In 1851, in Rochester, New York, a group of six women banded together as the founding members of an anti-slavery group in order to support the work of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass. They called themselves the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery (Sewing) Society, although they dropped “Sewing” from the group’s name in 1855. Yet the fact that “Sewing” was included in the original name of this reformist group indicates the foundational role of craft not only as a guiding activity but also central as an activist mechanism to abolish the institution of slavery. They were the benefactors of Frederick Douglass, himself regarded as the founder of the twentieth century Civil Rights movement. This article employs three handwork metaphors to analyze points of friction around race that emerge in the annual reports of the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery (Sewing) Society. The three textile metaphors that undergird this article include: 1) the construction of weaving, through its warp and weft, as representative of social structures; 2) the search for seams as sites of tension and transition; and 3) the symbolism of the needle as a mending device. This article reveals the analytical power of handcraft metaphors to understand the social-reform activity among the “Rochester Ladies’,” whose members were all White, and how such conceptions motivated their abolitionist work. This research project fulfills a significant gap in the literature since there is no scholarly investigation chronicling, exclusively, the work of the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery (Sewing) Society. Analysis is based on the existing fourteen annual reports published by the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery (Sewing) Society since 1852, in an effort to understand how craft was used in a historic period for political purposes.
Mandell, Hinda. 2022. "Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery (Sewing) Society: Handcraft as a Metaphorical tool for the Abolitionist Cause." Journal of Feminist Scholarship 20 (Spring): 49-66. 10.23860/jfs.2022.20.04.