Sunday, January 13, 2013

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: An Abolitionist Reticule from 1825

Reticule made by The Female Society for the Abolition of Slavery, 1825
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This reticule or handbag dates to 1825 and comes with associated pamphlets.  This is one of two in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection that were produced by the Female Society for Birmingham as a part of their campaign for the abolition of slavery.

The Female Society was founded in 1825 when it was originally called the “Ladies Society for the Relief of Negro Slaves” in West Bromwich, near Birmingham. Bags such as this one were produced by women at sewing circles where they worked to decorate objects with abolitionist emblems.  These items were meant to decorate their homes, but were also intended for advertising purposes and for distribution as part of their campaigning activities.

Famous recipients of these items included King George IV, Princess Victoria and other aristocrats and wives of prominent politicians.

This white silk bag is printed on the front in black with a scene of an African woman, sitting under a tree. She is holding a child in her arms. To the right an overseer wearing a broad-brimmed hat, loose shirt, cravat, short jacket, and trousers, carries a whip.  With his left hand he points toward black slaves hoeing in a field. Under this powerful image is a short inscription and there is another inscription printed on the back of the bag.

The inscriptions read:

Negro Woman, who sittest pining in / captivity and weepest over thy sick / child: though noone seeth thee, / God seeth thee; though noone pitieth thee, / God pitieth thee; raise thy voice forlorn / and abandoned one; call upon him / from amidst they bonds for assuredly / He will hear thee.

Two pamphlets from the society remain in the purse from 1825.  

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