When Abby Kelley Foster came to Seneca Falls in 1843 to give an abolitionist lecture, she started a chain of events that founded a congregation and a host for the First Women’s Rights Convention five years later. Her career started in 1838, when she gave her first address to an audience of men and women in Philadelphia at Pennsylvania Hall two days before it was set ablaze. Frederick Douglass wrote to Kelley, “in token of my respect and gratitude to you, for having stood forth so nobly in defense of Woman and the Slave…Our hearts have been cheered and animated and strengthened by your presence.” The experience confirmed her deep commitment to sexual and racial equality.
A few weeks later, Kelley posed the question of equal participation of women and men in established abolitionist organizations at the New England Anti-Slavery Convention. In 1840, William Lloyd Garrison nominated Kelley to the American Anti-Slavery Society’s business committee. The controversy over woman’s increasing role in abolition reform continued that year at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, where Stanton and Mott met for the first time.
When Presbyterian Rhoda Bement requested that her minister announce Kelley’s Seneca Falls lecture to the congregation, he refused. The ensuing acrimony resulted in Bement’s removal from church membership and caused such a controversy, that a new congregation of abolitionist and freedom of speech advocates was formed. Their Wesleyan Methodist Church hosted reform speakers of all sorts, including Frederick Douglass. This congregation also hosted the 1848 First Women’s Rights Convention.In 1850 Abby Kelley Foster was one of many abolitionists who signed a call in support of the first national women’s rights convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. The ideas of freedom and liberty were easily amended from a slave’s legal perspective to a woman’s legal perspective as the new reform movement about women’s rights turned national. Much of the same rhetoric was used to support both women’s rights and the abolition of slavery. Early women’s rights activists also used the existing abolitionist and Underground Railroad networks to find support.
Last updated: April 4, 2023