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Maria W. Stewart, fiery feminist and abolitionist

Herb Boyd | 1/9/2014, 12:08 p.m.
Maria W. Stewart, female counterpart to Marcus Garvey.

After the Civil War, Stewart was appointed the head of housekeeping at the Freedmen’s Hospital and Asylum, a role originally held by Sojourner Truth. The hospital was a popular refuge for the recently emancipated slaves. By the late 1870s, she had founded a Sunday school, and a windfall came her way when a law made her eligible for a widow’s pension based on her husband’s service in the Navy during the war of 1812. The $8 a month, along with a sizable retroactive payment, was enough to finance her book, a collection of essays called “Meditations from the Pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart,” published in 1879.

The following is an excerpt from her public lecture at African Masonic Hall, cited above:

“The unfriendly whites first drove the native American from his much loved home. Then they stole our fathers from their peaceful and quiet dwellings and brought them hither and made bondmen and bondwomen of them and their little ones. They have obliged our brethren to labor, kept them in utter ignorance, nourished them in vice and raised them in degradation, and now that we have enriched their soil and filled their coffers, they say we are not capable of becoming like white men and that we can never rise to the respectability in this country. They would drive us to a strange land.

“But before I go, the bayonet shall pierce me through. African rights and liberty is a subject that ought to fire the breast of every free man of color in these United States and excite in his bosom a lively, deep, decided and heartfelt interest.”

Stewart died shortly after her last book was published. She died in the same hospital where she worked. She is buried in Washington’s Graceland Cemetery.