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Stewart, Maria - Timeline Biography

Time Period

06-20-1803 - 12-07-1879


Maria Stewart was an abolitionist and women's rights advocate who drew inspiration from, and an audience with, her deep religious faith. Her speech in 1832 at Franklin Hall in Boston is one of the first recorded public speeches of any woman in American history, and Stewart is known to have influenced the work of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth.

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Women and Religion

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Maria Stewart was born in Connecticut in 1803. By the time she was five years old, both of her parents had died, leaving Maria to fend for herself as the indentured servant of a clergyman for the next decade. Before Maria left, she began the slow work of teaching herself how to read in the clergyman’s extensive library.

At 15, Maria left to become a maid. It was during this period that she took advantage of the local sabbath schools and started to piece together more of an education for herself. It was also through sabbath school that Maria continued her religious education, although her dramatic conversion was still a few years away.

In 1826, Maria married James Stewart, a comfortably wealthy veteran from the War of 1812. It was by James' side that she joined the Black middle class of Boston, Mass. Just three years after their marriage, however, James died, and white executors cheated Maria out of the money from his will. Once again, Maria found herself destitute.

At this point, she began writing for William Lloyd Garrison's famous abolitionist magazine, The Liberator. In the summer of 1831, she published Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality, the Sure Foundation on Which We Must Build, the success of which led to a short but significant speaking tour. She gave four recorded lectures between 1831 and 1833.

Maria’s public addresses are notable for several reasons. She spoke in the tradition of the African American Jeremiad, a rhetorical style which presents a long, mournful litany of problems and warnings concerning society. Stewart also used biblical language and imagery to condemn slavery and racism. She especially challenged Black women to pursue education and demand their political rights. Stewart challenged her white readers' racism, saying "our souls are fired with the same love of liberty and independence with which your souls are fired... We are not afraid of them that kill the body and after that can do no more."

After three years of devoting herself to the cause of racial uplift, Maria left Boston and moved to New York and then Washington, D.C., where she taught school and served as a matron of the Freedman's Hospital. In 1878, just a year before her death, she would finally receive a widow's pension for her husband’s service in the War of 1812. She used these earnings to publish her speeches and writings. Maria died the next year, after making her writings available to the world.


Maria Stewart
Maria Stewart
African American Registry

Maria Stewart Meditations
Maria Stewart Meditations
National Park Service

Book/Journal Source(s)

Stewart, Maria W., 1879. Meditations from the pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart, (Widow of the late James W. Stewart), Now Matron of the Freedman's Hospital, and Presented in 1832 to the First African Baptist Church and Society of Boston, Mass Enterprise Publishing Company, Washington, D.C..

Web Source(s)
Nielsen, Euell A. 2007. "Maria W. Miller Stewart."

Web Page Contributor

Jasmine Holmes
Affliated with: Author and educator

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