti-slavery cause.
Despite her busy schedule, she attended classes at Bedford College for Ladies in London from October 1859 to mid-1861. She studied history, elocution, music, English literature, French, and Latin.
She was living in London in 1861 when an English women’s magazine published a series of articles on the Lives of Distinguished Women. The June issue featured A Colored Lady Lecturer.
In this brief autobiography, Sarah described her strong desire to learn and the bitterness she felt because she was deprived of an education simply because she was black. She stressed that “prejudice against color has always been the one thing, above all others, which has cast its gigantic shadow over my whole life.”
After the Civil War began, she sought the support of the British for the Union cause.
I appeal on behalf of four millions of men, women and children who are chattels in the Southern States of America. The sum of sixteen hundred millions of dollars is invested in their bones, sinews, and flesh – is this not sufficient reason why all the friends of humanity should endeavor with all their might and power to overturn the vile system of slavery?
At the end of the Civil War, Sarah lectured on behalf of the freedmen, soliciting funds and clothing for them. She was an active member of the London Emancipation Society and the Freedman’s Aid Association.
She visited Italy several times while living in England. In 1866, she moved to Florence and entered the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital as a medical student at the age of 42. She received a medical diploma in 1871, and practiced medicine in Italy for more than twenty years.
She apparently never returned to the United States, and seemed to prefer her self-imposed exile to life under “the gigantic shadow” of racism. On April 25th, 1877, she married Lazzaro Pintor, a native of Sardinia.
Sarah Parker Remond, this remarkable woman who achieved so much during her lifetime, died on December 13, 1894 in Florence, Italy. She was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.