Classroom Activities

  1. The great barrier to Maria Stewart’s speaking before a “promiscuous” audience was the concept of True Womanhood. The idea that men were in charge of the public sphere and women were relegated to the private sphere of home and hearth had incredible power during the nineteenth centuryOne of the best means to understand this concept is through the “every picture tells a story” style of painting that was so popular at the time. A Powerpoint presentation of these paintings is easily constructed using the following links: and Look at the painting as they relate to those discussed in Helene E. Roberts, “Marriage, Redundancy or Sin:The Painter’s View of Women in the First Twenty-Five Years of Victoria’s Reign,” in Suffer and Be Still:Women in the Victorian Age, ed. Martha Vicinus (Bloomington:Indiana University Press, 1972) 45-76. Using Roberts’ reading as a guide and branching off from there, lead the class into a greater understanding of Victorian expectations about women, taking these paintings apart and interpreting the subtle clues that the artists provide. Such an activity demonstrates clearly why Maria Stewart met such resistance as a female speaker.
  2. As a follow-up explore whether we have left these images of women behind. An examination of recent advertisements or video commercials may be examined for our new expectations for women. Are they truly new or are they variations on the Victorian model? Even if they vary from the nineteenth century model, are the expectations for women equally stringent today?
  3. The follow-up discussion is centered on much the same question as the discussion of women’s images: Have we left these images behind or have we substituted new (equally narrow) cultural images of African Americans? An excellent discussion of images of black men in American popular culture is provided by Kathleen Marchioro in her article “From Sambo to Brute: The Social Construction of African American Masculinity,” The Edwardsville Journal of Sociology, Vol 1 (2001). This article is readily available at the following website: equally interesting article tracing the image of African American women is Kiana Cox, “Reinvigorating Jezebel:Prevailing Images of Black women on BET,” The Edwardsville Journal of Sociology, Vol. 5 (2005), located online at: For more on Jim Crow images and their modern equivalents see:
  4. Discuss nineteenth-century images of African Americans and the way they were used to define and control free blacks like Maria Stewart. Several websites provide these images from art and popular culture, particularly the following: A fascinating discussion of the way African Americans sought to overcome stereotypes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through counter-images may be found at the following website: The way that artwork could be marshaled in opposition to slavery may be seen in a website examining Thomas Nast’s art:
  5. The first publication of Maria Stewart’s Lecture Delivered at The Franklin Hall was in the November 17, 1832 issue of The Liberator. The first sentence of Stewart’s speech in that initial published version reads, “Why sit we here and die?” Yet, the more widely known version of the speech from Productions of Mrs. Maria Stewart, published in 1835, has as the first line of the speech, “Why sit ye here and die?” Assuming that neither of these versions is a simple typographical error, it means that Maria Stewart or her editors changed “we” to “ye” (you) in the intervening years. Considering the content of the speech, what are some possible reasons for this change?

Student Research

  1. Conduct a study of the arguments for and against Colonization as put forth by white abolitionists. Some African Americans supported colonization as the only means to end slavery sooner and without bloodshed. Trace the change in African American attitudes toward colonization and the arguments within the free black community for and against this plan.
  2. Examine how the colonizationist concept of a literal “homeland” in Africa returned in the “Back to Africa” movement advocated by Marcus Garvey in the early twentieth century. In what ways did Garvey’s vision differ from that put forth by the early colonizationists?
  3. In Maria Stewart’s third speech, “An Address Delivered at the African Masonic Hall” [available in Maria W. Stewart:America’s First Black Woman Political Writer, ed. Marilyn Richardson (Bloomington:Indiana University Press, 1987, 56-64], she presents a very distinct view of Africa. In what ways does Stewart extol Africa and in what ways does she reflect the negative view of Africa widely held by Americans of her time?
  4. Maria Stewart’s speeches are often discussed as examples of the black jeremiad. Compare the form of the black jeremiad in the African Masonic Hall Address to that of her mentor David Walker as it appears in his Appeal.
  5. Trace aspects of the black jeremiad as they appear in the speeches and writings of Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, and Marcus Garvey. In what ways do they differ from the form used by Maria Stewart? Agree or disagree with this statement: the jeremiad is so strongly rooted in traditional concepts of masculinity and warfare that it can best be utilized by male speakers/writers.
  6. Booker T. Washington is often discussed as presenting a variation of the black jeremiad. In what ways does his rhetoric resemble (and differ from) the jeremiads of Walker, Stewart, Douglass, DuBois, and Garvey?
  7. In the African Masonic Hall Address, Stewart castigates black men for what she views as their failure to distinguish themselves in acting to defend the rights of African Americans: “Talk, without effort, is nothing; you are abundantly capable, gentlemen, of making yourselves men of distinction; and this gross neglect, on our part, causes my blood to boil within me.”[1]This direct confrontation of an audience would be seen again in Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July.” Compare Stewart and Douglass’ confrontational tactics and discuss the potential effectiveness of this approach.
  8. The issue of self-help in the African American community appears in the rhetoric of numerous black speakers over time. Examine the rhetoric of self-help as it appears in the speeches of Booker T. Washington (and the way Washington’s version of this concept is challenged in the writings of W. E. B. DuBois). 
  9. Maria Stewart raises issues of gambling and dancing as unworthy distractions for the free black community and challenges young men to change. Advocating moral improvement, admonition to turn away from unproductive pursuits, and belief that white society has a stake in the degradation of the black community found a twentieth century voice in the rhetoric of the Nation of Islam. Examine Malcolm X’s speeches for these elements and for his ability to goad and challenge his black audiences.

Citizenship Resources

  1. In her speech, Maria Stewart refers to white businesswomen’s claims that they were personally not prejudiced but that they could not hire young black women for fear that it would hurt their business. This is a rationale for operative racism based on community standards that would reappear often in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Examine some of the films of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, such as Eyes on the Prize. What variations of this same rationale do you see reflected in the man-on-the-street interviews with whites of that era?
  2. To determine Maria Stewart’s place in the history of African American and women’s oratory, conduct a survey to gauge her name recognition. It would be interesting to conduct this survey twice, once with general respondents and once with respondents who may be well-versed in African American and women’s history. Ask your respondents to briefly identify such well-known figures as Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois, Alice Paul, and Malcolm X. Add to your list such important, but somewhat lesser-known figures as Marcus Garvey, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, David Walker, A. Phillip Randolph, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Maria Stewart. See if you can determine whether Stewart fits into a second-tier level of name recognition (that is, recognized less by the public and more by those with some background in African American history).
  3. Errol A. Henderson and others argue that hip-hop music provides a conduit for a black nationalist message in modern society. [2] Examine the lyrics of popular hip-hop music for black nationalist themes and images. Is there a difference in the strength of the black nationalist message between artists that crossover into wider popularity and greater airtime on radio and music video stations and those whose popularity is generally by word of mouth among hip-hop aficionados?
  4. Maria Stewart’s mentor, David Walker in his Appeal, directly challenged Thomas Jefferson’s discussion of race in Notes on the State of Virginia.[3] Read Jefferson’s discussion of race in Query XIV of the Notes and David Walker’s refutation of Jefferson’s points.Should his writings on race in the Notes on the State of Virginia change the view we hold of Jefferson and his hallowed position in American culture? Considering Jefferson’s position in society and the extent of his travels (certain to have put him in contact with educated, professional free blacks), can we dismiss his views on race as simply those of a man of his times or is that more of an excuse than an explanation?
  5. Due to a number of factors, the free black community of Boston was largely segregated in a limited area of the city. Despite the problems posed by this segregation (not the least of which was the facilitation of racism in the white community), the free blacks of Boston drew strength, a feeling of safety, and a sense of common purpose from their close community. Today, charges of “self-segregation” are often made against minority students on campus (although not against majority students or those who cluster as athletes or out of common interests). Conduct a Google search of the term “Self-segregation” and read some of the editorial views of black, Asian, Latino, and white students on this issue. Find the editorial that most closely reflects your own views on this issue. What personal factors influenced your choice?
  6. One of the most interesting examples of students taking a stand for a cause came with the “Lane Rebels.” In the absence of their president, Lyman Beecher, Lane Seminary students in February 1834 conducted a debate over eighteen evenings to discuss slavery and colonization. At the end of the series of debates, they called for an immediate end to slavery without colonization. They also formed an antislavery society and began working closely with the black community. When ordered to stop this activism, the Lane students walked out as a body and moved to Oberlin College. Oberlin College, proud of their role in this incident, provides an excellent study guide on this event ( and has conducted mock debates to recreate the 1834 event. Download the February 6-7, 2004 reenactment at Which arguments are the strongest against slavery and colonization? What does this incident tell us about freedom of speech in academe?

[1] Maria W. Miller Stewart, “An Address Delivered At The African Masonic Hall,” in Maria W. Stewart:America’s First Black woman Political Writer, ed. Marilyn Richardson (Bloomington:Indiana University Press, 1987), 58.

[2] Errol A. Henderson, “Black Nationalism and Rap Music,”

[3] An easily accessible version of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia is provided by The Avalon Project at Yale Law School,

Last updated May 23, 2016.