Maria W. Stewart

It is interesting that in the biographical portion on Maria W. Steward her race is not mentioned except by implication. And yet, the fact that she was black, female and speaking in public is incredibly powerful. Even more than a white woman, her path would have been barred. And, according to the biography, she gave up because of the barriers presented by her audiences - but she had audiences. She spoke to men and women, black and white, at a time when few women spoke publicly at all.

In the "Lecture Delivered at the Franklin Hall," Stewart rails against the unfairness of even those with an abolitionist bent, for they will not stand by their convictions by allowing black women to rise above the station of servant, no matter their references or skills. "[I]t was not the custom" (110), was the pitiful excuse given. How could she not grow discouraged at the unwillingness of so-called well-meaning whites to put their money where their mouths were?

It is not that Stewart finds anything wrong with service as an occupation, but the essential limitation on blacks. Just as the white women ask for equality to white men, so should black men and women have those opportunities to better themselves morally and intellectually. She uses scripture to back up her arguments as well as personal pleas from her own experiences.

And yet, history obscured her contributions, giving the Grimke sisters the claim to be the first women to orate in public to mixed audiences. Then, as now, it comes down to who is given the space, the credibility and the venue for expression. And given is the right word, for those who must fight for the space, fight to be believed and fight to be heard are often left with little time or energy for the message they wished to express in the first place.

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