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Women and Migration

 | 
Deborah Willis
, 
Ellyn Toscano
, 
Kalia Brooks Nelson

Part five. Situated at the edge

23. Sarah Parker Remond’s Black American Grand Tour

Sirpa Salenius

Texte intégral

  • 1 bell hooks, Killing Rage: Ending Racism (New York: Henry Holt, 1995), p. 34.
  • 2 Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empoe (...)
  • 3 Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer, Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Sl (...)

1Black women struggle with the problem of defining their identities in positive terms because the dominating stereotypes that contribute to Black women’s oppression conceptualize their identities through a variety of negative images, ranging from asexual mammies and smiling Aunt Jemimas on pancake mix boxes, to the hypersexual jezebels, breeder women of slavery and the stereotypes of welfare mothers that pervade contemporary popular culture. In addition, as bell hooks points out, ‘the absence of recognition is a strategy that facilitates making a group of the Other’.1 Similarly, one form of oppression, as feminist critic Patricia Hill Collins notes, is that of omission.2 Rendering successful women invisible and eradicating their achievements from historical narratives are acts of omission that distort reality. Hence, recovering positive images of Black women challenges the controlling power of the negative stereotypes that have been constructed; such positive images contribute to a counter-narrative and become a form of resistance to racist and sexist ideologies. Sarah Parker Remond, who was a Black proto-feminist and a doctor, serves in this rewriting of history if we recuperate her among the protagonists of nineteenth-century activism. By including Remond in national and transnational narratives, as well as other prominent Black women, we contribute to the process of ‘recognizing the range and complexity of the Black experience in slavery and freedom’.3

  • 4 See also chapter 17 in this volume, Bettina Love, ‘Black Women’s Work: Undoing Character Education (...)
  • 5 Cheryl J. Fish and Farah J. Griffin, ‘Introduction’, in Farah J. Griffin and Cheryl J. Fish (eds.) (...)
  • 6 Sarah P. Remond, ‘Sarah P. Remond’, in Matthew Davenport Hill (ed.), Our Exemplars, Poor and Rich; (...)
  • 7 See Tiffany Gill, ‘“The World is Ours, Too”: Millennial Women and the New Black Travel Movement’ i (...)

2Remond, who participated in transatlantic struggles for social justice, moved beyond the boundaries of her nationality, race, and gender.4 She traveled from the United States to Europe where she lectured against slavery, touring in England, Scotland, and Ireland before permanently establishing herself in Florence, Italy. ‘African-American mobility’, historians Farah J. Griffin and Cheryl J. Fish suggest, ‘is often connected to the impulse for increased opportunities and the desire to find a home or homeland as well as for the purposes of pilgrimage, exile, and pleasure’.5 In Europe, Remond found a home as well as an intellectually and culturally nourishing environment that allowed her the freedom to reinvent her Black womanhood. Her travels can be connected to the American Grand Tour tradition commonly associated with white intellectuals who, like Remond, headed for Europe in search of increased educational and professional opportunities. ‘My strongest desire through life’, wrote Remond in her autobiographical essay published in London in 1861, ‘has been to be educated’.6 For her, as for other travelers, even before the development of any infrastructure for international Black travel, mobility was intertwined with subjectivity.7 In the United States, segregation limited her self-expression and hindered the conceptualization of powerful Black womanhood. Geographical mobility was therefore a necessary requisite for Remond’s social and cultural ascent. Her expatriation triggered a change in her self-definition that was fundamental for the progress of Remond personally, and Black women collectively.

  • 8 Remond, ‘Sarah P. Remond’, p. 277.

3Remond’s background was instrumental in her struggle for independence and her journey toward success. She was born free in Salem (Massachusetts) in 1826 into a rather prosperous family. Her father, John Remond, was Salem’s famous caterer who, among many other events, was in charge of the dinner organized in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette’s visit to the United States in 1824. Remond’s mother, Nancy Lenox, was a Boston baker and one of the founding members of Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society, established in 1834. She, as Remond wrote in her autobiographical essay, prepared her children ‘to meet the terrible pressure which prejudice against colour would force upon them’.8 Also Remond’s siblings were all professionals — bakers, hairdressers, manufacturers of wigs — and active in anti-slavery societies. They were educated mainly in segregated schools but to a great extent also at home. The Remond family thus defied the oppression and segregation that was deeply entrenched in the areas of housing, schooling, and employment by obtaining education and creating their own businesses that were housed in Salem’s prime locations.

4In 1856, Remond started her career as an abolitionist lecturer, touring with Abby Kelley Foster and Susan B. Anthony, and in 1858 she left the United States for England in search of international support for the cause of abolition. She traveled alone, which is quite remarkable, and she had not secured any support from abolitionist societies. She soon connected with British activists as a member of the London Emancipation Committee, then by becoming an active delegate in the Executive Committee of the Ladies’ London Emancipation Society. She excelled in her career as a lecturer while continuing her studies, first at the Bedford Ladies College, where she studied humanities, followed by her training to become a nurse.

5In August 1866, Remond traveled from London to Florence, again alone, to study at one of the most prestigious medical schools of Europe, the Santa Maria Nuova hospital school. She carried letters of introduction from one of the protagonists of Italian Risorgimento, Giuseppe Mazzini, whom she had met in London where she had assisted him with fundraising efforts that contributed to achieving his cherished goal of creating one unified Italian nation.

6In Florence, Remond passed the entrance examination to the medical school with excellent marks, then conducted her studies in Italian, graduating as an obstetrician in 1868. Her work prospects as a doctor were good, even though she was Black and a woman. She was well connected to the high society in Italy where she attended cosmopolitan gatherings of artists, writers, and intellectuals. Her social life included Italians and Anglo-Americans as well as representatives of other nationalities. For instance, she attended the intellectual salon hosted by the Greek author Margherita Mignaty and participated in soirées at the poet Francesco dell’Ongaro’s, where she met the American poet and scholar Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

  • 9 Qtd. in Sibyl Ventress Brownlee, Out of the Abundance of the Heart: Sarah Ann Parker Remond’s Ques (...)
  • 10 Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer, Envisioning Emancipation, p. 23.
  • 11 Ibid., p. 14.

7After her graduation she traveled to Rome together with the American art collector James Jackson Jarves to attend a gathering at the American sculptor Anne Whitney’s residence. ‘Her handsome dark person’, Whitney wrote to her sister, was ‘set off by a broad gold chain wound round and round her head and a white shawl’.9 Remond was sophisticated, stylish, successful. Her clothing, like that of other Black Americans, many of whom appeared in the period’s photographs, ‘highlighted their sense of racial pride’.10 The long, broad gold chain she wore around her head testified to her class-based upward mobility and success. The image she affirmed of herself resembled portraits commissioned by free Black Americans from the mid nineteenth century in which they represented themselves as empowering models for others to emulate, conveying, as historians Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer note, ‘self-worth, dignity, beauty, intellectual achievement, and leadership’.11

  • 12 Matilda Lucas, Two Englishwomen in Rome, 1871–1900 (London: Methuen, 1938), p. 99.
  • 13 Ibid.
  • 14 Frederick Douglass to Amy Post, 10 June 1887, D.93, Post Family Papers, University of Rochester Fr (...)

8At another reception, organized in Rome in March 1878, Remond, now married to an Italian, Lazzaro Pintor, appeared again elegantly dressed: ‘She was a bride, […] and wore her bridal dress of grey silk […] It appears that she is very clever, and a female doctor’, wrote Matilda Lucas in her travel journal.12 A month later, Remond attended another reception, this time organized by her nephew and his wife who were running a hotel in Rome, ‘elegantly dressed in lavender silk’.13 It was at the nephew Edmund Putnam and his wife Gertie’s hotel Palazzo Moroni, next to St. Peter’s, where Frederick Douglass had lunch with them in January 1887. Two days later, Douglass visited the sculptor Edmonia Lewis, another talented and successful Black woman living and working in Italy. Upon his return from Egypt, Douglass again met Remond and her sisters in Rome: ‘It was very pleasant to meet so far away from home these dear people. Like [their brother] Charles they detest prejudice of color and say they would not live in the U. States, if you could or would give them America!’.14 Despite such distancing from her roots, Remond always considered herself American; her prolonged expatriation, however, can be seen as a rejection of the white supremacist society of the United States.

  • 15 Sarah Parker Remond, ‘The Negro Race in America’, London Daily News, 22 September 1866, dated Flor (...)
  • 16 hooks, Killing Rage, p. 195.
  • 17 Ibid., p. 41.
  • 18 Ibid., p. 47.

9Although she never returned to her native America, Remond continued to protest against discrimination during her expatriation. In 1866, while living in Florence, she addressed the failure of Reconstruction, arguing that ‘the Southerners and their Northern allies are determined that the Black race shall not be recognized, shall not receive justice […]. No one who has kept pace with the history of the coloured race can hope to re-educate a nation at once: therefore the only remedy is to check this hatred, made up of fashion, prejudice, and intense ignorance’.15 To end white supremacy, hooks suggests, ‘is a struggle to change a system, a structure’.16 Remond raised awareness on both shores of the Atlantic about the continuing discrimination and racist injustice that permeated Black experience in the United States. Moreover, with the example of her own success she created a counter-narrative to this prejudiced discourse, contesting persistent stereotypes of Black inferiority. Her experience contributes to rewriting American narratives of Black experience that need to be uncovered and deconstructed, as hooks suggests, ‘so that new paths, different journeys, are possible’.17 The process of telling Black history, hooks continues, ‘enables political self-recovery’.18

10Not much is known about Remond’s last years in Italy, but according to her death certificate, she passed away in December 1894, at the mature age of sixty-eight, at the Hospital of Sant’ Antonio in Rome. At the time of her death, she was still married to Pintor and her residence was Florence; her profession as indicated in the death certificate was surgeon (‘medico chirurgo’).

11Remond thus became actively engaged in social and political change and history-writing, both as an activist and through the example of her own life. Her journey was geographical and ideological: in cosmopolitan Europe she constructed a progressive model of Black womanhood, one of independence, intellectuality, and success. She troubled dominant notions of Blackness, working against patriarchy and white supremacy. Remond showed how empowerment and positive images of Black womanhood emerge in the context of lived experience.

Bibliographie

Bibliography

Brownlee, Sibyl Ventress, Out of the Abundance of the Heart: Sarah Ann Parker Remond’s Quest for Freedom (doctoral thesis, University of Massachusetts, 1997).

Douglass, Frederick to Amy Post, 10 June 1887, D.93, Post Family Papers, University of Rochester Frederick Douglass Project.

Fish, Cheryl J. and Farah J. Griffin, ‘Introduction’, in Farah J. Griffin and Cheryl J. Fish (eds.), A Stranger in the Village: Two Centuries of African-American Travel Writing (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998), pp. xiii–xvii.

Hill Collins, Patricia, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (New York: Routledge, 2015).

hooks, bell, Killing Rage: Ending Racism (New York: Henry Holt, 1995).

Lucas, Matilda, Two Englishwomen in Rome, 1871–1900 (London: Methuen, 1938).

Remond, Sarah P., ‘Sarah P. Remond’, in Matthew Davenport Hill (ed.), Our Exemplars, Poor and Rich; Biographical Sketches of Men and Women Who Have, by an Extraordinary Use of Their Opportunities, Benefited Their Fellow-Creatures (London: Cassell, Petter, and Galpin, 1861), pp. 276–86.

Remond, Sarah Parker, ‘The Negro Race in America’, London Daily News, 22 September 1866, dated Florence, Italy, 19 September 1866.

Reyes, Angelita, ‘Elusive Autobiographical Performativity’, in John Cullen Gruesser and Hanna Wallinger (eds.), Loopholes and Retreats: African American Writers and the Nineteenth Century, Forecaast 17 (Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2009), pp. 141–68.

Willis, Deborah and Barbara Krauthamer, Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013).

Notes

1 bell hooks, Killing Rage: Ending Racism (New York: Henry Holt, 1995), p. 34.

2 Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empoerment (New York: Routledge, 2015), p. 8.

3 Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer, Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2013), p. 24.

4 See also chapter 17 in this volume, Bettina Love, ‘Black Women’s Work: Undoing Character Education’, for more information about the places and ways in which Black women have mattered and have been striving to thrive.

5 Cheryl J. Fish and Farah J. Griffin, ‘Introduction’, in Farah J. Griffin and Cheryl J. Fish (eds.), A Stranger in the Village: Two Centuries of African-American Travel Writing (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998), pp. xiii–xvii (p. xiii).

6 Sarah P. Remond, ‘Sarah P. Remond’, in Matthew Davenport Hill (ed.), Our Exemplars, Poor and Rich; Biographical Sketches of Men and Women Who Have, by an Extraordinary Use of Their Opportunities, Benefited Their Fellow-Creatures (London: Cassell, Petter, and Galpin, 1861), pp. 276–86 (p. 277).

7 See Tiffany Gill, ‘“The World is Ours, Too”: Millennial Women and the New Black Travel Movement’ in this volume.

8 Remond, ‘Sarah P. Remond’, p. 277.

9 Qtd. in Sibyl Ventress Brownlee, Out of the Abundance of the Heart: Sarah Ann Parker Remond’s Quest for Freedom (doctoral thesis, University of Massachusetts, 1997), p. 154 and in Angelita Reyes, ‘Elusive Autobiographical Performativity’, in John Cullen Gruesser and Hanna Wallinger (eds.), Loopholes and Retreats: African American Writers and the Nineteenth Century, Forecaast 17 (Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2009), pp. 141–68 (p. 160).

10 Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer, Envisioning Emancipation, p. 23.

11 Ibid., p. 14.

12 Matilda Lucas, Two Englishwomen in Rome, 1871–1900 (London: Methuen, 1938), p. 99.

13 Ibid.

14 Frederick Douglass to Amy Post, 10 June 1887, D.93, Post Family Papers, University of Rochester Frederick Douglass Project.

15 Sarah Parker Remond, ‘The Negro Race in America’, London Daily News, 22 September 1866, dated Florence, Italy, 19 September 1866.

16 hooks, Killing Rage, p. 195.

17 Ibid., p. 41.

18 Ibid., p. 47.

Auteur

Native of Helsinki, taught at the University of Tokyo and at American university study abroad programs in Rome and Florence before moving to Finland to teach English and American literature at the University of Eastern Finland in 2016. Her conference presentations, lectures, and publications focus on Transatlantic Studies, in particular on American artists and writers in Italy. Her work looks at marginalization, race, gender, and sexuality, and the transgression of borders — social, cultural, and geographical. Her books include An Abolitionist Abroad: Sarah Parker Remond in Cosmopolitan Europe (2016), Rose Elizabeth Cleveland: First Lady and Literary Scholar (2014), and an essay collection, edited together with Beth L. Lueck and Nancy Lusignan Schultz, Transatlantic Conversations: Nineteenth-Century American Women’s Encounters with Italy and the Atlantic World (2016). She has also co-edited an essay collection on Race and Transatlantic Identities (2017).

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