Parker Pillsbury: Radical Abolitionist, Male Feminist
Parker Pillsbury–one of the most important and least examined antislavery activists of the nineteenth century–was a man of intense contradictions. Was he a disruptive eccentric who lashed out at authority (proclaiming Lincoln the worst president in the nation’s history) or a sensitive visionary committed to social justice?
In the first full-length biography of this remarkable American, Stacey M. Robertson depicts a man who became a leading voice in the antebellum period. Crisscrossing the North for twenty-five years, Pillsbury denounced slavery to all who would listen. In his travels, he often endured the violent rage of mob opposition, but he also received the passionate support of fellow advocates. Robertson’s vivid portrayal of this itinerant agitator revises standard views of the antislavery movement by highlighting the interplay between activists such as Pillsbury and the national leadership, which they often challenged. She also reveals how Pillsbury–one of the nation’s first male feminists–struggled to reject the notion of male dominance in his political philosophy, public activism, and personal relationships.
“This account of Pillsbury’s long and active life as a late-nineteenth-century radical provides a retrospective on many concerns that remain with us today. Pillsbury came from an impoverished and devout background in rural New England. He resisted an early call to the ministry because of what he viewed as the Congregational Church’s hypocrisy on the issue of slavery. Attracted to the antislavery movement, Pillsbury worked with Nathaniel P. Rogers and later William Garrison, eventually working with an elite branch of the movement based in Boston. Robertson illustrates the inner tensions of the abolitionist groups, with as many clashes among members–notably Frederick Douglass–as with slaveholders. After Reconstruction, Pillsbury gravitated toward the woman’s suffrage movement, working with Susan B. Anthony and favoring the franchise for middle-class white women rather than the black man, riling his former colleagues. Pillsbury drifted into moralistic perfectionism and identified with a variety of radical movements from vegetarianism to the free religion movement”. —Vernon Ford