In September 1832, Maria W. Stewart delivered at Boston’s Franklin Hall one of the first public lectures ever given by an American woman. Her speech, directed to the women of the African American Female Intelligence Society, called on black women to acquire equality through education. The speech appears below.
Oh, do not say you cannot make anything of your children; but say, with the help and assistance of God, we will try. Perhaps you will say that you cannot send them to high schools and academies. You can have them taught in the first rudiments of useful knowledge, and then you can have private teachers, who will instruct them in the higher branches.
It is of no use for us to sit with our hands folded, hanging our heads like bulrushes lamenting our wretched condition; but let us make a mighty effort and arise. Let every female heart become united, and let us raise a fund ourselves; and at the end of one year and a half, we might be able to lay the cornerstone for the building of a high school, that the higher branches of knowledge might be enjoyed by us.
Do you ask, what can we do? Unite and build a store of your own. Fill one side with dry goods and the other with groceries. Do you ask, where is the money? We have spent more than enough for nonsense to do what building we should want. We have never had an opportunity of displaying our talents; therefore the world thinks we know nothing…
Few white persons of either sex are willing to spend their lives and bury their talents in performing mean, servile labor. And such is the horrible idea I entertain respecting a life of servitude, that if I conceived of there being no possibility of my rising above the condition of servant, I would gladly hail death as a welcome messenger. Oh, horrible idea, indeed to possess noble souls, aspiring after high and honorable acquirements, ¬yet confined by the chains of ignorance and poverty to lives of continual drudgery and toil.
Neither do I know of any who have enriched themselves by spending their lives as house domestics,