Separate Spheres Collide: The Economic Influence Of Slavery On Sarah Josepha Hale's Northwood (1827 And 1852)

Date of Graduation

Fall 2000


Master of Arts in English



Committee Chair

Etta Madden


The debate over slavery was one of the catalysts for Sara Josepha Hale's emergence from the domestic realm into the public sphere as a writer with a moral voice opposing social injustice yet limited by powerful economic pressures. The controversy resulted in Hale's publication of Northwood (1827), an anti-abolitionist novel about the Romilly family of Northweed, New Hampshire, a middle-class farming clan, who morally scorn the institution of slavery but offer only lip service to alter its establishment. The novel encourages preservation of the Union through national intelligence, American-only product use, and white and black segregation. As the forces championing abolition grew during the next twenty-five years, Hale felt compelled to revise and reissue Northwood (1852), specifically in response to the national uproar over Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), an inflammatory novel depicting the horrors of slavery. Attempting to soften the negative images portrayed by Stowe's work, Hale added to her earlier novel an introduction and two chapters that grapple with the practical applications of owning, educating, and colonizing slaves. This study illustrated that Northwood (1827 and 1852) conveyed Hale's anti-abolitionist sentiment shrouded in racist rhetoric; Hale advocated the segregation of African-Americans through a return to Africa instead of their integration into white culture. In Chapter One I submit that Hale, economically-driven, became a financial enabler for other women writers by using the office of editress to provide an institutional framework in which proposed solutions to social problems are acceptable. In Chapter Two I assert Hale's scripturally-based reasoning for separation of the races was actually economically driven, and in Chapter Three I argue that the purpose of Hale's colonization theory was actually a drive to ensure the supremacy of the white race from contamination by an inherently inferior black race, thus maintaining the status quo. Together these three chapters illustrate the importance of considering Hale in a new light among women writers of the nineteenth century and their male counterparts. Hale's personal circumstances and professional work as a writer show contemporary readers that in spite of a woman's commitment to social change, unseen or overlooked economic realities drive her public work and voice in a direction that appeared limiting.

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


© Marquita R. Walker