It is official.
After several weeks of meetings and consideration, a committee to rename the Commercial Street school has decided on Maria Weston Chapman, a Weymouth-born 19th-century abolitionist.
The process had garnered much publicity, as different groups vouched for who they felt was the best candidate. The decision on Chapman was announced at the June 10 school committee meeting, and was approved by the committee last Thursday. School committee chairwoman Diana Flemer, who oversaw the latter stages of the name selection process said that after a period of research, the field was narrowed down to three names. After making a list of pros and cons for each, Flemer said the decision became easy. “I was so impressed by who she was,” she said. “I couldn’t believe how much she contributed to the abolitionist movement in Boston.”
Flemer said she hopes that students at the newly formed middle school, which will house students in grades five through eight beginning in September, will be able to learn about Chapman and her role in the abolitionist movement.
“I think she’ll be a great role model for kids,” Flemer said. “She’s on the same level as Abigail Adams.”
Maria Weston was born in 1806. She was the first of eight children in her family; she had five sisters and two brothers. Three of her sisters also became active in the antislavery movement.
Chapman grew up on the family farm and attended
local schools. She finished her ion in England invitation from her uncle, Joshua Bates, who was a London-based banker. She married Henry Grafton Chapman in 1830. Her father-in-law, Henry Chapman, supported the abolitionist move.
In 1834, Chapman and 11 other women, including three of her sisters, formed the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society (BFAS) :When Chapman started attending anti-slavery meetings, other reportedly thought she was a spy.
Even after those suspicions disappeared, the life of an abolitionist – particularly a female abolitionist – was not easy. During one incident in 1835, a large mob formed at a building where the BFASS was meeting. The women who had assembled there had to relocate, and were escorted through the mob, who were yelling various epithets.
The Weston sisters wou1d attend numerous Boston churches, and monitored what ministers were saying about slavery. This led to negative comments from other church-goers, which in turn led to Chapman’s reported disliking for churches in general.
By 1840, Chapman and her family had stopped attending the Federal Street Church, where they had regularly gone to Mass, mainly due to their minister’s lack of anti-slavery efforts. Chapman found an abolitionist minister, although even then, church was reportedly not a big part of her life.
“Eternity and infinity come in like a flood whenever I the gates,” Chapman once wrote. “Although God immortality never were much to me.”
In 1837, a group of clergy-men published a letter that sharply criticized female abolitionists. Chapman wrote a in response, entitled, “The Times that Try Men’s Souls.” It read: “Confusion has seized us, and all things go wrong,/ The women have leaped from ‘their spheres,’/ And instead of fixed stars, shoot as comets along,/And are setting the world by the ears!/ . . So freely they move in their chosen eclipse,/ The ‘Lords of Creation’/ do fear an eclipse.”
It was around this time that the BFASS experienced some eternal conflicts of their own. Chapman’s sister, Anne Weston, thought the group should continue to support famed abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison had become a controversial figure within the abolitionist movement, and a majority of BFASS members voted to move in a different direction. That left Chapman and her sisters , who were the only’ women’s group to continue to support Garrison.
One of Chapman’s most famous appearances came during the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Convention in 1838. While she spoke, a large mob threatened the interracial meeting, and later burned the
building where it was held.
In 1840, Chapman was elected to the executive committee of the American Anti-Slavery Society and was appointed a Massachusetts delegate to the world convention in London. In 1844 she served as co-editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard published in New York. She also took turns editing Garrison’s newspaper.
Her reports for BFASS, entitled “Right and Wrong in Boston,” appeared from 1836 to 1844 and would often express sentiments different from those of other group
members. When “an apparently irreconcilable difference of opinion” arose, Chapman once said, she made it known that she would not change her own views.
“I shall never submit to any creation of any society that interferes with my righteous freedom,” she said.
Later in the 1840’s, Chapman took her cause to Europe as her children completed their studies there. While in England, Chapman renewed her friendship with British writer Harriet Martineau, whom she had met in Boston in 1835. Chapman would eventually edit Martineau’s memoirs, published in 1877 and titled “The Autobiography of Harriet Martineau with Memorials by Maria Weston Chapman.”
In 1855, Chapman returned to Weymouth, where she lived for the rest of her life. Her sisters joined her here when the Civil War began. With emancipation in 1863, Chapman agreed with Garrison that it was time to close down the anti-slavery organizations.
At that point, Chapman spent the rest of her life educating the former slaves. She died in 1885 from a heart disease.
Research material for this story was found at the website of the Unitarian Universalist Association, www.uua.org.