Women Led Organizations

Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society Minutes

             Prior to women-led anti-slavery societies, there were different kind of organizations that women could join that either did not explicitly support abolition or involved supporting African Americans.  Many women were first involved in organizations that supported sending formally enslaved people to Africa.  African American women formed literary societies, which one of these non-explicit groups.  Their discussion often related to abolition (1).   Forming literary, sewing, and prayer groups was a way for women to talk about abolition without outwardly and publicly talking about abolition.  Women’s reasoning for abolishing slavery was moral, rather than political (2).  The first all-female anti-slavery organization was established in Salem Massachusetts in 1832 and called the Female Anti-Slavery Society of Salem.  This groundbreaking group was made up entirely of African American women.  They were anti-colonization(idea that with an end to slavery, African Americans should be sent to Africa) and believed in the equality of African Americans as citizens of the United States.  By the 1950s, there were around 200 female-led anti-slavery groups in the country(3). 

              One of the most famous female abolitionist groups was the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, also known as PFASS.  This group was formed after women were excluded from the American Anti-Slavery Society.  Women would eventually be welcomed in into this organization and others, but many women tended to join organizations that were women-led.  They saw these groups as “a less competitive atmosphere and more genteel interaction.” (4). PFASS is one of the few women’s anti-slavery groups that was interracial from the very beginning.  The group was founded in part by Lucretia Mott, and naturally had a heavy Quaker influence.  The Quakers' beliefs focused on peace and equality, so women of both races were more easily welcomed compared to other groups.  PASS had debates over whether to support the underground railraod or not.  Mott, herself, saw it as very important, but that it should not be a part of the actions of the organization (5).  Another important organization was the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society.  The society itself went through its ups and downs, switching leadership and platform multiple times.  In 1840, the group was officially “dissolved,” due to differences in beliefs.  This only lasted a couple of days, until former members chose to start it back up (5).  This society was different from the Philadelphia one in that it originally did not have African American members.  William Lloyd Garrison, who was an enormous influence in the abolition community, convinced them to rethink their “inconsistent principles” (6).

              Just as in Boston, New York also dealt with differing views on who should be in these new female societies and how they should be run.  The Ladies’ New York City Anti-Slavery Society was at one point the main organization for woman abolitionists in the city.  This society, however, was not entirely keen on the idea of African American women being in the organization and holding any positions of power within it.  African American women of the city decided to create their own organization, the Manhattan Abolition Society in 1840, where they could freely discuss abolition (7).  This, as mentioned earlier, was not the only occurrence of this.  Throughout the state of New York, majority of antislavery societies were exclusive to one race or another.  Just as women felt more comfortable and in control forming their own societies, African American felt they had more of a voice when they organized separately from white abolitionists (8).

              Female-led anti-slavery societies were crucial in woman abolitionist’s journey to having their voice heard and making a difference.  These organizations allowed for women to openly discuss what they believed outside of their homes.  The presence of women in the public eye was controversial, as women had little rights at this point in history.  Their place as second-class citizens made their dedication to abolitionism even more impressive.  These abolitionists went out of their and society’s comfort zones to fight for what they felt was morally right—an end to slavery.

Work Cited

[1]Salerno, Beth A. 2005. Sister societies: women's antislavery organizations in antebellum America. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press. pg 17.

[2]Ibid. 12.

[3]Ibid. 3.

[4]Ibid. 27.

[5]Faulkner, Carol. 2011. Lucretia Mott's heresy: abolition and women's rights in nineteenth-century America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

[6]Jeffery, Julie Roy. "The Liberty Women of Boston: Evangelicalism and Antislavery Politics." The New England Quarterly 85, no. 1 (2012): 38-77. http://www.jstor.org.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/stable/23251364.

[7]Salerno, Beth A. 2005. Sister societies: women's antislavery organizations in antebellum America. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press. 32.

[8] Ibid. 33.

[9]Ibid. 

Women Led Organizations