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American National Biography Online Douglass, Sarah Mapps (9 Sept. 1806-8 Sept. 1882), abolitionist and educator, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Robert Douglass, Sr., a prosperous hairdresser from the island of St. Kitts, and Grace Bustill, a milliner. Her mother was the daughter of Cyrus Bustill, a prominent member of Philadelphia's African-American community. Raised as a Quaker by her mother, Douglass was alienated by the blatant racial prejudice of many white Quakers. Although she adopted Quaker dress and enjoyed the friendship of Quaker antislavery advocates like Lucretia Mott, she was highly critical of the sect. In 1819 Grace Douglass and philanthropist James Forten established a school for black children, where "their children might be better taught than . . . in any of the schools . . . open to [their] people." Sarah Douglass was educated there, taught for a while in New York City, and then returned to take over the school. In 1833 Douglass joined an interracial group of women abolitionists in establishing the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. For almost four decades, she served the organization in many capacities. Also active in the antislavery movement at the national level, she attended the 1837 Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in New York City. The following year, when the convention met at Philadelphia's ill-fated Pennsylvania Hall, which in 1838 was burned by an antiabolitionist mob, she was elected treasurer. She was also a delegate at the third and final women's antislavery convention in 1839. Douglass repeatedly stressed the need for African-American women to educate themselves. In 1831 she helped organize the Female Literary Association of Philadelphia, a society whose members met regularly for "mental feasts," and on the eve of the Civil War she founded the Sarah M. Douglass Literary Circle. Throughout the 1830s Douglass wrote poetry and prose under the pseudonyms "Sophanisba" and "Ella." Her writings--on the blessings of religion, the prospect of divine retribution for the sin of slavery, the evils of prejudice, and the plight of the slave--were published in various antislavery journals, including the Liberator, the Colored American, the Genius of Universal Emancipation, and the National Enquirer and Constitutional Advocate of Universal Liberty. During the 1830s and 1840s Douglass was beset by financial problems. Her school never operated at a profit, and in 1838, deciding she could no longer accept the financial backing of her parents, she asked the Female Anti-Slavery Society to take over the school. The experiment proved unsatisfactory, however, and in 1840 she resumed direct control of the school, giving up a guaranteed salary for assistance in paying the rent. In 1852, now reconciled with the Quakers, she closed her school and accepted an appointment to supervise the Girls' Preparatory Department of the Quaker-sponsored Institute for Colored Youth. From 1853 to 1877 she served as principal of the department. For more than forty years Douglass enjoyed a close friendship with abolitionists Sarah Grimke and Angelina Grimke. After an uneasy start, the relationship between the daughters of a slaveholding family and the African-American teacher deepened into one of great mutual respect. Sarah Grimke, fourteen years Douglass's senior, eventually became her confidante. After her mother's death in 1842 left Douglass as unpaid housekeeper to her father and brothers, Grimke sympathized with her: "Worn in body & spirit with the duties of thy school, labor awaits thee at home & when it is done there is none to throw around thee the arms of love." In 1854 Douglass received an offer of marriage from the Reverend William Douglass, a widower with nine children and the minister of Philadelphia's prestigious St. Thomas's African Episcopal Church. Grimke considered him eminently worthy of her friend. He was a man of education, and his remarks about her age and spinster status were only proof of his lively sense of humor. As for Douglass's apprehensions about the physical aspects of married life, the unmarried Grimke assured her, "Time will familiarize you with the idea." The couple were married in 1855. The marriage proved an unhappy one. On her husband's death in 1861, Douglass wrote of her years "in that School of bitter discipline, the old Parsonage of St. Thomas," but she acknowledged that William Douglass had not been without his merits. In one respect, marriage gave Douglass a new freedom. A cause she had long championed was the education of women on health issues. Before her marriage, she had taken courses at the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania. In 1855 she enrolled in the Pennsylvania Medical University and in 1858 embarked on a career as a lecturer, confronting topics that would have been considered unseemly for an unmarried woman to address. Her illustrated lectures to female audiences in New York City and Philadelphia drew praise for being both informative and "chaste." Through the 1860s and 1870s Douglass continued her work of reform, lecturing, raising money for the southern freedmen and -women, helping to establish a home for elderly and indigent black Philadelphians, and teaching at the Institute for Colored Youth. She died in Philadelphia. As a teacher, a lecturer, an abolitionist, a reformer, and a tireless advocate of women's education, Sarah Mapps Douglass made her influence felt in many ways. Her emphasis on education and self-improvement helped shape the lives of the many hundreds of black children she taught in a career in the classroom that lasted more than a half-century, while her pointed and persistent criticism of northern racism reminded her white colleagues in the abolitionist movement that their agenda must include more than the emancipation of the slaves. Bibliography In her will, Douglass instructed her family to destroy all her private correspondence, as well as her "lectures on Anatomy and Natural History to Mothers." However, a number of letters to and from Douglass are in the Weld-Grimke Papers at the University of Michigan and the Antislavery Manuscripts at the Boston Public Library. Much of her correspondence with the Grimkes has been reprinted in Gilbert H. Barnes and Dwight L. Dumond, eds., Letters of Theodore Dwight Weld, Angelina Grimke Weld, and Sarah Grimke, 1822-1844 (2 vols., 1934). Douglass's role in the antislavery movement is documented in the records of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and in the published proceedings of the three national women's antislavery conventions held between 1837 and 1839. For other accounts of Douglass's career, see Anna Bustill Smith, "The Bustill Family," Journal of Negro History 10 (Oct. 1925): 638-44; Henry J. Cadbury, "Negro Membership in the Society of Friends," Journal of Negro History 21 (Apr. 1936): 153-99; Dorothy Sterling, ed., We Are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century (1984); Kenneth Ives, Black Quakers: Brief Biographies (1986); and Julie Winch, Philadelphia's Black Elite: Activism, Accommodation, and the Struggle for Autonomy, 1787-1848 (1988). Julie Winch Back to the top Citation: Julie Winch. "Douglass, Sarah Mapps"; http://www.anb.org/articles/15/15-00187.html; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. 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