Abby Kelley Foster (January 15, 1811 – January 14, 1887) was an
American abolitionist and radical social reformer active from the
1830s to 1870s. She became a fundraiser, lecturer and committee
organizer for the influential American Anti-Slavery Society, where she
worked closely with
William Lloyd Garrison
William Lloyd Garrison and other radicals. She
married fellow abolitionist and lecturer Stephen Symonds Foster, and
they both worked for equal rights for women and for slaves/ African
Her former home of
Liberty Farm in
Worcester, Massachusetts has been
designated a National Historic Landmark.
1 Early life
3 Anti-slavery activity
4 Women's rights
5 Marriage and family
6 Legacy and honors
7 See also
10 External links
On January 15, 1811, Abigail (Abby) Kelley was born the seventh
daughter of Wing and Lydia Kelley, farmers in Pelham, Massachusetts.
Kelley grew up helping with the family farms in Worcester where she
received a loving, yet strict Quaker upbringing. Kelley and her family
were members of the Quaker Meeting in nearby Uxbridge,
Massachusetts. She began her education in a single-room
schoolhouse in the Tatnuck section of Worcester. Foster's daughter
later wrote that Abby "attended the best private school for girls in
Worcester." In 1826, as Worcester had no high school for girls and
her parents could not afford a private seminary, Kelley continued her
education at the
New England Friends Boarding School in Providence,
Rhode Island. After her first year of school, Kelley taught for two
years to make enough money to further her education. In 1829, she
attended her final year of schooling, having received the highest form
of education any
New England woman of her relatively moderate economic
standing could hope to obtain.
Abby returned to her parents' home to teach in local schools and, in
1835, helped her parents move to their new home in Millbury. Then in
1836, she moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, where she taught at a local
school. There she met fellow Quakers who preached the ideas of dietary
restriction, temperance, pacifism, and antislavery. She became
interested in the health theories of
Sylvester Graham and gained a
general interest in the abolition of slavery after hearing a lecture
by William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the abolitionist publication The
Liberator. Kelley joined the Female Anti-Slavery Society of Lynn and
was soon elected to a committee charged with collecting signatures for
petitions to the Federal government to end slavery in the District of
Columbia. Kelley passionately carried out her assignment, and in 1837
collected the signatures of nearly half the women of Lynn.
Kelley's views became progressively more radical as she worked with
abolitionists such as Angelina Grimké. She became an “ultra”,
advocating not only the abolition of slavery, but also full civil
equality for blacks. In addition, Garrison's influence led her to
adopt the position of “non-resistance", which went beyond opposing
war to opposing all forms of government coercion. Radical
abolitionists led by Garrison refused to serve on juries, join the
military, or vote. The Garrisonian call for the end of slavery and the
extension of civil rights to African Americans caused controversy.
Kelley's advocacy of the radical abolitionist movement prompted some
opponents to call her a “Jezebel", as what she proposed threatened
their sense of social structure. On the other hand, many fellow
abolitionists praised her public speaking skills and her dedication to
the cause. Kelley’s influence was shown by activist women being
called “Abby Kelleyites". Radical abolitionism became known as
Following the financial Panic of 1837, Kelley took charge of
fundraising for the Lynn Female Society. She donated a generous
portion of her own money to the American Anti-Slavery Society. With
the encouragement of Angelina Grimke, Abby served as the Lynn Female
Society’s first delegate to the national convention of the
Anti-Slavery Society in New York. There she spoke out about
fundraising, and participated in drafting the Society’s declaration
for abolition. After the convention, Kelley became even more engaged
in the Anti-Slavery Society, for which she distributed petitions,
raised funds, and participated in conferences to raise public
In 1838, Kelley gave her first public speech to a “promiscuous”
(mixed-gender) audience at the women’s anti-slavery convention in
Philadelphia. At this time women generally did not address such
audiences in public forums. Despite vociferous protesters, Kelley
eloquently proclaimed the doctrine of abolitionism. In the following
months, she further established herself as a public figure by speaking
to more mixed-gender crowds, such as that at the New England
Anti-Slavery Convention. She also worked on a committee composed
of both genders.
Later in 1838, she moved to
Connecticut to spread the anti-slavery
message. By 1839, Kelley was fully involved in the Anti-Slavery
Society, while still acknowledging Quaker tradition by refusing
payment for her efforts. In 1841, however, she resigned from the
Quakers over disputes about not allowing anti-slavery speakers in
meeting houses (including the Uxbridge monthly meeting where she had
attended with her family), and the group disowned her.
In the following years, Kelley contributed to the Anti-Slavery Society
as a lecturer and fundraiser. Although she encountered constant
objections to her public activism as a woman working closely with and
presenting public lectures to men, Kelley continued her work. She
often shared her platform with ex-slaves despite disapproval by some
in the audience. "I rejoice to be identified with the despised people
of color. If they are to be despised, so ought their advocates to
be". In October 1849, Kelley wrote to her friend, Milo Townsend,
and told of the work she was doing for the anti-slavery society: "We
know our cause is steadily onward".
Some male members of the Society objected to the ideas propounded by
Garrison, Kelley, and other radicals. As a result, when Kelley was
elected to the national business committee of the Anti-Slavery
Society, conservative members left in protest. The two groups of
abolitionists officially severed. Pacifist radical abolitionists
controlled the Society, who promoted complete egalitarianism, to be
obtained without the aid of any government, as all such institutions
were constructed on the violence of war. In 1854 Kelley became the
Anti-Slavery Society’s chief fundraiser and general financial agent,
and in 1857 she took the position of general agent in charge of
lecture and convention schedules.
Fighting for women’s rights soon became a new priority for many
ultra abolitionists and Kelley was among them speaking on women's
rights in Seneca Falls, New York five years before the Seneca Falls
convention would be held there. Kelley influenced future
suffragists such as
Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony and
Lucy Stone by encouraging
them to take on a role in political activism. She helped organize and
was a key speaker at the first
National Women's Rights Convention
National Women's Rights Convention in
Worcester, Massachusetts in 1850. (The Seneca Falls Convention, the
first women's rights convention, held in 1848, was not national).
After the American Civil War, Kelley supported passage of the 15th
Amendment to the Constitution. Some female activists resisted any
amendment that did not include women’s suffrage. Kelley split with
Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony and
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Elizabeth Cady Stanton due to their strong
opposition to the amendment. After the amendment passed and Garrison
dissolved the Anti-Slavery Society, Kelley continued to work for equal
rights for both African Americans and women.
In 1872, Kelley and her husband
Stephen Symonds Foster refused to pay
taxes on their jointly owned property; they argued that as Kelley
could not vote, she was a victim of taxation without representation.
Although their farm was consequently seized and sold and repurchased
for them by friends, Kelley continued her activism in the face of
financial difficulties and poor health. She wrote letters to fellow
radicals and other political figures until her death in 1887.
Marriage and family
After a four-year courtship, Kelley married fellow abolitionist
Stephen Symonds Foster in 1845. In 1847, she and her husband purchased
a farm in the Tatnuck region of
Worcester, Massachusetts and named it
"Liberty Farm". She gave birth to their only daughter in 1847. The
farm served both as a stop on the
Underground railroad and as a refuge
for fellow reformers. Kelley continued her efforts as a lecturer
and fundraiser throughout the North until 1850, when declining health
forced her to reduce traveling. She carried on an active
correspondence and local meetings to work for the cause.
Abby Kelley Foster died January 14, 1887, one day before her 76th
Legacy and honors
Liberty Farm in Worcester, Massachusetts, the home of
Abby Kelley and
Stephen Symonds Foster, was designated a National Historic Landmark
because of its association with their lives of working for
abolitionism. It is privately owned and not open for visits.
Abby's House, a shelter for women that opened in Worcester in 1976, is
named in her honor.
In 2011, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
Abby Kelley Foster Charter Public School, a K-12 school in Worcester,
Massachusetts that opened in 1998 is named in her honor.
List of civil rights activists
List of suffragists and suffragettes
List of women's rights activists
Abby Kelley Foster Charter Public School
^ Sterling 1991, pp. 1--3, 14.
^ a b c d e "Liberty Farm". NPS. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
^ "Valley Sites - Millville, Uxbridge: Friends Meetinghouse". NPS.
Archived from the original on 2011-10-27. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
^ "The Uxbridge Meeting House". Archived from the original on 18
August 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
^ Sterling 1991, pp. 14--18.
^ Sterling 1991, p. 19.
^ Sterling 1991, pp. 19--25.
^ Sterling 1991, pp. 26--35.
^ Sterling 1991, pp. 1--3, 41--59, 230.
^ a b Morin 1994, pp. 19--20.
^ Sterling 1991, pp. 37--43.
^ a b "In defense of
Woman and the Slave..." NPS. Retrieved
^ Morin 1994, p. 19.
^ Sterling 1991, p. 123.
^ Buffum, Lucille (1914). Elizabeth Buffum Chase- Her Life and its
Environment. W. B. Clarke Co.
^ Sterling 1991, p. 86.
Abby Kelley Foster resumes lecturing". Worcester Women's History
Project. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
Abby Kelley Foster at First National Woman's Rights Convention".
Worcester Women's History Project. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
^ Morin 1994, pp. 25--27.
^ Sterling 1991, p. 3.
^ Morin 1994, p. 27.
^ "Who Is
Abby Kelley Foster?". Abby's House. Retrieved
^ National Women's Hall of Fame
Sterling, Dorothy (1991). Ahead of Her Time: Abbey Kelly and The
Politics of Antislavery.
W.W. Norton and Company.
Mayer, Henry (1998). All on Fire:
William Lloyd Garrison
William Lloyd Garrison and the
Abolition of Slavery. St. Martin's Press.
Pease, Jane, William Pease. "Foster, Abby Kelley." American National
Biography. Feb. 2000
Bacon, Margaret Hope (1974). I speak for my slave sister: the life of
Abby Kelley Foster. Crowell. ISBN 978-0-690-00515-8.
Morin, Isobel V. (1994). Women Who Reformed Politics. Oliver Press.
pp. 13–27. ISBN 978-1-881508-16-8.
Greene, Richard E. (2002). C. James Trotman, ed. Multiculturalism:
roots and realities:
Abby Kelley Foster. Indiana University Press.
pp. 170–183. ISBN 978-0-253-34002-3.
Melder, Keith (1994). Jean Fagan Yellin, John C. Van Horne, ed. The
Abolitionist sisterhood: women's political culture in Antebellum
Abby Kelley and the Process of Liberation. Cornell University
Press. pp. 231–247. ISBN 978-0-8014-8011-9.
Abby Kelley Foster, Papers, 1836-1975 Online Finding Aid". American
Worcester Women's History Project:
Abby Kelley Foster Timeline
Stephen Symonds Foster
"Angels and Infidels"
Liberty Farm, National Historic Landmark, former home of Abby Kelley
Foster, National Park Service
Abby Kelley Foster by Charlotte Wharton
What Did Abby Say? - Assumption College
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