Fight for Equality

Unequal

Jews were not the only minority living in early 19th century Maryland that had to fight for equal rights. Things we take for granted today – the right to vote, safe labor conditions, and even the basic right to freedom – did not apply to everyone. African Americans, women, children and the poor all lacked civil protections that white upper and middle class men enjoyed.

Border Lines and Battle Lines

Maryland’s status as a border state meant that its citizens’ attitudes towards slavery were mixed. By 1810, slavery was on the decline in Maryland, yet many Baltimore households and businesses continued to depend on slave labor, including the Cohens who listed one slave in the 1810 census.

Bill of Sale, Negro Girl, Maryland, 1841-50. Courtesy of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Maryland's State Library Resource Center.

Slavery in the Cohen Home

Despite their advocacy on behalf of Jewish equality and their belief in democratic principles, the Cohens were not abolitionists. According to the 1840 census, the Cohens owned two slaves. By 1850, their household no longer included slaves. Instead, the census lists two “servants” – one “black” (male) and one “Irish” (female).

(left) Runaway slave ad, Baltimore Sun, September 17, 1852

(center) Runaway indentured servant ad, Daily National IntelligencerSeptember 20, 1932

(right) Ad for a runaway wife, Indiana Gazette, March 19, 1926

Fighting Slavery

Others, however, joined the anti-slavery movement through such groups as the Maryland Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, which was founded by a group of Methodists and Quakers in the mid 1790s.

(left) Poster for anti-slavery meeting Salem, OH, 1850.

(below) Exeter Hall, the great anti-slavery meeting, 1841 by T.H. Shepherd. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Women Enter the Arena

In the late 1700s, long before the women’s rights movement began, Mary Katherine Goddard led by example. Having learned from her father who was a printer, publisher and postmaster, Goddard became publisher of Baltimore’s first newspaper, the Maryland Journal, in 1774. A year later, she became postmaster of Baltimore, probably the first woman in that position in the colonies and one she held for 14 years.

Newspaper publisher Mary Katherine Goddard printed the first copy of the Declaration of Independence to include the names of the signers.  

Courtesy of Enoch Pratt Free Library, Maryland’s State Library Resource Center.

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland around 1818. After gaining his freedom in 1838, he became a prominent abolitionist. c. 1879 National Archives, Frank W. Legg Photographics Collection of Portraits of Nineteenth-Century Notables Collection FL (National Archives Identifier 558770)

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The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen was created by:

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Special thanks to: 

The David Berg Foundation; The David and Barbara B. Hirschhorn Foundation; Maryland Heritage Area Authority; Homer and Martha Gudelsky Foundation; The Richard and Rosalee C. Davison Foundation; Morris Schapiro + Family Foundation, Barbara P. Katz; The Eliasberg Family Foundation; Members of the Jewish Museum of Maryland and Minotaur Mazes.