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Abstract

Abolitionist Lucy Stanton, the first female graduate of Oberlin College and the first black woman in the United States to finish four years of college, strongly believed in the power of moral reform. In her self-presentation, personal choices, and abolitionist rhetoric, Stanton embodied a politics of respectability. Using the works of Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham and Erica L. Ball, I articulate my interpretation of the politics of respectability for middle-class free black women before the Civil War, with Stanton’s life as a case study. I assert that Stanton primarily chose to embody ideals of respectability due to her belief in the transformative abolitionist power of living out her values. Rather than being a performance, Stanton’s respectability was an intrinsic part of her identity.

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