Education from LVA

The Negro Woman's Appeal

  • The Negro Woman's Appeal to Her White Sisters, ca. 1850
This image and poem were created to appeal to the sentimentality of women and to influence them to oppose slavery.
Related documents:
  • Petition from the women of Augusta
    Petition from “females of the County of Augusta” to the General Assembly, January 19, 1832
  • Philadelphia Abolitionists with Lucretia Mott
    A Group of Philadelphia Abolitionists with Lucretia Mott, Photograph, 1851
  • Susan B. Anthony's <em>Uncle Tom's Cabin</em>
    Susan B. Anthony's Copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1874
  • Make the Slave's Case Our Own
    “Make the Slave's Case Our Own,” Speech by Susan B. Anthony, ca. 1859
  • Mary Church Terrell Speech
    Mary Church Terrell's Speech before the NAWSA, February 18, 1898
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The Negro Woman's Appeal to Her White Sisters, ca. 1850

Richard Barrett, of London, published this poem as a broadside in the 1850s in an attempt to establish sisterhood between African American and white women to work together to end slavery. The poem appealed to the sentimentality of women. It was believed in the nineteenth century that women were the more emotional and pious sex. Women were expected to run the household, raise children, and exert a positive influence on their husbands and sons.

Barrett implored white women to think of enslaved African American women who were unable to raise their children and establish their families the way white women was could. The lines “ye wives, and ye mothers, your influence extend—/ye sisters, ye daughters, the helpless defend—/the strong ties are severed for one crime alone, / possessing a colour less fair than your own” attempt to establish bonds of female sisterhood among women even though they were of different races. Barrett hoped that those ties would influence more white women to press for the abolition of slavery. The female speaker of the poem entreated, “Then pity dear ladies and send me relief, / This poor heart is breaking with sorrow and grief: / Could you see my affliction your tears they would flow, / for women are tender by nature you know.” As the poem uses traditional gender roles to appeal to white women's sympathy, it also employs the popular image of the supplicant African American. The female supplicant design was common in newspapers and broadsides aimed at women and intended to inspire interracial sisterhood.

African American women were largely left out of the records of activism in the antebellum and immediate postwar years. This does not mean that they were not active, though. The most prominent was Sojourner Truth, a former slave and abolitionist. She traveled throughout the North to attend women's conferences and earned a living through her public appearances. Like the mainstream woman's rights movement, African American female activists grew out of the abolitionist movement. After emancipation, most antislavery activists, men and women of all races turned their focus to suffrage, causing a breach among them because they disagreed over the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment extended voting only to American men, leaving women disfranchised. Many women's groups who had supported abolition causes were dismayed that they were excluded. This caused a particular conflict of interest for African American women, as they were torn between loyalty to their race or to their sex.

For Educators


1. When and where was this broadside printed?
2. What does this poem demonstrate about the way gender roles were perceived in the nineteenth century?
3. What is the signifigance of the chains at the woman's feet?

Further Discussion

1. Who was the most famous female African American activist?

2. Compare this broadside to the petition from the women of August County. How do they both use acceptable gender roles to make their points? Both documents are antislavery, but how do they differ?


Library of Congress Bibliographic Information-Negro Woman's Appeal

The African-American Mosaic: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Black History & Culture

Suggested Reading

Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.

This Book tell man not to be cruel. Oh! that massa would read this Book.

Ye wives, and ye mothers, your influence extend—
Ye sisters, ye daughters, the helpless defend—
These strong ties are severed for one crime alone,
Possessing a colour less fair than your own.
Ah! why must the tints of complexion be made
A plea for the wrongs which poor Afric invade?
Alike are his children in his holy sight,
Who formed and redeems both the black and the white.
In the good book you read, I have heard it is said,
For those of all nations the Saviour has bled,—
No "respecter of persons" is he I am told,
All who love and obey him he ranks in his fold;
His laws, like himself, are both pure and divine—
Ah! why bear his name and his precepts decline.

"Do justly," I hear is the sacred command—
Then why steal poor negro from his native land?
Can they violate this, and "love mercy?" Oh! no,
These chains, and these wounds, and these tears plainly show
That, assuming a power our God never gave,
The practice of sin will the heart more deprave.
That man, when rejecting his Maker's control,
His feelings and passions like billows will roll,
And spread desolation wherever he reigns
Behold it, alas! in this land of sweet canes.

'Tis the nature of crime so prolific its source;
To delude,—to mislead,—and to strengthen their force;
Then pity dear ladies and send me relief,
This poor heart is breaking with sorrow and grief:
Could you see my affliction your tears they would flow,
For women are tender by nature you know.
In health and in sickness I daily must toil
From sunrise to sunset, to hoe the rough soil,
My fevered head aching and throbbing with pain,
My fragile limbs torn, but I must not complain.
No voice of compassion its solace bestows,
If sinking with anguish I court some repose,

The wounds of fresh tortures will rouse me again,
For I must not one moment forgetful remain.
My babies are crying beneath the tall trees,
Their loud sobs come borne on the soft passing breeze,
To her whose rent bosom most keenly can feel,
Though she dare not her thoughts nor her wishes reveal,
While pierced with the knowledge they're roving alone,—
No hand to conduct them, and keep them at home—
To feed them—to sooth them, and hush them to peace
On that bosom of love, where their sorrows would cease.
Their smooth glossy cheeks, which as lovely I view
As are the mixed tints of the roses to you,
Are stained with the tears I would soon kiss away,
Could I see my sweet infants the long sunny day.
On their soft jetty locks hang the dew-drops of morn,
Which like pearls their bright ebony clusters adorn,
As they wander about round the green plantain tree,
Their little hands clasped, they keep asking for me—
Surprised that by her whom our nature has taught
To cherish and guard, they should now be forgot;
Alas! could they tell how my bleeding heart aches,
They would know that maternal love never forsakes:

The tide of affection that tinges your skin
With beauty's vermillion, proclaims it within;
But ladies believe me no warmer it glows
Because that through lilies and roses it flows.
The same holy hand which created you fair,
Has moulded me too in the hue that I wear;
No partial hand formed us, our title's the same—
'Tis inscribed on the Christian, whatever his name;
No sable can veil when his light from on high
Illumines the soul he has made for the sky,
To dwell in his courts, and be present with him,
When freed and redeemed from the bondage of sin.
Oh! fair Christian ladies, you bear a high name;
Your works of benevolence loudly proclaim
The mercy and kindness you show to distress;
Ah! pity dear ladies, our Saviour will bless.

Richard Barrett, Printer, Mark Lane.