Sarah Mapps Douglass (1806 – 1882)

Sarah Mapps Douglass was an outspoken abolitionist, an educator, public lecturer, writer, and equal rights proponent born in Philadelphia on September 9, 1806. Since both her parents were prominent African American abolitionist, Sarah grew up deeply rooted within the abolitionist movement and participated in many areas.  With her mother Grace Bustill Douglass, Sarah helped establish the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, and she served as the manager, recording secretary and as its librarian.  Sarah also served as vice-president of the female arm of the Freedmen's Aid Society, created to establish schools and colleges for African Americans.

As an abolitionist, Sarah Mapps Douglass’ deep passion can be seen in a speech she gave to the Female Literary Society of Philadelphia in 1832, in which Sarah describes an awaking she had that persuaded her to proactively fight for abolition.  Sarah states “I had formed a little world of my own, and cared not to move beyond its precincts.  But how was the scene changed when I beheld the oppressor lurking on the border of my own peaceful home! I saw his iron hand stretched forth to seize me as his prey, and the cause of the slave became my own.  I started up, and with one mighty effort threw from me the lethargy which had covered me as a mantle for years; and determined, by the help of the Almighty, to use every exertion in my power to elevate the character of my wronged and neglected race.”

Sarah was also a pioneer for women in public speaking because most women, even most female activists, did not ever speak publicly before crowds.  Public speaking was strictly seen as a man’s dominion, so when Sarah made public anti-slavery speeches, it took courage, confidence and a strong progressive attitude.

Being a very intelligent and educated young African American woman, Sarah was taught by a private tutor at an early age, and then she received medical training at the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania and at Pennsylvania Medical University, where she studied female health and hygiene. Sarah Mapps Douglass also served as vice-president of the Female Literary Association for free black women in Philadelphia, founded on September 9, 1806, which served to satisfy the intellectual needs of free-African women.

As a writer, Sarah contributed to several publications, including the Anglo-African magazine, an African American owned and operated monthly magazine, and the Liberator, a prominent abolitionist newspaper founded by William Lloyd Garrison. Serously commited to the value of black journalism, Sarah also helped raise funds for the black press.

Additionally, Sarah Mapps Dougass’ contributions and commitment to African American education was vast, teaching both children and adults.  In 1820, at the age of 16, Sarah opened a school for black children.  In 1853, Sarah headed the preparatory department at the Philadelphia Institute for Colored Youth, and for over 25 years, she was a teacher and administrator at the school.  In fact, Sarah not only championed the teaching of literature and more advanced subject matter, but she is responsible for introducing sciences like anatomy to the curriculum.

Sarah also publicly and openly expressed her opposition to the segregation African Americans faced in the Quaker meeting houses of worship that she attended.  Even though on principle, Quakers were forerunners and leaders within the abolition movement, and founded several African American schools; Generally, they were still segregationist during Sarah’s time, and forced African Americans to sit on a back bench in their religious houses, and tolerated very little integration in there own Quaker schools. In fact, when Sarah’s mother Grace, who raised her daughter within the Quaker religious tradition, went to a meeting house in New York, she was told to sit upstairs, “because Friends (Quakers) do not like to sit by persons of thy color.”
(  This issue disturbed Sarah throughout her life becuase the same people who fervently fought against slavery, and for African American education, were also hypocritically segregationist and practiced racial prejudice against these same souls.  In 1839, Sarah Mapps Douglass was the main contributor to Sarah Grimke’s famous work entitled “Letter on the Subject of Prejudice against Colour amongst the Society of Friends in the United States,” exposing the prejudice Sarah and her family was subject to over the years while attending Quaker meeting houses.

Overall, Sarah Mapps Douglass’ contribution and importance to African American progress and American society cannot be measured, and this distinguished and trailblazing woman left a permanent mark on 19th century America.  A true Renaissance Women, Sarah tackling so many pressing issues that affected African Americans progress, while simultaneously accomplishing great things for herself is quite impressive.  Especially, considering the severe limitations and obsacles she faced as an African American and a women during the dark-ages of slavery, segregation, and the suppression of women's rights.  Sarah Mapps Douglass died in 1882.

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