Embroidering Emancipation: Female Abolitionists and Material Culture in Britain and the USA, c.1780-1865

Naomi Gardner

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

2993 Downloads (Pure)


This thesis examines material culture and female participation in the British and American anti-slavery campaigns from the 1780s to 1865. It explores the production, distribution and use of abolitionist material culture, within a female transatlantic framework. It considers the home as an overlooked site of political expression and explores how women’s personal, social and political networks facilitated their relationships with political objects. This thesis brings together the separate disciplines of material culture and female abolitionists to enrich the current transatlantic anti-slavery narrative. Such an approach allows us to trace the ways material objects were used by abolitionists for political gain and as furnishings for the domestic interior.

This thesis incorporates a variety of surviving anti-slavery objects from numerous museum and archival collections and auction houses across Britain and the U.S. Beginning with an analysis of sewing circles we can see how British women were encouraged to employ their traditionally feminine skills to create items for sale at American bazaars. These items were then distributed by and marketed to female abolitionists, combining politics and consumerism. By exploring the household as a site for the display and use of political objects we can assess how women’s increasing participation in the anti-slavery movement affected domestic space and the ways these objects were employed in the home for both decorative and practical purposes. By mapping the abolitionist interior, we can see how anti-slavery campaigns permeated transatlantic homes and incorporated all generations, especially girl abolitionists. Finally, the ways female abolitionist writers utilised material culture in narratives addressed to their juvenile abolitionist audience will be examined.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Laidlaw, Zoe, Supervisor
  • Hamlett, Jane, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Feb 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


  • abolition
  • anti-slavery
  • gender
  • Women's History
  • Women
  • material culture
  • domestic
  • interior
  • household
  • slavery
  • Children consumption
  • Children's Literature
  • Transatlantic
  • objects
  • Britain
  • United States
  • Nineteenth Century
  • sewing
  • needlework
  • bazaars
  • Networks

Cite this