So why does history matter? It’s not relevant. It’s boring. I hear this a lot, and it gets worse when we’re talking about women’s history.
I took on this challenge in my new book, We Believe in You: 12 Stories of Courage, Action, and Faith, to show that 1) it matters, 2) it’s extremely relevant to our lives today because there are role models we can learn from, and we need them, 3) it’s not boring if presented well – in all forms of media and in person, and 4) women’s history, in particular, is a source of self esteem, affirmation, and inspiration for girls and women today.
Case in point? Sarah Parker Remond of Salem, one of the 12 stories – African American, daughter of a successful businessman from Curacao (John Remond, whose catering business was located in Hamilton Hall) and a mother (Nancy Remond) who contributed to her husband’s business and instilled in her children a sense of their high self-worth. Sarah’s parents educated their children well, and both parents were centrally involved in the abolition movement of the early 19th century. They welcomed such luminaries as William Lloyd Garrison into their home.
Sarah’s remarkable achievements included:
• Most famous African American female anti-slavery speaker at a time when public speaking for women was new
• As a speaker, highly successful fundraiser for the American Anti-Slavery Society
• Spoke in Europe before audiences who had never seen an African American woman
• Spoke in America before mixed race audiences, which was a new phenomenon
• Broke barriers for women by playing a leadership role in anti-slavery societies
• Committed an act of civil disobedience that led to a large financial settlement, national attention, and a desegregated theater in Boston
• Fundraiser and organizer of freedmen’s aid societies
• Co-founder of the London Ladies Emancipation Society
• Studied and practiced medicine in Italy
But I let’s make Sarah’s story present – let’s imagine sitting down with her at the end of her high-achieving life and asking how she would advise women today. I think she would tell us:
“Believe in your value, despite what others might tell you.”
Sarah lived with the cruelty of racism her entire life, choosing to live in Italy at the end of her life rather than return to the more racist United States. Her mother instilled in her a sense of her self-worth. She saw her father prosper as a businessman in Salem despite his race. She also believed that God’s law was supreme, and that everyone had been created equal.
“Play to your strengths.”
As a public speaker, one of Sarah’s “unique selling points” was that she was an African American woman. Despite the novelty of women taking to the public stage, she – and William Lloyd Garrison, who hired her – knew she could appeal to audiences with the moral authority of a woman. She could speak to the issues of rape, family destruction, and terrified children. She could especially reach women on their own level, trusting that they would influence their husbands.
“When you’re called to leadership, step up.”
Ending slavery was a matter of life and death. Sarah knew she had the ability, the support, and the courage to take to the public stage, speak, raise money, and travel. She stepped up.
“Have courage, knowing that you’re doing what you were called to do.”
Sarah displayed enormous courage by speaking from the stage, by committing acts of civil disobedience, by traveling alone, by taking leadership roles in anti-slavery organizations, or by pursuing her education in Europe and becoming a doctor. Truly, she seemed unflinching in the path she was on.
“Don’t let your voice be silenced.”
“Be aware of your impact and influence.”
Sarah was well aware of her role as a woman and as an African American when it came to breaking down barriers. The newspapers covered her activities and her speeches. People – black and white, male and female – were paying attention. She was very careful about her public image.
“Write your own story.”
With the media coverage she received over the years, it was very wise of Sarah to write her own autobiography and have it excerpted.
“Have a strong support system.”
Acts of courage, especially when personal safety and public criticism are involved, truly deserve and require a strong support system. Sarah was lucky to have the parents she did, both of them strong, successful, and determined to raise their children with a sense of purpose and high self esteem. From childhood, Sarah was also surrounded by her parents’ friends – leading abolitionists, black and white. These friendships endured. Both in the States and in Europe, she made sure to maintain close ties with like-minded people.
“Be mindful of your environment.”
Sarah chose to live in England and then Italy, never returning to the United States, because American racism was so destructive to her well being. In Europe, she could pursue the higher education she so wanted which she could never have received back home. In Italy, she became a doctor and practiced medicine for twenty years. Good for her!
Good advice from Sarah Parker Remond.
You tell me. In what way is she NOT relevant?