Abby Kelley

American activist

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 and other radicals. She married fellow abolitionist and lecturer Stephen Symonds Foster, and they both worked for equal rights for women and for Africans enslaved in the Americas.

Abbey Kelley Foster (circa 1879)

Quotes edit

  • I want to say here that I believe the law is but the writing out of public sentiment, and back of that public sentiment, I contend lies the responsibility. Where shall we find it?" "Tis education forms the common mind." It is allowed that we are what we are educated to be. Now if we can ascertain who has had the education of us, we can ascertain who is responsible for the law, and for public sentiment.
    • "It is the Pulpit Who Casts Out 'Impure' Women" (1853)
  • I say that woman is not the author of this sentiment against her fallen sister, and I roll back the assertion on its source. Having the public ear one-seventh part of the time, if the men of the pulpit do not educate the public mind, who does educate it? Millions of dollars are paid for this education, and if they do not educate the public mind in its morals, what, I ask, are we paying our money for? If woman is cast out of society, and man is placed in a position where he is respected, then I charge upon the pulpit that it has been recreant to its duty. If the pulpit should speak out fully and everywhere, upon this subject, would not woman obey it? Are not women under the special leading and direction of their clergymen? You may tell me, that it is woman who forms the mind of the child; but I charge it back again, that it is the minister who forms the mind of the woman. It is he who makes the mother what she is; therefore her teaching of the child is only conveying the instructions of the pulpit at second hand. If public sentiment is wrong on this (and I have the testimony of those who have spoken this morning, that it is), the pulpit is responsible for it, and has the power of changing it. The clergy claim the credit of establishing public schools. Granted. Listen to the pulpit in any matter of humanity, and they will claim the originating of it, because they are the teachers of the people. Now, if we give credit to the pulpit for establishing public schools, then I charge them with having a bad influence over those schools; and if the charge can be rolled off, I want it to be rolled off; but until it can be done, I hope it will remain there.
    • "It is the Pulpit Who Casts Out 'Impure' Women" (1853)

"The Overthrow of Slavery" (December 4, 1863) edit

  • I want to remind you that we had labored for twenty-seven years previous to the terrible mobs of 1830. Do we remember the fall of 1860 and the winter of 1860 and ’61? Do we remember that never was a more bloodthirsty mob organized in the city of Boston than was organized in the fall of 1860?
  • We have not Secretary Seward to thank, we have not President Lincoln to thank, we have not the govt of the United States to thank, we have not the commercial men nor the churches to thank; but we have Jeff Davis and the terrible persistency of the rebels to than, that there has been this change of conduct in the North. It was a matter of military necessity, and therefore we have it. And having been induced by military necessity, for the sake of self-preservation, we cannot rely upon it.
  • It is only by labor, incessant labor, in season and out of season, that we can create such a public sentiment as we need
  • nothing is done while anything remains to be done, so far as the death of American slavery is concerned. Not that I believe that one iota of moral truth that has ever been uttered, any more than one atom of physical matter that has ever been created, can be lost. But, so far as the accomplishment o the overthrow of slavery is concerned, were success to attend the federal arms today, I feel confident that slavery would linger, God knows how long; and I am willing, therefore, to wait another ten years, if need be, in order to insure its destruction now.

"Let Us Act" (1840) edit

Female Anti-Slavery Society, Boston MA

  • I have not been accustomed to address meetings of this kind. It is not my vocation to make speeches, or to sting together brilliant sentences, or beautiful words. But my mission has been back among the people, amid the little sources of public sentiment; among the hills and the hamlets — amid the opposed, but the comparatively unsophisticated; and I have had no weapon but the gospel of truth in its simplicity.
  • Where was our country sixty years ago! She sprung upon the arena of nations, armed in the glorious panoply of liberty. The principles we not advocate had omnipotent sway with her. They were quick and living; and when she hurled them across the Atlantic, the thrones of centuries trembled, monarchs blanched with fear. But look back then years ago only, and where was our country! A hissing — a mockery — a reproach before those very nations whom her first advance had so terrified.
  • She had, ten years ago, two and a half millions in the condition shadowed out by that print. She! who had declared as one of her first principles, that NO MAN should be deprived of his liberty without due process of law! She forgot her first principles, — and the world went on its round, and no one seemed aware of the fact that ono-sixth part of her whole population were sitting in the shadow of slavery — groaning in the fetters of the “freest nation on earth.” She was careful of her national honor, she thought — she was scrupulously careful as to money. It was her boast from old times, that fourpence worth of property could not and should not be unjustly taken away from one of her citizens. But who remembered her tow and a half millions — deprived of everything that makes existence valuable or honorable? She had poured out blood like water for liberty sixty years ago; but ten years ago, if there arose a murmur of resistance from her own enslaved children, it was adjudged worthy of death! What were her liberties? She had liberty to plunder! liberty to trample down the weak at will! Her sons were free. Yes! none so free: freebooters they were! Free to snatch the babe from the arms of its father, or mother — free to drag the husband and wife asunder! Free to scatter families to the four winds! Ah, the very mention of her liberties mocked the slave’s anguish, and was the death-knell of his hopes. And with all this, we boasted of our Christianity! We could sit down — could we not? — and weep over the infants whom famine or superstition consigned to the waters of the Ganges. But the 75,000 infants in the United States, annually swept down into the water of darkness and despair — who wept for them? We could shed tears over the East India widows, whose religion it was to ascend the funeral pile; but the widows of the United States — made widows by law — reduced to widowhood by system — and that system sanctioned by our religion — we had no tears for these. And we dared to call our religion Christianity! We dared to justify in religious convocations, the putting asunder of what God had joined! All this was going on. And the land was wrapped in silence. Perhaps, at distant intervals, one might hear a sign half drawn, over the necessity of the existence of such evils, but no one questioned that necessity; and the poor afflicted people of color suffered on.
  • Why were we so indifferent? Why, as a lady once said to me, five-eighths of us were so busy glorifying in our own freedom — . . . and we thought we were indeed free. But when, under the authority of Jehovah, the Moses of America said, “Let the people go!” — when the sound reverberated from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains, and from Maine to Mexico, “let the people go, that they may serve him!” Then, those whose hearts beat with answering sympathy, those whose hearts were poured forth in unison with his who raised that cry — they found to what they freedom amounted. I need not tell this society what was its amount. You were free to be mobbed — free to be slandered and misrepresented to any amount — free to be driven from your own place of meeting by five thousand of the most respectable and gentlemanly of your friends, called together by public advertisement for the express purpose. Our country saw then, what their liberty amounted to: liberty to speak what slavery should dictate. Men were awakened, then, to a realizing sense of their freedom. Free were they? Yes, free to the tar-cauldron and the feather-bag! Free to have a bonfire made of their furniture before their own doors in the open street! Free to be whipped and imprisoned! Free to be shot down! A great freedom, indeed, was this! Who could have believed it? Ten years ago, I would have spurned the man who should have predicted it.
  • All the great family of mankind are bound up in one bundle. Rights are the same for one and for all; and when we aim a blow at our neighbor’s rights, our own rights are by the same low destroyed. We are not distinct and independent; — one nerve runs through the whole great family of humanity. We cannot injure another, without bringing a curse upon our own souls. This philosophy shows us the surpassing benevolence to man of the divine injunction, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Why? He is part of ourselves. In loving him we see the only means of truly regarding ourselves; and if all loved thus, then this world would be all paradise: heaven would be begun on earth. Then the interests of one would be respected of all, and all interests would be united for the benefit of one. If the many refuse thus to feel and act for all, let the few go on; the more the better. At least let us who see the beauty of the injunction, “love our neighbor as ourselves,” press forward in obedience.
  • Our own moral destruction is consequent upon our leaving slavery to go on.
  • It is the system that must be entirely annihilated. Some who are int its toil are dear to me. They will be saved as if by fire — but let the fire be kindled, and the chaff consumed. Truth shall do the work.
  • There is less need of discussion than we sometimes imagine, and more of action.
  • I rejoice to be fully identified with the despised people of color. If they are despised, wo ought we their advocates to be. It is a poor policy, for it is a wicked policy which would make two bands of us. We hear about retaining our influence by not being identified with them. But what was the example of our Saviour! The publicans and sinners were his associates — the poor and the despised.

Quotes about Abby Kelley edit

  • The Female Anti-Slavery Society was the first national woman's rights organization in the United States. It was composed of Black and white women, and Black women made up a significant part of its leadership, notably in Boston and Philadelphia. Sara Parker Remond, Charlotte Forten, Sarah Mapps Douglass, Letetia Still, the Forten sisters (Margaretta, Harriet, and Sarah), among others, joined forces with white women such as Lucretia Mott, Abby Kelley Foster, and Maria Weston Chapman to organize the collective labors of the antislavery movement.
    • Bettina Aptheker Woman's Legacy: Essays on Race, Sex, and Class in American History (1982)
  • When the early Woman Suffragists took their stand for a redress of the wrongs of women, they used no vague or ambiguous language. As early as 1838 Angelina Grimké and Abby Kelley, who were the first women orators I ever heard, uttered their protest against the wrongs of woman, from an anti-slavery platform. They severely denounced the custom of society which closed the doors of remunerative industries against women, and thereby condemned large numbers to abject dependence and compulsory poverty.
  • The anti-slavery cause had come to break stronger fetters than those that held the slave. The idea of equal rights was in the air. The wail of the slave, his clanking fetters, his utter need, appealed to everybody. Women heard. Angelina and Sarah Grimké and Abby Kelley went out to speak for the slaves. Such a thing had never been heard of. An earthquake shock could hardly have startled the community more. Some of the abolitionists forgot the slave in their efforts to silence the women. The Anti-Slavery Society rent itself in twain over the subject. The Church was moved to its very foundation in opposition.
  • I think, with never-ending gratitude, that the young women of today do not and can never know at what price their right to free speech and to speak at all in public has been earned. Abby Kelley once entered a church only to find herself the subject of the sermon, which was preached from the text: ” This Jezebel is come among us also.” They jeered at her as she went along the street. They threw stones at her. They pelted her with bad eggs as she stood on the platform. Some of the advocates of the very cause for which she endured all this were ready to drive her from the field. Mr. Garrison and Wendell Phillips stood by her. But so great was the opposition that one faction of the abolitionists left and formed a new organization, after a vain effort to put Abby Kelly off from the committee to which she had been nominated.
  • The widening of women’s sphere is to improve her lot. Let us do it, and if the world scoff, let it scoff — if it sneer, let it sneer — but we will go emulating the example of the sisters Grimké and Abby Kelly. When they first lectured against slavery they were not listened to as respectfully as you listen to us. So the first female physician meets many difficulties, but to the next the path will be made easy.

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