“All the great family of mankind are bound up in one bundle. When we aim a blow at our neighbor’s rights our own are by the same blow destroyed. Can we look upon the wrongs of millions—can we see their flow of tears and grief and blood, and not feel our hearts drawn out in sympathy?”
Born this day in 1810: Abigail Kelley Foster (1810–1887), radical abolitionist and women’s rights leader who shook up the status quo
Foster was born Abigail Kelley in Pelham, Massachusetts. She was raised a Quaker and educated in Quaker schools. She also began teaching in a Quaker school, but gave up her teaching career in 1839 to lecture full-time for the abolitionist cause. Foster was a dynamic speaker and radical in her views, which included criticism of the church, the government, and even the Constitution. Her extreme views—and especially the fact that she would address mixed audiences—often incited violence. Nevertheless, she kept up an exhaustive speaking schedule, eventually including other causes into her talks, such temperance, suffrage, dress reform, and financial independence for women.
In 1845 she married a fellow abolitionist, Stephen Symonds Foster. A marriage of equals, they took turns lecturing and tending to their farm and their children. Sometimes they lectured together. On several occasions they refused to pay taxes on the farm as protest against Foster’s lack of vote. Whenever the farm was seized and auctioned off, it would be purchased by supporters and returned to them.
Foster’s prominent position in the abolition movement led to some schisms, some involving the role of women in the movement and others involving her criticism of the church’s attitude toward slavery. Like many woman abolitionists, the hostility she met when trying to advocate for rights for African Americans led her to become increasingly involved in the women’s movement. She was a role model for future feminist leaders, including Lucy Stone, who said of her:
Mrs. Foster, for more than thirty years, stood in the thick of the fight for the slaves, and, at the same time, she hewed out the path over which women are now walking toward their equal political rights.
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