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Foster, Abigail K. (fl. 1881) to Harriet Jane Hanson Robinson

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02076 Author/Creator: Foster, Abigail K. (fl. 1881) Place Written: Worcester, Massachusetts Type: Autograph letter signed Date: 9 March 1881 Pagination: 2 p. 21 x 13 cm

Abolitionist and suffragist Foster responds to questions from Robinson who was doing research for her book, "Massachusetts in the woman suffrage movement. A general, political, legal and legislative history from 1774 to 1881" (Boston, 1881). Foster gives autobiographical details, and discusses the split within the abolitionist movement in 1840 when a woman (Foster) was elected to a committee.

A public debate over the proper role of women in the anti-slavery movement led to the first organized movement in history for women's rights. By the mid-1830s, more than a hundred female anti-slavery societies had been created, and women abolitionists were circulating petitions, editing abolitionist tracts, and organizing anti-slavery conventions. At the 1840 annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in New York, abolitionists split partly over the question of whether women abolitionists could participate in the leadership of the anti-slavery organization. Moderates, including Arthur and Lewis Tappan (1788-1873), two wealthy anti-slavery philanthropists, withdrew from organization and formed the American and Foreign Anti-slavery Society.
The American Anti-Slavery Society proceeded to elect Abigail Kelly Foster (1810?-1887) to its business committee and named three women delegates (Foster, Lucretia Mott (1793-1880), and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)) as delegates to a World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. These women were then relegated to seats in a balcony on the grounds that their participation would offend British public opinion.
Responding to queries from Harriet Robinson (1825-1911), who was writing a book on Massachusetts in the Woman Suffrage Movement, Foster recalled the split in the American Anti-Slavery Society over the role of women.

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