My Thesis will be based on Frederick Douglas and Human Rights Violations against Women. Douglass was a slave, fugitive slave, campaigner, abolitionist, author and civil servant. He worked tirelessly to highlight the plight of enslaved people, their extreme lack of rights, with a big emphasis on women’s rights. Horrendous atrocities were committed against enslaved women. Forced into manual labour, raped and forced to bear children to white slave owners to further their stock of slaves, the history of slavery is indeed very much a women’s human rights concern.
Douglass seems to not pay a whole lot of attention to women’s rights in his own autobiographies as such. Much literature does exist concerning Douglass; however, his own accounts and those of former female slaves differ. These are areas I wish to explore and discuss. I will also debate the issue of how he actually viewed human rights violations against women. I will explore his involvement with political organizations, the public speeches he made, the campaigning for abolishment he undertook and his work as a civil servant. My thesis will be divided into four chapters. Therefore, I will conduct this review in four themes.
I will begin by analyzing two of Frederick Douglass’s own autobiographies, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (FeedBooks, 1845) and My Bondage and My Freedom, edited and introduced by John David Smith (Penguin Books, 2003). These will provide his own accounts of the dreadful abuse and violations against women that he actually witnessed himself. In terms of Frederick Douglass, the Narrative is one that I am extremely familiar with from my own study during my Higher Diploma in English. This text will greatly influence my thesis. This section will also detail what is meant by a human right and a violation of one. I will draw on information from The United Nations database to do this. I will also draw on Boucher, David and Kelly, Paul Political Thinkers; from Socrates to the Present 3rd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2017), in particular parts relating to the philosophical ideas about human rights by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. This will be contextualised by including Richard Newman Abolitionism; A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2018), in particular chapter one “Introduction: Abolitionist agitation in a world of slavery and pain”.
My approach will include an account of Douglass’s work as a campaigner, abolitionist and civil servant. To highlight this I will examine his own third biography The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (Start Publishing, 1881). This will give a good account of his work later in life rather than as a former slave. I will expand on this by including David Blight Frederick Douglass Prophet of Freedom, (Simon and Schuster, 2018). This resource demonstrates the speeches he gave, the tours he went on campaigning, the articles and newspapers he published in his fight for abolition. It further acknowledges his strife for political action, legal law change and even fighting if necessary, rather than just moral persuasion.
To explore the theme of the women in the life of Frederick Douglass, in particular his two wives, I will bring in again David Blight Frederick Douglass Prophet of Freedom, (Simon and Schuster, 2018). I will also draw on the ideas of Blight to highlight other women in Douglass’s life including Ruth Cox, Julia Grittiths and Ottilie Assing. This will be further expanded by utilising Dorothy Wickenden The Agitators. Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women’s Rights (Scribner, 2021). This includes three further accounts of one escaped former slave and two accounts of white female abolitionist and the roles they played in Douglass’s ideas. Further critical analyse will be derived from Leigh Fought Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, (Oxford University Press, 2019) which highlights the complicated and varied relationships he had with women throughout his life, from his grandmother to his wives and colleagues. Following that, in the same theme Maria Diedrich Love Across Color Lines; Ottilie Assing and Frederick Douglass (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999) will be drawn upon.
The final chapter of my thesis will detail the feminine perspective of slavery and the human rights violations committed against women. In considering this I intend to draw on the true accounts of Harriot Jacobs Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Compass Circle, 2019) and Sojourner Truth A Life, A Symbol, (Norton, 1997). These harrowing accounts are stark and describe not only the horrendous abuse these women suffered personally, but the fear and trauma they went through can be felt. They are two of the most important resources I will uses for my thesis as they are a contrast with how Douglass writes his own autobiographies. Another vital autobiography is that of Toni Morrison Beloved, (Vintage Classics, 2010) as it gives a terrible in depth story of her life as a slave and how she actually killed her own daughter rather than let her live as a salve girl. This will be broadened by including Sarah Grimke and Angelina Grimke on Slavery and Abolition; Essays and Letters, introduced by Mark Perry, (Penguin Books, 2014). I will focus on chapter two and letters written by Sarah Grimke “Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, and the Condition of Women” addressed to Mary S. Parker, President of the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society. To highlight the feminine critique of Douglass’s writing I will include Deborah E. McDowell’s chapter ‘In the First Place’, in William L. Andrews, ed., Critical Essays on Frederick Douglass (G.K.Hall, 1991). This will emphasise the exclusion of femininity and white patriarchal discourse. To place this in a historical context I will examine two texts. These are Marisa Fuentes Dispossessed Lives. Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive, (PENN, 2016). This gives an idea of both slave and free women living in one area during slavery. Also Lalita Tademy Cane River: The Epic Story of Slavery and Freedom in the American Deep South, (Headline, 2001). This text is well built form archives and data bases and tells the stories behind four generations of enslaved women.
This literature review includes the core text that I will utilize and analyse for my thesis. However, it is not exhaustive, and I will consult further and extended reading where required and necessary.
Bentham, Jeremy. “Anarchical Fallacies; being an examination of the Declaration of Rights issues during the French Revolution”. In Jeremy Waldron (Ed) Nonsense Upon Stilts: Bentham, Burke and Marx on the Rights of Man. Methuen, 1987, p.69).
Blight, David. Frederick Douglass Prophet of Freedom. Simon and Schuster, 2018.
Boucher, David and Kelly, Paul Political Thinkers; from Socrates to the Present 3rd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2017
Diedrich, Maria. Love Across Color Lines; Ottilie Assing and Frederick Douglass. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999.
Douglass, Frederick. My Bondage and My Freedom. Edited and Introduced by John David Smith. Penguin Books, 2003.
Douglass, Frederick. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. FeedBooks, 1845
Douglass, Frederick. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Start Publishing, 1881.
Fought, Leigh. Women in the World of Frederick Douglass. Oxford University Press, 2019.
Fuentes, Marisa, Dispossessed Lives. Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive. PENN, 2016.
Grimke, Sarah and Grimke, Angelina. On Slavery and Abolition; Essays and Letters, introduced by Mark Perry. Penguin Books, 2014.
Jacobs, Harriot. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Compass Circle, 2019) and Sojourner Truth A Life, A Symbol. Norton, 1997.
McDowell, Deborah, E. ‘In the First Place’, in William L. Andrews, ed., Critical Essays on Frederick Douglass .G.K. Hall, 1991.
Morrison, Toni Beloved. Vintage Classics, 2010.
Newman, Richard. Abolitionism; A very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2018.
Swanson, Scott. “The Medieval Foundations of John Locke’s Theory of Natural Rights: Rights of Subsistence and the Principle of Extreme Necessity”. History of Political Thought. Pg 399-459.
Tademy, Lalita. Cane River: The Epic Story of Slavery and Freedom in the American Deep South. Headline, 2001.
Wickenden, Dorothy. The Agitators. Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women’s Rights. Scribner, 2021.
United Nations. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Accessed 31 March 2023