This is part of an ongoing Washington Informer series about the Women’s Suffrage Movement and an initiative that includes Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes that will use the lens of history, the fabric of art and culture and the venue of the public square to shine a light into dark places, equipping all with a compass to chart the way forward. The initiative lives in the institutional home of the Washington Informer Charities.
When Googling the name Sarah Parker Remond, fast facts about her life quickly emerge.
Born in 1824. Died in 1894. Lecturer and doctor, abolitionist and suffragist.
Remond was born in Salem, Massachusetts, to a family of entrepreneurs who also worked as anti-slavery campaigners. Her parents were known as fighters for African American rights.
She’d set the world ablaze with her activism. Attending a segregated school, Remond sued a theater in Boston after she was unceremoniously kicked out for refusing to sit in segregated seats.
The courts ruled in Remond’s favor and ordered the theater to pay her $500 in damages and to end its practice of segregating seats.
The Remonds were a family of activists. Remond’s brother, Charles, became the first Black man to testify before the state House in Massachusetts. Charles Remond protested being forced to sit in segregated railway cars.
Eventually, Sarah Remond moved to Great Britain, where she studied at Bedford College for Women.
She fought for women’s rights in both the United Kingdom and America and she became the first — and, many historians believe, only — Black woman to have signed the 1866 petition for women’s voting rights.
In 1867, she moved to Italy, and qualified in 1868 as a medical doctor. She married an Italian man and lived in Rome while working as a doctor, but historians said she remained active in fighting for women’s rights.
“Sarah Parker Remond’s life is a lesson in understanding the commitment of Black women to the cause of social justice despite being Black in a white-dominated society, and female in a male-dominated society,” said Angela Siner, director of the Africana Studies program at The University of Toledo.
“Born into a free family of entrepreneurs committed to social justice and the abolition of slavery, her first speech given at the age of 16 is a testament to not only her personal courage and commitment to social justice, but also her boldness and fearlessness,” Siner said. “It was uncommon during this time for women, either Black or white, to speak publicly, but she did. Ms. Remond’s boldness and confidence teach that fear is not an option in the pursuit of personal justice or collective justice. Her life informs us that individuals – despite their stations in life – can make a difference in the world.
“She was bold and relentless in her convictions. The traits of speaking out and pursuing social justice are what we cannot forget about her life,” she said. “She stepped outside the bounds of the conventional roles of Black women in the tradition of other Black women trailblazers: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Sarah Grimké, Anna Douglas and others.
“Her involvement in the Women’s Suffrage movement that began in England while she studied at Bedford College for Women is another example of her bold and fearless commitment to social justice,” Siner said. “She was the only Black woman to sign the first suffrage petition in 1866, and worked for Black women’s suffrage in the U.S. Even though she did not live to participate in the 1913 Women’s Suffrage March in Washington, D.C., her spirit was alive and well.
“Remembering Ms. Remond and the leaders of the suffrage movement is to remember the words of Frederick Douglass who said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never has, and it never will,’” she said. “It was their demands that changed the course of both civil and women’s rights in America.”