LWV, Race and Equity – Honoring Sarah Mapps Douglass

Along with other work to advance Racial Justice, LWV Edina is publishing a series of posts about the history of the fight for suffrage, with a particular focus on women leaders who were Black, Indigenous, or people of color. Here is our newest post.

Sarah Mapps Douglass (1806-1882) was an abolitionist, educator, organizer, and writer. Douglass helped to found the Female Literary Association (FLA) in 1831 with “specific intentions to create study and growth opportunities for adult women.” (Lindhorst, Marie,1998).

Douglass was active with her mother, Grace Bustill Douglass (1782-1842), in the anti-slavery movement. They were founding members of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society (1833), the first inter-racial anti-slavery organization for women. See Blackpast.

Douglass is celebrated for a speech she gave in 1832 to the FLA, urging support for abolition based in religious devotion. The full text of the speech, published in William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator, can be read on Speaking While Female.

Quakers recognize Douglass “as the first African-American to publicly protest racial discrimination in the Society of Friends.” (Bacon, Mary Hope, 2001). See also Bacon’s post in Friends  Journal.

Douglass expressed support for women’s rights through her work as an educator, including “helping women understand and control the functioning of their own bodies” after she married in 1855. Ibid. She enrolled in the Pennsylvania Medical University to study female health and hygiene, and, in 1858, began lecturing “on topics that would have been considered unseemly for an unmarried woman to address.” Douglass’ illustrated lectures to female audiences in New York City and Philadelphia drew praise for being both informative and ‘chaste’.” See the article “Sarah Mapps Douglass: African American Abolitionist and Teacher” on Women History Blog.

Douglass remains known for her artistic ability and expression, chiefly painted images on her written letters and in friendship albums exchanged with Black and white friends. Her “radical floriography” is described in a Tulane University publication as representing “the earliest signed works of art by African American women…in addition to showcasing her exceptional artistic skill, many of Douglass’s entries convey greater depth than those of her peers, serving as early Black feminist meditations on period respectability politics.”

Extensive information about Douglass’ life and work, including a selected bibliography and references to two collections of letters, can be found in Voices from the Gaps, a conservancy project of the University of Minnesota “founded in 1996 to uncover, highlight, and share the works of marginalized artists, predominantly women writers of color living and working in North America.”



Bacon, Mary Hope (2001). “New light on Sarah Mapps Douglass and her reconciliation with Friends.” Quaker History, vol. 90, no.1, pp. 28–49. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41947773?seq=1

Lindhorst, Marie (1998). “Politics in a box: Sarah Mapps Douglass and the Female Literary Association, 1831-1833.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, vol. 65, no. 3, pp. 263–278. https://www.jstor.org/stable/27774117?seq=1).

Morgan, Tabitha A. (2020). “Revolution and Roses: The Voice and Aesthetic of Sarah Mapps Douglass.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, vol. 87, no. 4, 2020, pp. 657-663. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/pennhistory.87.4.0657?seq=1