The women for liberation
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Date: 20 February, 2007

Anne Yearlsey and Hannah More


'This wasn’t going to stop a group of British and American women who felt strongly enough to make a difference.'

Suzanne Elvidge looks at the role of women in the anti-slavery movement.

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I hadn’t realised quite how many women were involved in the abolition of slavery.

You’ve heard of William Wilberforce of course. But have you heard of Hannah More? Or Lucy Townsend?

William Wilberforce himself was against women being involved in the anti-slavery movement, partly because wanted to focus on the abolition of the slave trade, but some women activists, including Anne Knight and Elizabeth Heyrick, were in favour of the immediate and total abolition of slavery.

However, this wasn’t going to stop a group of British and American women who felt strongly enough to make a difference.

Ann Yearsley (Lactilla, or the Poetical Milkwoman of Bristol), wrote A Poem On The Inhumanity Of The Slave Trade in 1788.

Her family was rescued from destitution by Hannah More, writer and philanthropist.

Bristol-educated More was a member of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the African Slave Trade, and published Slavery, A Poem, also in 1788.

In 1792, Mary Birkett Card published A Poem on the African Slave Trade. Addressed to her own Sex. in two parts.


Leicester-born Elizabeth Heyrick published a pamphlet, Immediate Not Gradual Abolition, in 1824, which called for immediate abolition, going against the official viewpoint of the Anti-Slavery Society (now Anti-Slavery International), which wanted a gradual end.

Elizabeth Heyrick organised a consumer boycott of West Indian sugar, and helped to form the Birmingham Ladies Society for the Relief of Negro Slaves (also known as The Female Society for the Relief of British Negro Slaves) in 1825 with Lucy Townsend, Mary Lloyd, Sarah Wedgwood and Sophia Sturge.

Mary Lloyd became secretary of the society in 1825, and the treasurer in 1845. In 1830 the Birmingham group followed Elizabeth Heyrick’s lead and urged the Anti-Slavery Society to call for immediate abolition. The Abolition of Slavery Act was passed in 1833.

Jane Smeal and Elizabeth Pease set up their own anti-slavery societies, the Glasgow Ladies Emancipation Society and the Darlington Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society.

The two women co-wrote a pamphlet, Address to the Women of Great Britain, in March 1838, encouraging female anti-slavery associations.


Other women’s groups included the Sheffield Female Society, which was the first to call for immediate emancipation of slaves in 1827.

Anne Knight became involved in the antislavery movement in 1830, and founded a branch of the Women's Anti-Slavery Society in Chelmsford. She protested against the prevention of women participating in the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840.

In the 1830s, Harriet Martineau, a writer, wrote her ‘Illustrations of Political Economy’, which included attacks on slavery.

There were also a lot of women involved in the abolitionist movement in the USA:

• View other slavery abolition articles