Archive for the ‘Sarah Mapps Douglass’ Tag

Feast of Sarah Mapps Douglass (September 9)   Leave a comment

Above:  Painting of a Flower, by Sarah Mapps Douglass

Image in the Public Domain

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SARAH MAPPS DOUGLASS (SEPTEMBER 9, 1806-SEPTEMBER 8, 1882)

U.S. African-American Quaker Abolitionist, Writer, Painter, and Lecturer

Sarah Mapps Douglass comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006).

Sarah Mapps Douglass, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 9, 1806, came from that city’s African-American elite.  Her family, active in the abolitionist movement, included her father (Robert Douglass, Sr., a baker), her mother (Grace Bustill Douglass, a teacher and a milliner), and her brother (Robert Douglass, Jr., an artist).  Our saint, well-educated, started teaching, in 1825, at a school her mother had helped to found.  Then Sarah taught at the Free African School for Girls.  After that, in 1837, she founded the African Institute, subsequently renamed the Institute for Colored Youth in 1852 and, eventually, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania (the oldest Historically Black College or University in the United States).  Douglass had a professional connection to the African Institute/Institute for Colored Youth for most of the rest of her life.  She also insisted on the revolutionary idea that male and female students receive equal opportunity to study subjects previously off-limits to girls and young women.

Douglass, a financial supporter of and literary contributor to William Lloyd Garrison‘s The Liberator (founded in 1831), helped her mother to found the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833.  This biracial society, which included Lucretia Mott (1793-1880), was radical, by the standards of the time.  It advocated for the abolition of slavery as soon as possible and in such as way as to leave former slaveholders holding the proverbial bag.  The organization also supported boycotts of goods slaves had manufactured, distributed anti-slavery books and pamphlets, and opened a school for African-American children.  Our saint remained active in the society for years, too.

Douglass also helped to lead the Female Literary Association, founded in 1831.  This organization, for African-American women, both free and enslaved, challenged White racism and encouraged self-improvement via education.

Douglass became a pioneer of another sort.  She studied medicine, with a specialty in hygiene and gynecology, from 1853 to 1877.  She also matriculated as the first African-American student, at the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania.  Then she taught night classes to African-American women.

Douglass, a fine artist, was one of the first African-American painters, too.  She signed her work and challenged White racist assumptions in yet another way.

Our saint married in 1855.  Her husband, a widower with nine children, was the Reverend William Douglass, the Rector of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Philadelphia.  He died in 1861.

Our saint faced racism within the church, too.  One day, at a Friends meeting house in New York City, a member asked her:

Does thee go out ahouse cleaning?

Sarah wrote to a friend and explained what she did next:

I wept through the whole of the meeting….

Sarah Mapps Douglass died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 8, 1882.  If she had lived one day longer, she would have turned seventy-six years old.

My parents raised me to believe in racial equality.  My father was a United Methodist minister in rural southern Georgia. U.S.A.  Many of his parishioners (in the 1980s through the early 2000s, especially) were openly and unapologetically racist.  Many of them used racial slurs openly and unapologetically.  Others used slightly less impolite language.  I recall that, one day in 1990 or 1991, in Alapaha, Georgia, I heard Henry, a neighbor and a fellow parishioner, say, “African-American engineering,” a paraphrase of a slur.  Church members, such as Henry, should have known better than to be racists and to use racist language.

Sarah Mapps Douglass lived prior to the coining of the word “intersectionality.”  Yet her life epitomized that word.  She dwelt at the intersection of being female and African American.  Our saint contended with sexism and racism.

Biases, such as sexism and racism, come in two varieties, by one method of categorizing them.  These varieties are conscious and unconscious.  The most difficult biases to recognize in oneself are the ones does not realize are biases.  One may mistake them for being objectively they way things are and perhaps mistake them for the way things ought to be.  One need not wear bed sheets or shave one’s head to function as a racist.  One can also be a racist without realizing one’s racism.  And, when one recognizes oneself as a racist, combating that form of bigotry in oneself can prove difficult.  Such is the hold social conditioning has on people.

Every society always needs revolutionaries such as Sarah Mapps Douglass at her time and location, to challenge moral blind spots in the collective norms and mores.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 20, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SEBASTIAN CASTELLIO, PROPHET OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPHER WORDSWORTH, HYMN WRITER AND ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LINCOLN

THE FEAST OF ELLEN GATES STARR, U.S. EPISCOPALIAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC SOCIAL ACTIVIST AND REFORMER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA JOSEFA SANCHO DE GUERRA, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SERVANTS OF JESUS

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL RODIGAST, GERMAN LUTHERAN ACADEMIC AND HYMN WRITER

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Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil

and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us [like your servant Sarah Mapps Douglass]

to use our freedom to bring justice among people and nations,

to the glory of your name;

through your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-14

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 37

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