Abby Kelley Foster is back and WELCOMED, this time!

On November 30, 2011 Abby Kelley Foster was welcomed by the residents of Washington, CT, Stephen Bartkus, Curator, Gunn Memorial Library and Museum, and the FEMALE pastor of the First Congregational Church, The Rev. Cheryl P. Anderson.

As I sat in the church, perhaps in the very same pew as 29-year-old Abby sat one morning in September 1840, I was ready to bring her full circle. I felt her presence and her undying spirit as holding back my tears, I listened to Pastor Anderson quote the words that Rev. Hayes had spoken 171 years prior.

From Dorothy Sterling’s book, Ahead of Her Time: Abby Kelley and the Politics of Antislavery. (Page 117)

“Rev. Gordon Hayes announced that he had been asked to read a notice of a meeting in which a woman would address a mixed audience.” He quoted St. Paul, it is “a sin and a shame for women to teach men” and added that the woman in question was a non-resistant who advocated doctrines “which would open our prisons, prevent the collection of taxes and give unrestrained sway to lawless violence.” He continued…from Revelation “…thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication.”

“He went on …now a Jezebel had come to Washington “with brazen face” and “fascinations exceeding those of her Scriptural prototype” ...she was “a servant of Satan in the garb of an angel of light” and her aim was “to entice and destroy this church.” Abby sat in stunned silence as he called her by name, cited as proof her “vile character” as she traveled “by night and day, always with men and never with women.” He concluded by asking the congregation whether she should be permitted to speak in the church. It took only a few minutes to pass a resolution disapproving of “the introduction of female lecturers.”

Those words burned in Abby’s heart for the rest of her life. Her friend, Elizabeth Buffum Chace, remembered “the trembling of her voice, the quivering of her lips and the tears in her eyes as she related the insults, the unkindness and the cruel scandals that were heaped upon her.” But stalwart Abby held a meeting that night though her audience was “small indeed” and her address “short and heavy with grief.” Nothing stopped her, ever, neither verbal nor physical harassment, from speaking on behalf of her sisters and brothers in chains.

I am overwhelmed by her courage and the strength of her commitment. She lives on as a role model of self-sacrifice, determination and perseverance in the face of injustice. And in March, Women’s History Month, we must remember the women upon whose shoulders we all stand and thank them for their commitment to humanity.

Published Date: 
February 14, 2012