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Sarah Parker Remond Centre

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Transcript: In the words of Sarah Parker Remond


Paul Gilroy:

In the first of our series, Sirpa Salenius, the biographer of Sarah Parker Remond, and author of An Abolitionist Abroad: Sarah Parker Remond in Cosmopolitan Europe, is going to present some elements of Sarah Parker Remond’s life in Europe and in England, in London, and show a little bit to those of you who are unfamiliar with her, why we felt it was such a wonderful thing to be able to use Sarah Parker Remond’s name to express the spirit and the character and the direction of the work that our centre is going to conduct in the future. We’re really really grateful to Sirpa Salenius for this, we’re only so sorry that the medical and political emergency, the crisis around us at the moment, has prevented her from being able to come to UCL and present her insights and her knowledge of Remond’s life in person. We really look forward to the day when that’s going to be possible.

Sirpa Salenius:

Sarah Parker Remond was an extraordinary 19th century anti-slavery lecturer and women’s rights advocate. She fought against discrimination and raised awareness of the inhumane condition of the enslaved, summarising the situation of African Americans in a speech she delivered in Manchester in 1859 in the following words: “The free coloured people of the Northern States are of no crime but merely the fact of complexion, deprived of all political and social rights. Whatever wealth or eminence in intellect or refinement they may attain to, they are treated as outcasts, and the slaves are essentially things with no rights – political, social, domestic or religious. The absolute victims of all but irresponsible power. For the slave, there is no home, no love, no hope, no help – and what is life without hope.” A few years later in 1862, when giving a lecture in London, she explained how, quote, “the process of degradation upon this deeply injured race has been slow and constant but effective”. Her powerful and eloquent talks were always greeted with enthusiastic applause and cheering.

Sarah Remond was born on June 6th, 1826 into a family of entrepreneurs and activists. Of her childhood she wrote “I was born at Salem, Massachusetts, the youngest but one of ten children of John and Nancy Remond. Our home discipline was what we needed, but it did not – could not – fit us for the scorn and contempt which met us on every hand when face to face with the world, where we met a community who hated all who were identified with an enslaved race.” Her mother’s discipline, she continued “taught us to gather strength from our own souls”. In her autobiographical essay, published in London in 1861, Remond explained how she, quote, “became more and more interested in every effort made on behalf of the enslaved. I was quite determined to persevere”. She started on her first anti-slavery tour in the United States together with her brother, Charles Lennox, and other abolitionists such as Parker Pillsbury, Samuel May, Abby Kelley Foster and Susan B. Anthony. In 1857 she continued to lecture while she was also getting ready to travel to Europe. Again, to quote Remond, “From 1857 until within one week of my sailing for England, December 29th, 1858, from time to time I continued to speak in public. I had an intense desire to visit England, but I might for a time enjoy freedom, and I hope to serve the anti-slavery cause at the same time.” She crossed the ocean on board the ocean steamer Arabia, arriving in Liverpool early January 1859. She found a room in an inn in the very centre of the city, and according to Samuel May, seem to, quote, “attract and interest all our fellow boarders, who are gentlemen from various parts of Great Britain”. Approximately ten days later she was already speaking in front of crowded audiences. Newspapers reported that the lecture halls had never been so packed before and praised her as one of the best female lecturers they had heard. She talked about the sexual exploitation of slaved women, and the suffering of slave mothers. To quote Remond, “you may infer something of the state of society in the Southern States when I tell you that there are 800,000 mulattos, nine tenths of whom are the children of white fathers, and these are constantly sold by their parents for the slave follows the condition of the mother.”

Her lecture tour covered England, Ireland and Scotland. In London she connected with prominent abolitionists and women’s rights advocates. She joined the London Emancipation Committee, then became involved in founding the Ladies London Emancipation Society, in which she was actively involved as one of its Executive Committee Members. She met Giuseppe Mazzini who was in exile in London from where he continued to work towards his goal of Italy’s unification. Remond was among the prominent activists who supported the Italian cause with fundraising efforts. From October 1859 to June 1861, she also studied at Bedford College, whose founder Elizabeth Jesser Reid was a supporter of Italy’s unification, the anti-slavery cause, and women’s emancipation. Remond wrote to Mrs Chapman in October 1859 from Warrington informing her that, quote, “on the 12th of this month I go to London to attend the lectures at the Ladies College. I shall on every occasion that I can still continue to lecture and do all I can for our cause. I have lectured very frequently, in fact have more invitations recently than I could fill, lectured on three successive evenings last week, which was rather too much for me.”

Her courses at Bedford college covered such topics as History, English Literature, French, Latin, Music. She also studied at the University College London to become a nurse. Santa Maria Nuova Hospital School archives in Florence contain two letters of recommendation submitted in support of Remond’s application to study there – one, signed by Sister Rosmonda, attests that Remond had received her education and training as a nurse in medicine and surgery at the University College Hospital. She was praised for her skills, attention and kindness toward her patients. The other letter was from Dr Berkeley Hill, who in his role as the Head Surgeon of the University College, had been able to observe the way in which Remond performed her duties at the hospital under the supervision of the nuns. In his letter, Dr Hill expressed his pleasure in having witnessed the constant close attention with which Remond had taken care of the patients. In 1866 Remond decided to continue her studies at one of Europe’s most prestigious medical schools, the Santa Maria Nuova, located in Florence, Italy. Her desire was to have a career in obstetrics. The first year she audited classes, then in 1867 she took the entrance examination which she passed with top marks. In July 1868 she had completed her studies, and due to her exemplary conduct, as archival documents testify, Sarah Remond of America was admitted to take the practical and habilitation examinations. American newspapers reported that Sarah Remond, quote, “has been regularly admitted as a practitioner of midwifery in Florence where she is now residing with excellent prospects of employment and success.”

On 25th April 1877, at the age of 50 as her marriage certificate testifies, she married an Italian office worker, Lazzaro Pintor, who subsequently became an artist. He was born in 1833 into an upper-class family. Both his father and mother had law degrees. Remond was still married to Pintor when she passed away in Rome in December 1894. Sarah Remond had dedicated her life to campaigning against slavery, promoting women’s rights, and striving for equality. In a speech she gave in 1859 in Dublin, she said something about men of justice, which is applicable to Remond herself, quote, “the just cause for which they rendered up their lives give them immortality and their spirits walk the earth. For so great is justice, that she rewards all who suffer for her with greatness.” This greatness defines Sarah Remond.