Maria W. Stewart (Maria Miller) (1803 – February 6, 1880) was an African-American journalist, lecturer, abolitionist, and women’s rights activist. Although her career was brief it was very striking. Maria W. Stewart started off her career as a domestic servant. She later became an activist.
She was the first American woman to speak to a mixed audience of men and women, whites and black. She was also the first African- American woman to lecture about women’s rights, make a public anti-slavery speech and the first African-American woman to make public lectures. Stewart has had two pamphlets published in the Liberator, including “Religion and Pure Principles of Morality, the Sure Foundation on Which We Must Build”. In this pamphlet she advocated abolition and black autonomy. Her second pamphlet was more religious-based.
In February 1833, Stewart addressed Boston’s African Masonic Lodge. This speech was a turning point in her career. In her speech she claimed that black men lacked “ambition and requisite courage.” This caused uproar amongst the audience members and she was met with “hoots, jeers, and a barrage of rotten tomatoes.” (Hine) After this negative reaction to her speech Maria W. Stewart decided to retire from giving lectures. She gave her farewell address September 1833 at a schoolroom in the African Meeting House (“Paul’s Church”). “She asserted that her advice has been rejected because she was a woman.”
Stewart spent the rest of her life in Washington, D. C., first as a schoolteacher, and later as head matron at Freedmen’s Hospital. She died at Freedmen’s Hospital in February 1880.