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The True Issue or "That's What's the Matter"
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Circular metal token, obverse with kneeling female slave in chains, inscribed "AM I NOT A WOMAN & A SISTER"; reverse with laurel wreath, inscribed "LIBERTY" and "1838" at center and "UN[reversed]ITED STATES OF AMERICA" around perimeter.
In 1837 the American Anti-Slavery Society in New York commissioned a New Jersey firm to issue copper tokens featuring a kneeling female slave with the legend "AM I NOT A WOMAN & A SISTER" and a reverse patterned after the American cent. In November 1837, the AASS published an advertisement in their weekly newspaper, The Emancipator, advertising Female Slave tokens at $1 per hundred. The advertisement also mentioned that a proposal was pending to issue the Kneeling Male Slave token, but they were never produced for circulation. The U.S. Mint Director moved quickly to suppress the circulation of the Female Slave token, and by late December no further ads appeared. It is likely that middlemen continued to distribute the tokens into early 1838. The AASS also distributed a token with the kneeling male slave, imported from Britain (#2 above).
Based on an earlier design of a chained and kneeling slave used for the seal of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, founded in England in 1787, the AASS token substitutes a woman for the customary enslaved male. The appearance of the female icon in Britain and the United States symbolized not only a growing awareness of the special hardships that women suffered under slavery as victims of sexual exploitation but also recognition of the prominent role that women were playing in the antislavery movement.
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
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