Post, Undaunted

Prompted By Word of a New Biography of Lydia Maria Child

November 12, 2022

This week, the wonderful Brenda Wineapple in The New York Review of Books reviews Lydia Moland‘s biography, Lydia Maria Child: A Radical American Life. In the popular imagination, Child (1802-1880) lives on as the unattributed lyricist of the Thanksgiving song staple “Over the River and Through the Woods” and otherwise in the published work of scholars. She gets far too little credit for her 1833 polemic, An Appeal on Behalf of that Class of Americans Called Africans, which promotes ideas considered so bold and radical in their day that the book demolished Child’s longstanding literary popularity for a decade. Alongside Child in relative obscurity—given their achievements in the earliest years of mass media—is Jane McManus Storm Cazneau (1807-1878), an avowed annexationist (and Texas land speculator) who reported for New York newspapers from North Africa, the Caribbean, and the war in Mexico, and Cornelia Wells Walter (1813-1898), the editor of the Boston Evening Transcript for five years and considered the first woman to edit a major city daily. As exceptional as these three women were, none of them even comes close to the stature achieved by the fourth women in this remarkable quartet Margaret Fuller, who is nonpareil among this tiny group of women journalists of the 1840s who got to write for top publications about whatever they wanted to write about. Fuller’s improbable legacy as a journalist endures in a far more spectacular way, and for good reason. All of them figure in Chapter One of Undaunted, titled “The Asterisk.”