Abby Kelley Foster

Lived:January 15, 1811—January 14, 1887 (aged 75)

Abby Kelley Foster was an abolitionist and women’s rights advocate.

Foster was born on January 15, 1811, in Pelham, Massachusetts, into a Quaker family. After completing high school, she became a teacher, moving to Lynn, Massachusetts, in 1836. She became interested in abolition after attending a lecture by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, and joined the Female Anti-Slavery Society of Lynn, a chapter of Garrison’s American Anti-Slavery Society. She served as the chapter's first delegate to the national convention of the Anti-Slavery Society in New York. She became progressively more radical ("ultra"), advocating for both the abolition of slavery and full legal equality for blacks. Kelley also believed that abolitionists should leave churches that did not fully condemn slavery, and left the Quaker church in 1841 over a policy about not allowing anti-slavery speakers in meeting houses.

In 1838, Foster gave her first public speech to a mixed-gender audience, uncommon for the time. She quit her teaching career in 1939 and began lecturing for the American Anti-Slavery Society, continuing to speak to mixed-gender crowds and also sharing the platform with ex-slaves. She worked in mixed-gender organizations, also uncommon at the time, and when she was elected to the business committee at the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1840, a number of more conservative male members resigned the Society in protest.

In 1843, five years before the Seneca Falls Convention, Foster and other ultra abolitionists spoke on slavery and women's rights in Seneca Falls, New York. In 1850, Foster helped organize and was a key speaker at the first National Women's Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1854, she became the chief fundraiser and general financial agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society, and in 1857, she became its general agent in charge of lecture and convention schedules.

After the Civil War, Foster supported passage of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, though some suffragists were against any amendment that did not include women's suffrage. After the Anti-Slavery Society was dissolved, Foster focused primarily on women’s rights. In 1872, Foster and her husband refused to pay taxes on their farm, arguing that Foster was a victim of taxation without representation. Three times the property was seized and auctioned for non-payment of taxes, and each time neighbors purchased it and returned it to them.

Foster died January 14, 1887.

Speeches