Alla Paulina Wright Foster

Courtesy of the Holton Collection, Worcester Historical Museum, Worcester, MA
Asa and Sarah (Morrill) Foster Family: Top Row - L to R - Adams Foster, Galen Foster, Stephen Foster, David Foster and Newel Foster. Bottom Row - L to R - Asa Foster, Lucy Foster, Mehitable Foster, Sarah Foster and Caroline Foster. From the collections of Worcester Historical Museum, Worcester MA

Paulina Wright Foster was born at home on May 19, 1847. Her nickname was Alla (1847-1923). Abby Kelly Foster stayed home to care for her little baby until she could no longer justify having a privilege that slave mothers did not.

Stephen Foster’s family and especially his sister, Caroline Foster (1816-1910), helped care for the new baby Alla while Abby and Stephen were on the anti-slavery lecture circuit. His brother Adams and sister-in-law Sarah helped Stephen run the farm.

Foster Family Tree

On August 15, 1850, Stephen reported to Abby about their 3-year-old daughter in an edited (corrections removed and disruptive spelling and punctuation corrected) excerpt of a letter to Abby who was in lecturing in Ohio and New York. The letter is a good window into the childcare arrangements and character of their daughter.

… Alla was well, & in good spirits, when she left [for her grandparents farm in New Hampshire]….

Before she left, I bought her a harmonica, & a little wagon, with both of which she seemed greatly delighted. She did not ask for the wagon, but I thought she would need it, when she got to Canterbury, as it would be so lonesome there. She has been remarkably docile of late, & has appeared much happier since she got out of Ruth’s leading-strings.(1) I like Sarah’s management of her much better than I expected. She never crossed her, nor, I believe, did she ever have any difficulty in getting her to do as she wished her to. I learnt from Sarah that Ruth punished her by shutting her up, & it vexed me beyond measure. And all the more so, from the fact that the act for which she punished her, I should consider a virtue rather than a fault. I talked to Ruth about it, & told her my wishes in regard to Alla, & I could not learn that she repeated the offense. I do not wonder that you want to see here for I think her truly an interesting child. Sarah says she is the easiest managed of any child she ever knew. I am sure she is unusually reasonable for one of her age. She seldom asks me a second time for any thing which I tell her it is not best for her to have, or that I am not able to buy for her. An incident occurred a few days before she left, which was a pretty good test of her submissiveness. She had named to me several things which she wished me to buy for her, & among them was a harmonica, & a little churn for which she was particularly earnest. I replied to her, that I would be glad to get her all the pretty things she wants, if it were in my power; but that I had but little money, & must therefore buy those things only which needed most. The next day, as Cally had her in her lap, talking about her journey, she said she perceived she looked very sober, & that something was resting very heavily upon her mind. She accordingly inquired what it was that troubled her. Alla instantly burst into tears, & explained “I wish my father would get me a harmonica”! But she never mentioned the subject to me again after my first answer, till the morning before she left, when, as I was starting for town, she inquired, if I could not get her a harmonica. I got the harmonica & wagon, & received for them a whole wagon load of kisses. She was careful, however, as she always is, to save some “for mother”. I am struck with the fact that she always insists on your right to an equal part of every thing which I possess, if she attaches any value to it. One would almost think her specially commissioned to look after your rights, in your absence – It would give me great pleasure to meet you in New York on your return, but, under the circumstance, I do not think it advisable. I have a great deal of work to do, work that could not well be done in my absence, even if Adams should be well enough to attend to it, but I think it doubtful whether he will be able to do much for many weeks, & should not be greatly disappointed, if he were laid up for the season. We as well as several of our neighbors are not yet through with haying, nor is there any prospect of finishing at present, as fair weather is a thing known only in history. I never knew so bad a season for doing work as the present. Henry Woodman is now with us, & will help finish the barn, if we ever get through with haying. I hope we shall have things in better condition before your return, if you stay away, as I presume you will, till the middle of Oct., but when work is done as thoroughly as we are doing it, it requires time__ But had you not better remain in Ohio till the Woman’s Convention? It appears to me that now you are there, you may as well remain, & see them out of debt, & save yourself another journey there, for unless you do, I presume twelve months will not elapse, before you will be again called upon for help. Of this, however you can best judge… Do write oftener, & I will remain ever-

your very affectionate – S.S.

(1) Stephen's sister Ruth Pollard, who was visiting in the East, had volunteered to care for Alla and keep house for Stephen during Abby's absence. Ruth did not like the Foster's relaxed ways. (Abby Kelley Foster Papers, box 2 folder 3 at the American Antiquarian Society).

Educational Resources: 

To learn more about Abby’s life while staying at home with Alla, visit the Tatnuck Ladies Sewing Circle Records, 1847-1950 at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA. Abby was a member of this benevolent society.