Sarah Mapps Douglass

Sarah Mapps Douglass (1806-1882) was a writer, painter, teacher and activist. sarahdouglasspic2 Her prose and poetry were written under the pseudonym “Zillah” (and possibly “Sophonisba”) and published in the The Liberator, The Colored American, and the Anglo-African Magazine.  Her paintings, generally of flowers, were included in her letters.  She taught school in Philadelphia and New York City, among them the Institute for Colored Youth.  As an abolitionist, in 1833, Douglass helped found the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, and she was active at national anti-slavery conventions.  She lectured women on female hygiene and anatomy, based on her studies at the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania and the Ladies’ Institute of Pennsylvania Medical University.  She also founded the Female Literary Society to encourage women to learn to read and write.

Douglass was a third-generation Quaker.  She attended various Philadelphia Meetings, including North, Arch Street and Orange Street Meetings.  The Institute for Colored Youth, at which she taught, was a Quaker school.  She was a friend of Lucretia Mott and Sarah and Elizabeth Grimké.   Though she worshiped, spoke and dressed as a Friend, however, she never applied for membership.  (As neither had her grandparents and mother).  This was because Douglass was African-American, and racism was wide-spread among Friends.  Black Quakers were made to sit apart from white Friends on “black benches” and were denied membership.  (Though in advance of other parts of American society –Friends forbade slave ownership and supported African-American education –they retained other racist practices).  Douglass published a letter in the National Anti-Slavery Standard, refuting the belief that African-Americans preferred music and excitement in their religious services.  (She wrote, “I myself know some, whose hearts yearn for the quiet of your worshipping places, and who love the ‘still small voice’, better than harp or viol.”)  She also contributed stories about her painful experiences with Quakers to Sarah Grimké’s “Letter on the Subject of Prejudice against Colour amongst the Society of Friends in the United States”.

It was a shameful time among Quakers when they treated this Friend in that manner.

Above is a beautiful watercolor she included in one of her letters.

May 2018

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