Frederick Douglass Lynn Sites, Part 2: Historical Society & Hutchinson Scrapbook

3 Portraits of Frederick Douglass at Lynn Museum, 2016 Amy Cools

Three portraits of Frederick Douglass at the Lynn Museum & Historical Society

Seventh Day, Saturday March 26th

As I mention in the first part of my account of today’s journey, Lynn proves to be a Douglass treasure trove for me, especially the Lynn Museum & Historical Society.

While I’m waiting to meet with a representative of the museum to look at some materials from the archives, I visit the  ‘Abolitionist Lynn’ exhibit upstairs. As discussed in the first part of today’s account, Lynn had a particularly active and vocal abolitionist community. As I also discussed in the first part of today’s account, that’s what brought Douglass, laborer turned abolitionist speaker, here to Lynn.

Abolitionist Pitcher at Lynn Museum, front and back, 2016 Amy Cools

Anti-Slavery Pitcher showing a slave auction at front, a slave mother and infant escaping on the back, and a praying manacled figure on the handle

Fugitive Slave Act poster, Lynn Museum, detail, 2016 Amy Cools

Among the many interesting exhibits I see are two posters, similar in format and general style but strikingly different in message and tone. One shows a man with an angry face, wearing a crown made of finger bones and brandishing a chain and whip, seated upon a throne and supported by three mournful slaves, three skulls, a Bible, and a copy of the Fugitive Slave Bill (Act) of 1850. A man in a white robe (perhaps a clergyman’s robe, since a judge’s robe would be black) is pouring an offering from a small cask into a fire on a small altar emblazoned ‘Sacred to Slavery’, while Daniel Webster, a leading Senator at the time famed for his eloquence, gestures to the throne, proclaiming ‘I propose to support that bill …to the fullest extent…’ and a bearded man behind him hangs his head in sorrow, lowering a crown labeled ‘Freedom’ from his head. Behind these figures, a barefoot escaping male slave wrestles with a pack of snarling dogs as two slavecatchers on horses gallop after him, a black woman and her children run into the open arms of an abolitionist white woman, and a statue of Minerva, goddess of wisdom and trade, topples from her pedestal on the hill.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was meant to put an end to a deeply divisive issue between the Northern and Southern states. Southern slaveowners were enraged that northern abolitionists, grown into an energetic movement and potent political force following the pioneering abolitionist work of William Lloyd Garrison starting in the late 1820’s, were aiding slaves escaping to the North. The Act would not only force all Northern officials to cooperate in the capture and return of escaped slaves, it would force private individuals to do so too, on pain of fines and imprisonment. Northerners, especially abolitionists, saw this as an intolerable intrusion on personal conscience by forcing them to participate in a deeply immoral system, while Southerners saw this as a simple enforcement of property rights.

No Higher Law Abolitionist Poster, Lynn Museum, 2016 Amy Cools

No Higher Law Abolitionist Poster, from the Abolitionist Lynn exhibit at the Lynn Museum & Historical Society, March 2016

Senator, statesman, and orator Daniel Webster personified the central conflicts between North and South at that time. A Northerner hailing from Massachusetts, he irreparably damaged his political career through his support for the Fugitive Slave Act, the final and most sweeping of many such acts passed over the decades. Northerners who admired him for his commitment to preserving the Union and for promoting the modernization of the United States into a center of finance and industry from the mostly agrarian economy it had long been, hated this cession of state and personal autonomy to Southern interests. And however much the South loved the bill, their economy was almost entirely based on agriculture and capital investment in slaves, so Webster’s economic policies were intolerable to them regardless of this compromise to preserve the Union. As Abraham Lincoln recognized from the beginning, though he too tried to find a way, peace between the states could never be attained so long as the law, founded on certain conceptions of human rights, tried to accommodate that intrinsically incompatible ‘peculiar institution‘ of slavery.

Haitian Ambassador Poster detail, Lynn Museum, 2016 Amy CoolsThe second poster is a nasty (despite the author’s snarky claim that it’s ‘respectful’) caricature of the abolitionist women of Lynn and of black people in general. Addressed in the subtitle to the ‘500 ladies of Lynn who wish to marry black husbands, it’s basically an elaborate telling of that schoolyard jibe ‘if you love…. so much, why don’t you marry …?’ As you can recognize in the quotes of the ladies in the ballroom oohing and awing over the visiting Haitian ambassador, the author plays on many stereotypes of black people and of women at the time. And unfortunately, most of us ‘get’ the twisted jokes in these quotes because these stereotypes persist to this day.

The person who created this poster in 1839 could not have foreseen that one of Lynn’s future black residents, Frederick Douglass, would go on to to become one of Lynn’s and America’s most loved and admired citizens, and would be appointed to the high office of United States Consul General to Haiti in 1889. I, for one, would get some satisfaction out of time-traveling to visit the author and inform him of these historical developments, just to see the look on his face. Douglass was too dignified a man himself to engage in such a prank if it were possible; throughout his life, he practiced great self-discipline in keeping to the moral high ground.

Johnny Q and Haitian Abassador Poster, Lynn Museum, 2016 Amy Cools

Poster caricaturing Lynn’s abolitionist movement, 1839, from the ‘Abolitionist Lynn’ exhibit at the Lynn Museum & Historical Society

Politics of the Needle, Lynn Museum exhibit, 2016 Amy CoolsA seamstress and textile artist myself, I enjoy the exhibit of needlework artifacts here, created by the girls and women of Lynn’s abolitionist community to raise money for the abolitionist cause.

The sampler is a basic design, the only thing differentiating it from other samplers of the period is the cause it raised money for. The other pieces, through words and images, remind their owners not to forget the slaves’ plight while enjoying the freedom and comfort of their own daily lives.

The exhibit is filled with many more interesting artifacts and information, but to keep this account from becoming too long, I’ll refocus my attention on the main object of my visit here today.

Sampler by Julia Ann Boyce at Lynn Museum

Abolitionist needlework exhibit, Lynn Museum

Abolitionist needlework exhibit, Lynn Museum & Historical Society

Piano with John Hutchinson sheet music, Abolitionist Lynn exhibit, March 2016

Piano with John Hutchinson sheet music, Abolitionist Lynn exhibit, March 2016

The Hutchinson Family Scrapbook at the Lynn Museum & Historical Society

The Hutchinson Family Scrapbook at the Lynn Museum & Historical Society

Britt arrives (she so kindly takes time out of her day off to come in and meet me!) and greets me with a cart of artifacts: one is a folder filled with ephemera relating to Douglass, mostly newspaper clippings, and the other is an old scrapbook entitled: ‘Memorabilia of the Hutchinson Family’. She reminds me of what Nicole Breault, Education and Research Specialist, had informed me by email: the Lynn Museum’s archival materials are now housed at the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum. She encourages me to visit and I long to do so, of course, but as I’ve been telling you, more and more to my regret, I only have two weeks for this trip and have no time to go! I hope to be able to follow up in future, and now have yet one more good resource for original sources.

So knowing time is short this morning, too, I begin with the exciting artifact here before me, the Hutchinson family scrapbook.

Hutchinson Family Singers Poster, Lynn Museum, 2016 Amy Cools

Hutchinson Family Singers Poster at the Abolitionist Lynn exhibit, March 2016, Lynn Museum & Historical Society

Portrait of John Hutchinson from the Hutchinson Family Scrapbook at the Lynn Historical Society. He's quite a handsome man, I think, with beautiful eyes

Portrait of John Hutchinson from the Hutchinson Family Scrapbook at the Lynn Historical Society. I think he’s very handsome, with beautiful eyes

It opens with a portrait of John Hutchinson. Douglass traveled on board with the Hutchinsons, the ‘sweet singers of anti-slavery and the “good time coming,”‘ (Life and Times) when he sailed to the British Isles on August 6th, 1847, on self-imposed exile when he felt the information contained in his newly published Narrative endangered his freedom.

The Hutchinson Family Singers vocal group was founded by John Hutchinson with his brothers Asa, Jesse, and Judson. The Hutchinson family was originally from New Hampshire, as Douglass described, but had many connections to Lynn: John saw a concert of a European singing troupe and was inspired to form his own in that style; the family later performed in Lynn; and John and his wife Patch settled here, on High Rock at the north part of the city, not far from the second Lynn home of the Douglass family. When Jesse became musical director of the group he stopped singing as often, but all of the brothers and sisters, as well as many spouses and other extended family members, joined in as full-time or occasional members. The group broke up into two ‘tribes’ since the brothers didn’t always get along (like so many brothers in bands together, like the great Kinks and maybe not the quite as great Oasis), but both groups were always billed as the ‘Hutchinson Family Singers’.

Civil War free pass and letter from Lydia Marie Child to John Huchinson, Lynn Museum & Historical Society

Civil War free pass and letter from Lydia Maria Child to John Hutchinson, Lynn Museum & Historical Society. The Hutchinson family would sing for the troops, by special permission of the Secretary of War, to cheer and inspire them. The great human rights activist and author Child applauds this in her letter to John of January 19th, 1862.

There are so many wonderful artifacts here, new thrills every time I turn the page! There’s a letter from Susan B. Anthony, great abolitionist, woman’s rights leader, and friend of Douglass, who I’ll discuss at greater length in a later account:

Susan B. Anthony Letter to John Hutchinson

Letter from Susan B. Anthony to John Hutchinson, December 9th 1892, sending condolences for the death of his sister Abby, an especially talented member of the group and also, as Anthony says here, dedicated to the women’s rights cause

Abby Hutchinson's tribute to Jesse upon his death on May 15, 1853

Abby Hutchinson’s tribute to her brother Jesse following his death on May 15, 1853. She replaced him as fourth member of the quartet when he stopped singing to become manager, then took over as manager when he died

There’s a note from Julia Ward Howe:

Note from Julia Ward Howe

Note from Julia Ward Howe, who wrote ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’, which consisted of new lyrics to the tune of ‘John Brown’s Body’, a song about Douglass’ fiery abolitionist friend who led the raid on Harper’s Ferry. Both songs were popular Civil War hymns, for the Northern side, of course

Tremont Temple Abolitionist Poster, 2016 Amy Cools

Poster for Second Abolitionist Reunion at Tremont Temple in Boston, September 22nd 1890. As you may remember from my account of my day in Boston visiting Douglass sites, he spoke here often, and as you can see from the poster, he shared the stage with John Hutchinson and his daughter Viola, who donated the scrapbook to the Lynn Historical Society (see cover photo above). They close the meeting with Howe’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’

Hutchinson Family Paper celebrating 25 years as a group, with ringing endorsement by Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Hutchinson Family Paper celebrating over 25 years as a group, with a ringing endorsement by feminist leader and Douglass’ friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Two portraits of Frederick Douglass from the Hutchinson Family scrapbook

Two portraits of Frederick Douglass in the Hutchinson Family scrapbook

John Hutchinson Song Dedicated to Frederick Douglass Cover Page from Lynn Museum Exhibit

Jesse Hutchinson Song dedicated to Frederick Douglass, cover page print from Lynn Museum Abolitionist Lynn exhibit

As with the Lynn Museum exhibit, I find there are so many interesting things here to share and I can continue on, but this account would grow meandering and very long (it’s going to be pretty long regardless!). So, I’ll return to the central subject of this account, publishing more photos of artifacts I find here today in later accounts as they pertain to the story, and tell you about my most exciting discovery of the day.

Do you remember this drawing on the left from the first part of my Lynn journey account, of the cover page for ‘The Fugitive Song’, written by Jesse and dedicated to Frederick Douglass?

In 1874, Douglass wrote a letter to John Hutchinson mentioning Jesse (the group was often called ‘The Tribe of Jesse’ even long after his death), and it’s here in this scrapbook. Yes, I’m holding an original letter written by Douglass himself, in my own two hands! Well, archivist-gloved hands anyway, and of course I don’t remove it from the scrapbook, just carefully turn it over to read both sides. Like I’ve said many times before, artifacts and physical sites have a very strong effect on me emotionally, which is what keeps me from being just an armchair history enthusiast and drives me out on the road. So, of course, I get the chills all over again, and feel more than a bit teary-eyed!

The envelope is addressed: 'John W. Hutchinson, Lynn Mass' from 'Fred'k Douglass'

The envelope is addressed: ‘John W. Hutchinson, Lynn Mass’ from ‘Fred’k Douglass’

But anyway, here’s the full text of the letter:

‘Biddeford, Nov. 18, 1874

My dear John,

I have only time while on the wing as I am, to tell you that you made me very much obliged to you for the little pamphlet you kindly put into [sic] hands night before last in Lynn, containing biographical sketches of the several members of your remarkably musical family. No apology was needed for its publication. All who have listened as I have done, to the ‘Concord of Several Sounds’ from members of the ‘Tribe of Jesse’ want more of the music and wish to know more of the persons from whom it comes. I especially have reason to feel a grateful interest in the whole Hutchinson family for you have sung the yokes from the necks & the fetters from the limbs of my race, and dared to be true to humanity against all danger to worldly prosperity and reputation. You have dared to sing for a cause first and for cash afterward. I know of few instrumentalities which have done more for liberty and temperance than have your voices. But I only took this moment simply to thank you for the pamphlets and not to speak in the praise of the dear family.

Yours very truly, Fred’k Douglass.’

Frederick Douglass letter to John Hutchinson, dated 1874, Lynn Museum & Historical Society

Frederick Douglass letter to John Hutchinson, dated 1874, Lynn Museum & Historical Society

At long last and with little time to spare, I finish looking at the scrapbook and turn to the other clippings and ephemera I find in the Douglass file folder.

George Latimer article, Lynn Museum Archives

George Latimer article, Lynn Museum Archives

I find an old newspaper clipping here that’s very interesting, unique in its details yet generally characteristic of how high the tensions were between abolitionists and supporters of slavery, and how tight-knit abolitionist communities were. New Bedford, as discussed earlier in this series, was one such community. Lynn and Boston both have a strong history of abolitionism as well (John Adams, a Bostonian of many years, was the only one among our first several presidents who not only didn’t own slaves, but consistently regarded it a great wrong).

Detail of George Latimer article

Detail of George Latimer article

The clipping tells the story of George Latimer, a former slave who escaped with his wife Rebecca to Baltimore, than onto Boston, where George was arrested; after Latimer’s freedom was finally purchased, he and his wife settled in Lynn. I had read this story in my research on Douglass; it was disputes over slaves escaping north, such as the Latimers, that led to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, since the slavecatchers had pursued Latimer into a free state. And as you can see in the newspaper account (you can open the image in a new tab and zoom in to read), Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips were champions for Latimer’s cause and held meetings in Boston’s Faneuil Hall, where I visited yesterday. You’ll also see that Jesse and John Hutchinson were among the activists protesting Latimer’s treatment, that the pastor of Tremont Temple Samuel Caldwell paid the $400 that purchased his freedom (paid his ransom?), and that Latimer and his wife were taken in by people on Joy Street, on Beacon Hill in Boston; I walked that street just yesterday as well.

I find many other old newspaper clippings in this folder, some of which I’ve shared with you already in the first part of my account of today’s visit to Lynn, others which I’ll share with you as they relate to my further discoveries on my Douglass journey, and still others I’m happy to share upon request. But I’ll go ahead and end this account here for time’s sake, and soon follow this with the tale of my next day’s discoveries.

Again, my heartfelt thanks to all at the Lynn Museum & Historical Society. Thank you so much to Nicole Breault for arranging my visit, Britt Bowen who gave me access to historical artifacts for study, the kind ladies who greeted me and showed me around, and to everyone else there who makes this place a beautiful place to visit and a great resource!

~ Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!


John and Patch Hutchinson from Family Scrapbook

John and Patch Hutchinson from Family Scrapbook

Sources and inspiration:

Blassingame, J. (Ed.). The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. 4 volumes, and The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series 2: Autobiographical Writings. 3 volumes. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979-1999

Daniel Webster‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Douglass, Frederick. Autobiographies (includes Narrative…, My Freedom and my Bondage, and Life and Times). With notes by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Volume compilation by Literary Classics of the United States. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.

Foner, Philip S. The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 1-4. New York: International Publishers, 1950.

Frederick Douglass Chronology‘ from the National Park Service – History & Culture: People

Fugitive Slave Act of 1850‘. from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Fugitive Slave Law‘, from The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship online exhibit from the Library of Congress.

Hutchinson Family Singers‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

The Hutchinson Family Singers: America’s First Protest Singers‘. Amaranth Publishing website

Lewis, Alan. ‘Abby Hutchinson Patton‘ and ‘John Wallace Hutchinson‘, Hutchinson Family Singers Web Site (archived)

Peculiar Institution.” Dictionary of American History, 2003, from

Weatherford, Doris. ‘Lydia Maria Child‘, via National Women’s History Museum website

William L. Garrison‘. Ohio History Central website

William Lloyd Garrison‘. From Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Review: Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion, by Susan Jacoby

One of my favorite authors, who wrote the great Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, has written another wonderful book that I believe should be foundational to any freethinker’s library, or any historian’s for that matter.

In Strange Gods, Susan Jacoby considers religious and ideological conversions, from those as famous as Augustines’s and Muhammmed Ali’s to the lesser known Margaret Fell’s and Peter Cartwright’s, in the wider context of the political and social circumstances of their times. From Augustine of Hippo, early father of the Christian church and author of Confessions and The City of God who converted from paganism to Manichaeism to Christianity, to Muhammad Ali, heavyweight boxing champion and activist who converted from Christianity to the Nation of Islam, to Sunni Islam, to Sufism, her book ranges mostly through the world dominated by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam after the turn of the first millennium CE. Jacoby explores the roles of the personal forces within and the forces of family, community, and the wider cultural, political, and religious shifts without, which led people to adopt new beliefs and in many cases, to spend the rest of their lives proselytizing for them.

What a great idea for a book! Jacoby’s in-depth study shows us how stories of conversion not only offer invaluable insights into the transformative power of newfound belief on individual persons, but how it can affect the lives of those around them and of those who come after them, for good and for ill. She offers us an in-depth exploration of each conversion from a refreshingly secular viewpoint, free of partisanship and complete with associated circumstances, influences, and social dynamics. Since conversion stories are rarely explored outside of the context of the newly adopted belief system, we don’t often get a clear view of the significance of this experience for the converted as well as for the people around them. To those within a religious tradition, converts, especially those who become prominent spokespersons or martyrs, are offered as proofs of the validity and superiority of that particular faith, yet all belief systems have their own and hold them up in this same manner. To those outside of each given tradition, converts can be dismissed as lost or misled, or even considered hoodwinked, brainwashed, or traitorous. Jacoby’s treatment helps to reveal how much larger a story conversion is than the exclusively religious and personal event it’s so often considered, while retaining a sympathetic understanding of its meaningfulness in individual lives. In these pages, each conversion story is not only a rich psychological study, but a valuable history lesson as well.

One of the conversion stories that stood out for me is one I’ve thought about many times over the years. A cultural Catholic myself, I’ve long been familiar with the story of Augustine’s conversion and with his resulting views on topics such as sex, sin, women, the Jews, and so forth. As I grew older and began to consider things more critically, Augustine seemed to me less a repentant sinner and paragon of virtue and more an off-the-deep-end zealot, who went from being a man with a healthy sex life in a loving relationship with a woman and their child to a self-obsessed, Jesus-freak fastidious hater of all that’s natural. His conversion was deeply meaningful to him, but what about the woman he dumped after their long-term relationship, their child whom he cast from his home, the friends he rejected, and the father he turned against? I try now to take a more balanced and sympathetic view of the man and I find Jacoby’s profile of his spiritual and psychological journey helpful in this regard, though I still believe many of his theological views are harmful and have had a long-term negative influence on the way the Christian world has regarded sex and the nature and role of women. Augustine did what he felt he needed to do and what he came to believe was right, and in light of the circumstances of his life and personality, his thoughts and actions are understandable, even if not always admirable. Jacoby does not idolize him by any means, but respects his intelligence and his right to believe freely, and presents a full picture of his life and circumstances with the right mixture of fairness, sympathy, critique, and refreshing touch of humor. (I’m gratified to find that someone else sees his mother Monica as a real ‘piece of work! I’ve long thought of her as manipulative, passive aggressive, and kind of creepy!)

Jacoby’s exploration of the divergence, convergence, and conflict in matters of belief is a masterful one, and goes beyond the study of conversion as a matter of faith: she also offers a deep study of the personal and social effects of forced conversions, a subject not discussed often enough. The imposition or social pressure to conform to religious and ideological orthodoxy is an ancient and effective tool to impose the will of the ruler on the people, or to impose the will of some people on others. But we kid ourselves if we think it’s just something people did in the bad old days; there are still many parts of the world where conversions are still imposed at the end of a gun or with the threat of the lash, or, at least, with knowledge that it’s the only road to social acceptance, ability to get a job and live free from harassment.

In the end, Jacoby’s book is a testament to how the Enlightenment brought about one of the world’s best inventions: the social and political ideal of freedom of conscience. The more it’s realized in the world, the longer, safer, and happier lives we’ll live, with a greater ability to understand and appreciate the true richness of the variety of human thought.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and is ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Seneca: On Tranquility of Mind, by Massimo Pigliucci

Another excellent piece by one of my favorite philosophers in the public square. I, for one, would do well to heed Seneca’s advice: I often find myself stressed and overwhelmed by running around too much and just doing, doing, doing, without enough reflection on whether or not it’s most conducive to my well-being and to the overall success of my endeavors. Thanks, Massimo, for bringing the wisdom of Stoicism to the hectic modern world!

How to Be a Stoic

Roman drinking wine Roman drinking wine

After having tackled Seneca’s views on what makes for a wise person, let’s take a look to what he had to say on the topic of peace of mind, which was a major goal especially of Roman Stoicism (as opposed to an exclusive emphasis on the cultivation of virtues in Greek Stoicism).

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To Paris, France I Go, In Search of Revolution-Era Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson

Happy 257th birthday, Mary Wollstonecraft! Here is my other tribute to your memory, a journey I took in your footsteps last year

Ordinary Philosophy

Hello, friends of Ordinary Philosophy!

From time to time, I take a trip to some corner of the globe, to explore the lives and ideas of great thinkers in the places where they lived and worked. For this series, I follow in the footsteps of thinkers who are no longer alive, since those who are still telling their own stories. But those who are no longer alive in the body live on in the ideas that they pass on, and in the example they provide for us to follow.

I’m pleased and excited to announce my fourth philosophical-historical themed adventure, this time in Paris, France to follow in the footsteps of Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Thomas Jefferson at the time of the French Revolution.

The French Revolution, following on the heels of the American Revolution, inspired and horrified many. The financial crisis, caused by over-expenditures in recent wars (including…

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Mary Wollstonecraft, Champion of Reason, Passionate in Love

In honor of Mary Wollstonecraft’s 257th birthday (she was born on April 27, 1759), here’a piece I wrote about her last fall, following my history of ideas travel series following this great feminist and champion of human rights’ time in Paris. Enjoy!

Ordinary Philosophy

The life and work of Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of modern feminism, can seem to reveal a mass of contradictions.

Her seminal feminist work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, champions reason as the ultimate guide for a moral and productive life. She used reason to great effect to show why women should, and how they could, grow out of their socially constructed roles as under-educated coquettes and household drudges. She believed that reason should rule both individuals and societies because it’s the best tool we have to achieve justice and to perfect the self. Without reason, she thought, human beings are ruled by narrow self-interest, by the prejudice born of ignorance, and by crude lust.

Yet the life Wollstonecraft chose to live was widely criticized both during her lifetime and over the two hundred plus years since her death. It’s not just because she didn’t conform to the mores…

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New Podcast Episode: On Martyrdom

Joan of Arc statue in Paris, France, photo 2015 by Amy Cools

Listen to this podcast episode here or subscribe on iTunes
The school shooting at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College on October 1st, 2015 ended with nine dead and many more injured. The shootings may have been religiously motivated: according to some reports, the gunman commanded some of the students to stand up, asked if they were Christian, and when they responded ‘yes’, he shot them down.

Some have praised these murder victims as Christian martyrs dying for their faith. In one sense, it’s a plausible, and in any sense, an understandable interpretation of what happened: the gunman shot them down after they responded ‘Yes’ to his question ‘Are you a Christian?’ Other survivors tell the story a little differently. In any case, the martyr interpretation is tricky: if it did happen as described above, the murder victims wouldn’t have known ahead of time whether ‘yes’ or ‘no’ was the right answer, as at least one survivor pointed out. Though they may have intended to defy death rather than deny their faith, they could instead have thought that the truthful answer of ‘yes’ would save them from death. Sadly, we can never really know….  Read the original essay here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and is ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Frederick Douglass Lynn, Massachusetts Sites

John Hutchinson Song Dedicated to Frederick Douglass Cover Page from Lynn Museum ExhibitJohn Hutchinson Song Dedicated to Frederick Douglass Cover Page, 2016 Amy Cools

Jesse Hutchinson song dedicated to Frederick Douglass, cover page print from Lynn Museum exhibit (a fanciful illustration: in real life, he wore shoes and escaped by train and ferry)

Seventh Day, Saturday March 26th

I drive from Boston to Lynn, Massachusetts, only about 25 minutes north by car.

Not long after Frederick Douglass began his public speaking career, he and his family moved here to Lynn from New Bedford. They lived here from the fall of 1841 through about November 1847. Well, actually, for much of that time, it was mostly Anna and the kids who lived here. First, Douglass was often on tour as a speaker, which took him away from home for long stretches. Secondly, he was away on a tour of the British Isles from 1845-1847, which is why many sources say Douglass himself only lived here until 1845. He returned only briefly to Lynn before moving himself and his family to Rochester near the end of 1847. His ‘industrious and neat companion‘ Anna took care of the household while he was away, and often took in piecework from Lynn’s thriving shoemaking industry to make sure the kids were always cared for and the bills paid on time.

Douglass wrote his Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave here in Lynn, and it was published by the Boston Anti-Slavery Society on May 28th, 1845. It sold well, and he became more than a bit nervous: he enjoyed freedom so much, of course, and now he had a family, he had even more to lose if he was to be captured and returned to slavery. After all, as discussed, he had said some not too nice things in his Narrative about his former master (who legally, still was), and who knows how badly Thomas Auld wanted to have him back in bondage! So, to avoid capture now that he publicly named his master and his whereabouts were more widely known, he sailed to England on August 6th, 1845, and embarked on an 18 month lecture tour of England and Ireland. Eventually, his abolitionist friends raised enough money to buy his freedom, or, as he conceived of it, to pay his ransom, and he was able to return home, arriving back in Lynn on April 20th, 1847. Though he was away so much, Lynn still played a significant role in his life.

Three Portraits of Frederick Douglass at the Lynn Museum & Historical Society

Three portraits of Frederick Douglass at the Lynn Museum & Historical Society

Lynn proves to be a Douglass treasure trove for me, primarily thanks to the Lynn Museum and Historical Society. Thank you so much to Nicole Breault for arranging my visit, Britt Bowen who gave me access to historical artifacts for study, the kind ladies who greeted me and showed me around, and to everyone else there who make this place a beautiful place to visit and a great resource! In fact, my visit to the museum was so full of wonderful discoveries that it needs its own separate piece, which will follow shortly.

Mural on wall of Lynn's greats on the side of Lynn Arts Building, crowned by portrait of Frederick Douglass Portrait, Lynn MA

Mural on wall of Lynn’s greats on the side of the Arts Building, crowned by portrait of Frederick Douglass Portrait

After I tear myself away from the museum (if it wasn’t closing just then, I don’t know how I’d tear myself away and get to visiting the sites on my itinerary!) and go eat a bit of lunch, I head for my first destination. On the way, my attention is caught by this vibrant mural on the side of the Lynn Arts Building at 25 Exchange St, where a portrait of Douglass presides over images of Lynn’s historical figures and creative and curious children (and other people) of today.

Newspaper clipping from the Lynn Museum and Historical Society about Frederick Douglass' train car sit-in

Old newspaper clipping from the archives at the Lynn Museum and Historical Society about Frederick Douglass’ Rosa Parks moment

I’m heading for the site of the old Central Square train station. Downtown Lynn is not easy for a first time visitor to navigate: no two streets seem to join at right angles. It takes me a few go-rounds to orient myself generally, yet I still often find myself often a little lost among the tangled streets. A man who tends a little restaurant called Capitol Diner, which looks like an old red train car, helps confirm that the place where the elevated tracks run above where Central Square meets Union and Exchange Streets is just about directly over the site of the early 1800’s train depots (there was a series of them), across the street from the mural on the side of the Arts Building.

Old Lynn Central Square and depot, photo by William T. Webster, via Wikimedia Commons

Old Lynn Central Square and depot, photo by William T. Webster, via Wikimedia Commons

Central Square Train Station raised platform

Central Square Train Station raised platform where the old train depot and Sagamore Hall once stood, to the right of the photo

According to Wikipedia, ‘The first depot at the Central Square location, built in 1838, was a small wooden building. It was replaced in 1848 with a brick building with a 2-track train shed.’

So it was in that smaller wooden incarnation that an incident occurred at this stop of a train between Boston and Portland. Douglass resisted being forced into a Jim Crow segregated car on September 28, 1841, while he was riding the train with his friend James N. Buffum, who would later become mayor of Lynn and who had inspired him to move to Lynn in the first place. Douglass simply refused to leave his seat, and when employees of the railroad company tried to remove him by force, he hung onto the seat until they were ripped and torn out of place.  As Edward Covey the slavebreaker had discovered some years earlier, Douglass was physically strong and no pushover.

Over time, he ended up doing this sort of protest often, to raise awareness. His letter about this experience was published in the newspaper, and local indignation and protests over this incident helped lead to the eventual end of segregated train cars in New England. It’s hard to imagine, to a modern reader in such an interconnected world, that there would be such a patchwork of racial sentiment in a geographic area that it took me only a few hours to cross by car. In Maryland, he was a slave; in New York City, he was free but in danger of being beaten or captured; in Boston, his Narrative was published in the same city where he was denied entry to the menagerie on Boston Common because ‘We don’t allow niggers in here!’ (as he reported); in Lynn, the trains were desegregated over rude treatment of a black customer. Amazing.

Clipping from Lynn Historical Society about Douglass' life in Lynn and Sagamore Hall

Clipping from Lynn Historical Society about Douglass’ life in Lynn and Sagamore Hall

A row of buildings on Central Square in Lynn, MA

A row of buildings on Central Square in Lynn, MA; the elevated train tracks at the right pass over the site of the old depot, and Sagamore Hall stood just beyond the tall white-faced brick building

In Central Square, I’m close to the site of Sagamore Hall where John Brown, fiery abolitionist, and friend and hero of Douglass, used to speak. Sagamore Hall was close and to the west of the depot, between Union and Mt Vernon Streets north of Exchange, also where that part of the elevated track structure now stands. If you look closely at the photo of the mural we looked at earlier, you’ll see the image of a burning building just under Douglass’ portrait: that’s Sagamore Hall burning down on November 25th, 1843. I’ll tell more about how John Brown figured in Douglass’ life, which was very significantly, before long. You’ve likely heard of him:  he led the unsuccessful raid on Harper’s Ferry from October 16th -18th 1859, in hopes of jump-starting a slave insurrection by providing them with a source of arms, and was hanged as a traitor for his trouble.

But when Douglass lived here throughout the early- to mid- 1840’s, he had not yet met John Brown, though they were here in Lynn contemporaneously. As Douglass tells it in his Life and Times, they would meet later, when Douglass lived in Rochester NY.

Market and Broad Streets near site of 1st Douglass family home in Lynn, 2016 Amy Cools

Market and Broad Streets, near the site of the first Douglass family home in Lynn, MA; their house would have been somewhere to the right of the iron structure

Manufacturing center of Lynn, Mass, by Bailey, O. H. (Oakley Hoopes) & J.C. Hazen Publisher: Bailey, O. H. & J.C. Hazen, 1879

Manufacturing center of Lynn, MA, 1879, by Bailey, Oakley Hoopes & J.C. Hazen

Douglass family homes in Lynn, MA, Lynn Museum & Historical Society placard

Douglass family homes in Lynn, MA, Lynn Museum & Historical Society placard

Then I head to the corner of Broad and Market Streets near the site of Harrison Court, where the first of the three Douglass family homes in Lynn used to stand. (I’m visiting the three Douglass home sites in chronological order).

There’s not much of historical interest here now: commercial buildings, broad highways, the big train station, and the iron skeleton of some new structure under construction. There are some great old photos of the area near Market and Broad Street at the Longyear Museum website’s Mary Baker Eddy photo gallery page; she lived a few blocks east of here at 8 Broad Street, and that home still stands. And if you look at these maps of Lynn from 1852 and from 1872, you can see where Harrison Court used to stand (I include both because, though the older one is closer to the Douglasses’ time here and more accurate for our purposes, the later one shows more detail when you zoom in). Look to the center bottom, just above the waterline and a little to to the right where two large streets come together in the point of a wedge. Click on that part to zoom in, and Harrison Court stood between the point of the wedge and the next main street running north and south to the left (Market), below Harrison St. Though none of the buildings from that time remain today, in any case, the modern openness of this place with the grassy Carroll Parkway, bright blue sky, and sea breeze is nice.

The unmarked V intersection at High and Baldwin Streets, near site of Frederick Douglass' second home in Lynn, MA

The unmarked V intersection at High and Baldwin (formerly Pearl) Streets, near site of Frederick Douglass’ second home in Lynn, MA

Then I take a brisk walk to my next destination, briefly east on Broad St then left (north) up Union St, then left again on Baldwin to the corner of Baldwin and High Streets. This is near the place where the Douglass family’s second home in Lynn used to stand. There are no street signs at all at this corner; missing street signs here and there is another reason I’ve been having a little trouble finding some places, hooray for GPS!) There’s now a tire and car care business, a white house with solar panels on its sharply pointed roof, and a three floor red brick building with arched windows. High and Baldwin streets meet here to make a ‘v’. The house, owned by Abel Houghton Jr., and where the Douglasses lived only briefly, stood somewhere near this corner. If you look at that 1872 map again), you can see the area where this house used to stand by following Union St from the point of that wedge where it meets Market to the northwest, then see where Pearl St (now Baldwin), meets it, running north and south with a crooked angle like a bent arm (Baldwin), High Street meeting it at the angle (inner elbow). Referring to the 1852 map, I don’t find the name of Abel Houghton Jr., or his Horticultural Society listed there, but it’s hard to read some of the names, or it may have changed hands in the approximate decade between between the time the Douglasses lived here and the time the map was drafted.

Newhall St between Sagamore and Sechem Streets, 3rd of Douglass family homes in Lynn MA, where Douglass wrote his Narrative

Newhall St between Sagamore and Sechem. The third Douglass family home in Lynn, from 1843-47, used to stand here where the parking lot is now. Douglass wrote his Narrative here in 1845

Then I head southeast on Silsbee St, which turns into Newhall St. I follow Newhall south to a stretch between Sagamore and Sechem Streets, where the third Douglass family home in Lynn once stood. This is where he wrote his Narrative, where his family lived while he was in the British Isles from August 1845 to April 1847, and where he returned home (after arriving in Boston on April 20th). When she saw me looking around and taking photos, a lady named Crystal (‘born and raised here!’) helpfully confirmed that the parking lot on Newhall between Santo Domingo liquor store and Sechem Streets, where Amity St ends, is the site where the Douglass home stood. As the old maps show, it’s where or about where someone named Chase lived. As the Douglass home placard in the Lynn Museum (see above) describes, it was moved once to Sagamore St nearby but eventually demolished.

Lynn Commons Frederick Douglass Bandstand and Ampitheatre near Frederick Douglass memorial

Lynn Commons Frederick Douglass Bandstand and Ampitheatre near Frederick Douglass memorial

 Frederick Douglass Memorial plaque in Lynn Commons

Frederick Douglass Memorial plaque in Lynn Commons

Then I return to the car and drive just over 5 minutes away to Lynn Commons, which runs between the one-ways streets of North and South Common, and park along South Common near Shepard St. I walk east on S. Common a little ways and turn left on the path that cuts across the park and ends at Harwood St on the other side. Halfway across the commons, before I would reach Harwood St, to my left, there’s a white raised gazebo surrounded by benches to create a little amphitheater, and on my right stands a stone and brass monument to Frederick Douglass.

The raised gazebo is the Frederick Douglass Bandstand, built in 1887 near the site where Douglass used to deliver many anti-slavery speeches here from an earlier structure, which was perhaps on or near the spot where the memorial is now.

Frederick Douglass Memorial across from the gazebo in Lynn Commons

Frederick Douglass Memorial across from the gazebo in Lynn Commons

Boston Sunday Globe article about Douglass mentioning plaque on Lynn Commons, Lynn Museum, photo 2016 by Amy Cools

Boston Sunday Globe article about Douglass which mentions his plaque on Lynn Commons, clipping from the archives at Lynn Museum

So ends my eventful day in Lynn, Massachusetts, but really, there’s much more to come. Remember, I haven’t yet finished telling the whole story of today’s journey which includes a couple fascinating hours in the Lynn Museum and Historical Society this morning (soon to follow), and I’m only halfway through my trip, there are still seven days to go!

*Listen to the podcast version here or on iTunes

~ Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!


Sources and Inspiration:

Bailey, Oakley Hoopes & J.C. Hazen, 1879 map of Lynn from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center of the Boston Public Library

Blassingame, J. (Ed.). The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. 4 volumes, and The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series 2: Autobiographical Writings. 3 volumes. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979-1999

D.G. Beers & Co., 1872 map of Lynn from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center of the Boston Public Library

Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Re-published 1993, Avenal, New York: Gramercy Books, Library of Freedom series.

Douglass, Frederick. My Bondage and My Freedom: 1855 Edition with a new introduction. Re-published 1969, New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Fichter, David. Lynn Mural Project: Stories of Lynn, 50 ft. X 60 ft. Lynn, Massachusetts [Acrylic paint and mosaic]. From

Foner, Philip S. The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Vol. 1-4. New York: International Publishers, 1950.

Frederick Douglass Chronology‘. From Frederick Douglass National Historic Site District of Columbia, National Park Service website

Levine, David. ‘Lynne, MA: Frederick Douglass Bandstand‘. History Stands Still: The Background of Bandstands Throughout New England blog

Lewis, Alonzo. The History of Lynn: Including Nahant. (p. 257) Boston: Samuel N. Dickinson, 1844.

Lynn (MBTA Station)‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

McFeely, William. Frederick Douglass. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1991.

McIntyre, Henry. Plan of the City of Lynn Mass. from Actual Surveys, 1852. From the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center of the Boston Public Library

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. Central Square and Depot: 1848 Central Square station in Lynn, Webster, William T., Publisher

Rosenberg, Steven A. ‘City Embraces its Civil War Connections. May 31, 2012.

Walker, G.H. City of Lynn, Massachusetts, 1891. Atlas Map. Pub. Geo.H. Walker & Co. From David Rumsey Historical Map Collection at

Rededication of the Frederick Douglass Bandstand and Marker‘. General Orders, Issue 68, Sep 2015, Published at 58 Andrew St, Lynn MA

The Register of the Lynn Historical Society, Volumes 8-12, by Lynn Historical Society

David Hume, the Skeptical Stoic, by Massimo Pigliucci

c9bd8-portrait2bof2bdavid2bhume2bby2ballan2bramsey252c2b1754252c2bscottish2bnational2bgallery252c2bpublic2bdomain2bvia2bwikimedia2bcommonsI have always been a philosophical fan of David Hume. His clear writing, commonsense approach to things, rejection of abstruse philosophizing, embracing of science, and constructive skepticism have been the sort of traits I have aspired to, however imperfectly (no, I assure you this ain’t false modesty), throughout my career. Hume’s idea that a wise person proportions beliefs to evidence, later popularized (and somewhat distorted) by Carl Sagan in the motto “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” has guided me for many years, hopefully leading me to make as sound judgments as possible, as well as to change them when the cumulative evidence requires it. Add to this that le bonne David, as he was known in the Parisian salons of the Enlightenment, had a generally mild and pleasant character, and you get the features of an intellectual role model. A Stoic, however, David Hume certainly wasn’t. Or was he?

A recent article by Matthew Walker in the British Journal for the History of Philosophy (2013) tackles the question in an interesting way. Walker focuses on four essays in which Hume explores the nature of “the true philosopher,” simply entitled “The Epicurean,” “The Stoic,” “The Platonist,” and “The Sceptic.” Hume, who does not write in his own voice, but attempts an analysis of each school by writing as if he were a member (just like Cicero had done in his De Finibus, which Hume used as a model for his own essays), seems far more sympathetic to the Stoics and the Skeptics then to the Epicureans and the Platonists.

Walker, then, explores an apparent contradiction in the way Hume talks about Stoicism and Skepticism: on the one hand, he accepts the Stoic tenet that there is a way of life that the true philosopher attempts to follow, and that it is the best life possible. On the other hand, however, he also agrees with the Skeptics that there is no single way of achieving happiness. What gives? The answer, Walker suggests, lies in Hume’s flexible concept of how a true philosopher should live.

Let’s begin with Hume’s presentation of the Stoic point of view. It hinges on three theses: i) virtue-eudaimonism, the idea that virtue is the primary contributor to the happy life; ii) the reflection thesis, whereby the true philosopher guides his actions by reflection, the same way he develops and maintains his character; and iii) the supremacy thesis, the proposition that this is the best life for a human being.

Walker provides a nice analysis of Hume’s commitment to virtue-eudaimonism — the first of the three Stoic theses — albeit in a qualified fashion. He does think that the “sole purpose [of virtue] is, to make her votaries and all mankind … cheerful and happy,” but then distinguishes different virtues according to their specific contributions. So we have virtues that are immediately “agreeable” to oneself (cheerfulness and pride), those that free us from harmful behaviors (discretion, industry and frugality), virtues that are immediately good for others (wit), and those that are good for others in the long run (humanity, generosity, beneficence). Interestingly, Hume’s take come close to that of a minority opinion within ancient Stoicism, as expressed for instance by Panaetius, of whose thought Hume was aware.

Hume is also committed to the reflection thesis, the second one advanced by the Stoics. Here he takes a cue from a famous phrase by the poet Ovid: “A faithful study of the liberal arts humanizes character and permits it not to be cruel,” meaning that learning and reflection do make crucial contributions to a worthwhile human life. For Hume, philosophical reflection can help both negatively, by “extinguishing” violent passions, and positively, by improving our sensitivity to agreeable passions. Importantly, Hume doesn’t think that simply thinking about stuff improves our character and conduct, but he maintains that rational reflection can be used to change behavior and that, through repetition and habituation, one eventually can alter his character and disposition for the best. Needless to say, this is very similar to the Stoic doctrine of the gradual development and practice of virtue.

What about the supremacy thesis? That’s where things get interesting. Hume’s Skeptic answers the Stoic by saying that only a philosopher could be so blind as to think that the life of reflection is the only path to happiness. Plenty of people are happy by pursuing different lives, resulting in a type of pluralism that appears incompatible with the supremacy thesis. Moreover, Hume agrees with the Skeptic that the powers of philosophical reflection are limited, and so is their efficacy on strong passions like anger and ambition.

Hume attempts at synthesizing the two schools (just like Cicero’s before him), beginning with the contention that the Skeptic “carries the matter too far” in his criticism of philosophical reflection. Sure, one’s anger doesn’t go away because of one’s philosophizing, but critical reflection makes us see that anger is a destructive passion, therefore inducing us to take steps to curtail it, if not extinguish it. The Skeptic is right in thinking that reflection by itself cannot instill virtue, but the ancient Stoics did not think this either, hence their above mentioned developmental psychological account of virtue, from children before the age of reason to mature adults.

Also, Hume again agrees with the Skeptic that Stoicism can be used to conceal cold-heartedness and self-absorption, but counters that in effect those would be cases of bad Stoicism, as the philosophy itself only counsels a reasonable detachment from externalities, nothing more. Stoics, in other words, do not attempt to extirpate passions, but to moderate and redirect them.

The core of Walker’s argument, however, is that Hume reconciles Stoic and Skeptic positions, rescuing the supremacy thesis, by suggesting that there are two types of “philosophical” lives: narrow and broad. Walker’s analogy with religion here is brilliant and very helpful: we have no trouble understanding that religion can guide, and be central to, the lives of people. But we don’t translate that into the absurd idea that everyone should be a monk. Rather, we recognize a religious life narrowly defined, which is attractive to a few people, who achieve a meaningful existence through contemplation, prayer and the study of scriptures. But we also recognize a broadly defined religious life, which is practicable by most people, which still provides meaning and requires certain practices and studies, but that is also compatible with a number of other, non-religious aspects of existence. This is the case across religious traditions, from Christianity to Buddhism.

Analogously, says Hume, a few people can live the life of the philosopher in the narrow sense, i.e., spend most of their time reading and writing philosophy at a fairly abstract level, treating it almost as a monastic practice. But most of us can live a “philosophical” life in the sense of reading and reflecting about certain principles and attempting to put them into everyday practice, while at the same time engaging in other, more common, pursuits, what the Stoics call “preferred indifferents.”

The Stoic position, then, becomes untenable for Hume if they meant that only the narrow philosophical life is conducive to happiness. But they clearly did not. Just like there were Stoics who did live that life — Zeno, Chrysippus, Musonius Rufus, Epictetus — there were others who lived a Stoic life in the broad sense, including Cato and Marcus Aurelius.

As Walker concludes his essay, his analysis shows both that Hume keeps being fresh and relevant today, and that a Humean account of Stoicism-Skepticism demonstrates “how the ancient conception of philosophy as a way of life remains a conception worth examining even today.”

~ This piece was originally published on Massimo’s blog How to Be a Stoic on April 22, 2016

~ Massimo Pigliucci is K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York and member of the faculty at CUNY’s Graduate Center. Massimo has a background in evolutionary biology and philosophy of science. His most recent book, co-edited with Maarten Boudry, is Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem (Chicago Press).

~ Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Remembering Margaret Fell

Margaret Fell, with George Fox before the judges, from a painting by J. Pettie 1663, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Margaret Fell with George Fox before the judges, from a painting by J. Pettie, 1663

Margaret Fell was born on some unknown date in 1614, so let’s take this occasion to remember her on the date of her death, April 23rd, 1702.

Fell’s lived a life as passionate as it was long. She was an unconventional thinker for her time, a zealous and progressive religious activist at times imprisoned for her beliefs, a prolific writer, well-traveled, a mother of eight children and a wife twice.

An early adherent and eloquent promoter of Quakerism, Fell is now considered one of its founders. She converted to Quakerism after hearing a sermon by one of its most charismatic preachers, George Fox, and almost immediately launched into a lifetime of hosting Quaker meetings and speaking out on behalf of her new religion. After her husband died some years later, Fell married Fox, probably more as a co-missionary than as a romantic partner since their work, travels, and imprisonments kept them apart for much of their marriage.

As I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the history of human rights, I’ve long admired the Quakers because, along with Unitarians and Deists, so many have been leaders in the struggle to expand, establish, and promote them. That’s because these faiths emphasize the importance of individual conscience, the primacy of the human mind, God’s rational nature, and the moral equality of all human beings.

Fell believed in the Quaker doctrine of the Inner Light which God has caused to shine equally in the hearts of all beings; all we need do is heed it. Therefore, one does not need ministers, priests, or any other authorities or intercessors to achieve salvation. And because God has created everyone for the same purpose and gave everyone that light, everyone is spiritually equal and capable of understanding and proclaiming the Truth. We can see how this doctrine, central to Quakerism, readily aligns with human rights movements centered on a belief human spiritual and intellectual equality. The right of women to speak in church and write religious texts, in her time limited to men, was a cause particularly dear to Fell’s heart. While Fell’s belief in the equality of women was limited to their role as spiritual beings, Quakerism tended to encourage ever-more progressive beliefs in its adherents. Over time, Quakers came to be leaders in the abolitionist and pacifist movements, promoting the right of all to receive equal and universal education and for women’s rights in social and political spheres as well.

In light of her achievements as a female religious pioneer, and the human rights advances facilitated by the Quaker faith she helped found, Fell’s contributions should continue to be remembered and celebrated.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and is ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!


Sources and inspiration

Broad, Jacqueline, ‘Margaret Fell‘, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

Jacoby, Susan. Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion. New York: Pantheon, 2016 (see chapter on Margaret Fell)

New Podcast Episode: Frederick Douglass Boston Sites

Phillips Street sign, where I begin my Frederick Douglass Boston journey, 2016 Amy Cools

I commence my Frederick Douglas Boston journey on Phillips St, and long for my bike. Mine is blue. Sigghhh

Listen to this podcast episode here or subscribe on iTunes

Sixth Day, Friday March 25th

As I am quick to discover, parking is at a premium in central Boston and its environs. I’ve decided not to pay the high garage rates and stick with metered parking (reasonably priced but harder to find). It’s to be expected in an awesome, busy, historically important city, of course, just be prepared! It’s such a handsome city, so much to look at, and I long for my bike: fleet, nimble, with uninterrupted view, parkable anywhere there’s a pole. At times such as this, a car feels like little but an expensive burden.

Frederick Douglass never did live here in Boston, but this city has many connections with his life: he and his family lived just a few miles north of here in Lynn from 1841-47. Douglass visited, worked, and spoke here often, and the Boston Anti-Slavery Society published his Narrative which, combined with his speaking tour of the British Isles and the United States that followed, catapulted him to fame and made him the leading African American abolitionist of his time… Read the original account here

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and is ad-free, entirely supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!