Abby Kelley Foster inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame

It’s hard to believe how quickly time has flown by since receiving the exciting announcement in early March that Abby Kelley Foster would be inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. But before we knew it, we were on our way to Seneca Falls, New York, on the morning of September 30 for a busy weekend filled with activities leading up to the induction ceremony on October 1.

About 20 people representing Worcester Women’s History Project and Abby’s House made the trip from Worcester to Seneca Falls in support of Abby’s long-awaited induction. WWHP had nominated Abby Kelley Foster for induction into the NWHF four times, so the weekend was a jubilant reunion of WWHP Steering Committee members from the past and present who each played a part in making Abby’s induction possible. However, no one has worked more tirelessly on getting Abby recognized than Lynne McKenney Lydick, who portrays Abby in WWHP’s one-woman show Yours for Humanity —Abby. It was fitting that Lynne was chosen to represent Abby at the induction ceremony.

The National Women’s Hall of Fame holds their induction ceremonies every other year. Usually, they induct ten women at a time, five living and five deceased. However, this year there was a tie between two candidates. Therefore, eleven women were inducted. In addition to Abby Kelley Foster, the deceased inductees were: Sister Katharine Drexel, a missionary who devoted her life and fortune to aid Native Americans and African Americans; Dorothy Harrison Eustis, who founded The Seeing Eye dog guide school; Billie Holiday, the jazz vocalist; and Coretta Scott King, the champion of human and civil rights. The six living inductees were: Dr. Loretta C. Ford, who created the nurse practitioner program; Helen Murray Free, a chemist who discovered the first dip-and-test strips for testing urine glucose levels; Lilly Ledbetter, who fought to achieve pay equity between men and women; Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, the first female Democratic United States Senator elected in her own right; Dr. Donna E. Shalala, the longest serving U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services; and Katherine Switzer, the first woman to enter the Boston Marathon.

After checking into the Hotel Clarence, we only had to walk down to the lobby to attend a gala reception in the evening, which included complimentary drinks called “Inductinis,” wine from the many local wineries in the Finger Lakes, a large buffet, and a silent auction of items donated by past and present inductees. The gala also included live Big Band music and the opportunity to meet the inductees and personnel from the National Women’s Hall of Fame. We also got to talk with Colleen Jenkins, who is the great-great grand-daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and a long-time supporter of the NWHF. Ms. Jenkins visited Seneca Falls schools earlier in the day, along with Lynne McKenney Lydick, and a few others representing important historical women.

On Saturday, October 1, the day started with breakfast at the hotel, where we met Miriam Ascarelli, author of Independent Vision: Dorothy Harrison Eustis and the Story of the Seeing Eye. Ms. Ascarelli is also a blogger for Ms. Magazine and interviewed people from WWHP and Abby’s House for her blog. Following breakfast, we had many activities to choose from to celebrate Induction Weekend. Fortunately, Seneca Falls is a village where it is easy to walk everywhere. Some of us chose to take a tour of the National Women’s Hall of Fame gallery. We learned that the NWHF recently won a $2.5 million grant through Recovery New York to renovate the nearby Seneca Knitting Mills building to house the NWHF museum. Some people chose to attend a play called Mosaic: Voices of Women’s Suffrage, which was written and performed by three junior high school students from Colorado. The play showcases the life stories of famous American suffragists Julia Ward Howe, Caroline Churchill, and Alice Paul.

Following lunch at Zuzu’s (named for the character in It’s a Wonderful Life), we walked to the Women’s Rights Historical Park, where the 1848 convention was held. Here we were treated to a lecture and book signing with Penny Colman, author of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, A Friendship That Changed the World.

Finally, the time had come to head over to the New York Chiropractic College Athletic Center for the induction dinner and ceremony. We were pleasantly surprised to find that WWHP Vice-President, Doreen Velnich, had generously arranged to have beautiful purple shawls waiting for each of us at our tables. We also each received a bag from Avon, courtesy of inductee Katherine Switzer, containing moisturizer and lipstick. The dinner was a delicious combination of salmon over rice, stuffed turkey, and vegetables, with tiramisu for dessert.

The induction ceremony began with the entrance of the Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church Mass Choir, marching in to a rousing rendition of “This Little Light of Mine” and followed by the 2011 inductees. The choir also performed “The Star Spangled Banner,” following the Presentation of the Colors and “Pledge of Allegiance,” led by the Girl Scouts of NYPENN Pathways, Inc. This was followed by a welcome by Beverly P. Ryder, President of the NWHF Board of Directors, who introduced local News Anchor, Ginny Ryan, who conducted the Presentation of the Inductees in alphabetical order. There were many wonderful moments in the inductees’ acceptance speeches, causing both laughter and tears. Of course, the proudest moment for the Worcester contingent was seeing Lynne McKenney Lydick, in costume as Abby Kelley Foster, make her acceptance speech in character, using many of Abby’s own words. The most stirring moment was when she said in closing, “I did not come to make a speech. My life has been my speech.”

One of the key lessons I took away from induction weekend is the reminder that one person truly can make a difference and ordinary women do extraordinary things every day. They don’t do these things to win awards or to be inducted into halls of fame. They do them because they see a problem and have the determination to fix it, no matter what it takes. I think Katherine Switzer said it best at the end of her acceptance speech, “It’s as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.”

Published Date: 
October 6, 2011