Abby Kelley Foster

Portrait of woman.
Portrait and signature of Abby Kelley Foster as published in 1899.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress,

Quick Facts
Place of Birth:
Pelham, MA
Date of Birth:
Place of Death:
Worcester, MA
Date of Death:

Abby Kelley Foster believed women were endowed with the same rights as men. She was so dedicated to this belief that she was willing to lose her home. What causes are most important to you? What are you willing to lose to pursue what you think is fair and just?  


Abby Kelley was an abolitionist (someone opposed to slavery) and an early women’s rights advocate. Devoting her life to creating a more equitable society, she used her skills as a lecturer and educator to advocate for the rights of African Americans and women.  

Kelley was born in Massachusetts in 1811. Her Quaker upbringing influenced her outlook on life. In addition to opposing slavery, many Quakers believed in equal educational opportunities for men and women. Kelley received an advanced education, including instruction in spelling, grammar, botany, and astronomy. After attending school, she became an educator. While teaching in Lynn, Massachusetts, Kelley was influenced by abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison and his newspaper The Liberator.  

In 1838, Kelley made her first public speech at an anti-slavery convention in Philadelphia. At the time, it was unusual for a woman to speak in public, let alone address a crowd of male onlookers. Her speeches were so effective that she become a highly sought-out lecturer. She traveled throughout New England and the Midwest talking about the horrors of slavery.  

Kelley was committed to the abolitionists’ cause, and she also voiced support for the equal rights of African Americans and women. She differed from many fellow abolitionists on her thoughts on equality. Kelley believed African Americans should not only be free, but also be  entitled to the same rights as white Americans.  

In 1845, Kelley married fellow abolitionist Stephen Symonds Foster. The couple become known for their rousing and inspiring speeches. They decided to settle in Massachusetts and make a permanent home. The couple purchased Liberty Farm in 1847 and devoted their lives to helping enslaved people fleeing bondage. They used their home to hide these freedom seekers traveling along the Underground Railroad. Liberty Farm was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974.  

After the Civil War, Kelley devoted her energy to fighting for equal rights and women’s suffrage (voting rights). Against the wishes of some woman suffragists, Abby Kelley Foster supported the 15th Amendment. Ratified in 1870, the amendment recognized Black men’s voting rights. Kelley believed in furthering the rights of African American men, even if the amendment did not include voting rights for women.  

In her later years, Abby Kelley Foster was unable to travel and give lectures. Even though she spent most of her time at Liberty Farm, she continued to advocate for women’s rights. As she legally did not have the right to vote on how her tax money was spent, she refused to pay property taxes from 1874 to 1879 as a form of protest. As a result, her property was seized by the state and auctioned off several times. However, her friends purchased Liberty Farm and gifted it to her.  

Abby Kelley Foster continued to fight for the rights of others until her death in 1887.  



“Abby Kelley Foster,” National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, 

“Who was Abby Kelley Foster?” Worcester Women’s History Project,  

Liberty Farm National Register of Historic Places Nomination,

The content for this article was researched and written by Dr. Katherine Crawford-Lackey.

Last updated: August 6, 2021