Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880)


Lydia Maria Child was the most famous citizen of Wayland during Civil War times and much could be written about her active life as reformer and abolitionist. Because there are several website links students can use to learn more about her life, all her writings and activities will not be reviewed. She came with her husband, David Lee Child, to Wayland in 1853 to care for her ill father (Convers Francis) and remained in the family home after her father’s death..


Maria (the name she preferred) was already a well-known author by the time she and her husband David became concerned about slavery through the writings and friendship with Wm. Lloyd Garrison who encouraged her to write for the abolitionist cause. “In 1833 she roused the country by the publication of her first Anti-Slavery book “An Appeal in Behalf of that Class of Americans Called Africans.” For this effort she had to give up “the highest literary fame and social position”, friends refused to recognize her, and her book sales and publishing nearly stopped—all because there was still much popular prejudice on the subject of slavery. But. “Mrs. Child was by no means a reformer of one idea. She took an active interests in every question nthat concerned humanity: Prison Reform, Peace, the Welfare of the Indian, the Woman Question, including the right of suffrage.” “ Her greatest literary work was the  “Progress of Religious Ideas, in three octavo volumes…” but the most popular work has remained “The Frugal Housewife”. “She practiced the most rigid personal economy, but spent thousands for the slave, the soldier and the Freedman, giving the whole amount ($4,000) from the sale of “Looking Towards Sunset” to the Sanitary Commission.”


She found Wayland a sleepy town, but she took an interest in her neighbors and everyday happenings and aided the war effort locally by rolling bandages, knitting and other soldier’s aid work, and raising clothing and money for freedmen’s relief nationally.


Her marvelous letters shed light on the local response to the slavery question, and on Wayland neighbors and friends such as Sears and Grout, which are quoted elsewhere.

The sample below about James Madison Bent’s new steamboat shows her awareness of local events and her sense of humor.


“They have started a steam boat in Wayland and they sound a little penny trumpet of a whistle many times a day, like children playing great designs.  I shouldn’t wonder if they were to raise the price of real estate as (a result of the boat)...As my house is not far from the river through which the mighty machine puffs its way, perhaps it may prove a ‘Silver Mine’ to me.”


From Childhood Memories by Alfred Wayland Cutting (a young neighbor Child befriended):

“As was the custom then with middle-aged and elderly ladies, Mrs. Child usually wore a cap of fine lace.  One day in the spring she washed one of these and hung it on a bush in her garden to dry.  When she went to get it later, it was gone!  Not a trace of it could she find, hunt high and low, and where it had gone, or who had taken it or why, were mysteries she could not solve.  It was not explained for many months.  One day in the autumn Mr. Child saw an oriole’s nest in the bare elm, one side of which was curiously white.  As unusual phenomena were always subjects of interest to him, he proceeded to get the nest, for examination.  And there was Mrs. Child’s cap, woven in as a part of the nest!  They had a hearty laugh over it, and long kept the nest as curiosity.” (Another hat belonging to Lydia may be seen in the Wayland Historical Society.)


Other quotes are from Alfred S. Hudson (Annals of Sudbury, Wayland and Maynard) and from her letters, give reference