Conductor on the Underground Railroad
Quakers Levi and Catherine Coffin helped thousands of fugitive slaves to safety in Newport, Indiana and Cincinnati, Ohio through the Undergound Railroad, a network of more than 3,000 homes and other stations that helped runaway slaves travel from southern states to freedom in northern states and Canada.
Image: Catherine Coffin and her husband Levi
On October 28, 1824, Levi Coffin married Catherine White, sister of his brother-in-law and long-time friend. The Coffins and the Whites were Quakers and abolitionists who opposed slavery. Catherine’s family is believed to have been involved in helping runaway slaves, and it is likely she met Levi while taking part in these activities. Catherine gave birth to Jesse, the first of their six children, in 1825.
First Woman to Preside Over a Public Meeting
Abigail Norton Bush was an abolitionist and women’s rights activist who served as president of the second women’s rights convention in Rochester, New York in 1848 immediately following the Seneca Falls Convention, and thus became the first American woman to serve as president of a women’s rights convention.
Abigail Norton Bush was born in Cambridge, Washington County, New York on March 19, 1810. When she was very young, her family moved to the upstate New York town of Rochester in upstate New York, which was the home of many early social reformers in the early and mid 1800s. In the 1830s, Bush worked for the Rochester Female Charitable Society, an organization devoted to the care of the poor and the ill.
Abolitionist and Women’s Rights Activist
The first woman to address a state legislature (Massachusetts in 1836), Angelina Grimke fearlessly traveled across New York and New England, speaking out against slavery at a time when women were scarcely seen and never heard in the public arena. In order to lecture about this sensitive issue she had to first fight for her right, as a woman, to participate in the abolionist movement.
Born and raised in South Carolina, Grimke grew to detest the institution of slavery at an early age. Unable to influence her family to free their slaves, Angelina joined her older sister Sarah in Philadelphia, where they became Quakers, and soon thereafter began to fight for emancipation.
Abolitionist and Feminist in New York
In her own day, Amy Post was well known as a radical Quaker abolitionist and feminist. In the late 1960s, feminists began searching for heroines, women whose lives could provide guidance and inspiration to a new generation of female activists. Many women who were first rediscovered as models of strength, self-reliance and ingenuity were residents of western New York, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Blackwell.
Yet what made this region of New York, and Rochester in particular, a seedbed of female achievement was not only the few nationally renowned women who made a home there but also the dozens of women who day by day struggled to lead exemplary lives and to improve the lives of those around them. Amy Post was one of those women.
Abolitionist and Author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe published more than 30 books, but it was her best-selling antislavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin that brought her worldwide fame and a very secure place in history. She also wrote biographies, children’s text books, and advice books on homemaking and childrearing. The informal style of her writing enabled her to reach audiences that more scholarly works would not.
Harriet Elisabeth Beecher was born June 14, 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut to the Rev. Lyman Beecher and Roxanna Foote Beecher; the sixth of 11 children. She was called Hattie by her brothers and sisters. Roxanna Beecher died when Harriet was only five years old, and her oldest sister Catharine became an important maternal influence.
19th Century Abolitionist and Feminist
Sarah Pugh (1800-1884) was a dedicated teacher who founded her own school and devoted her life to the abolition of slavery and advancing the rights of women. She was co-founder and leader of the influential Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, a women’s group open to all races.
Born in Virginia in 1800, Sarah Pugh moved to Philadelphia at the age of three when her father died, and spent her life in that city. She attended Westtown boarding school for two years, and in 1821 began teaching at the Friends School of the 12th Street Meeting. When the Quakers split the Hicksite and Orthodox factions, Sarah resigned and started her own school, which she ran for most of her life.
19th Century Anti-Slavery Activists
Image: The Underground Railroad, 1891 painting by Charles Webber, depicts Catharine and Levi Coffin leading a group of fugitive slaves to freedom on a winter morning. The setting of the painting may be the Coffin farm in Cincinnati.
White Women Abolitionists
The increase in religious revivals known as the Second Great Awakening of the 1820s and 1830s led abolitionists to see slavery as a sin against humanity. By the 1830s, thousands of American women were involved in the movement to abolish slavery, and some became prominent leaders in the abolition movement. They wrote articles for abolitionist papers, circulated pamphlets and delivered petitions to Congress calling for abolition.
Since the days of William Penn, Quaker practice had allowed women to take public stances on social issues and granted women the right to speak openly at public meetings. Licensed as a Quaker minister in 1821, Lucretia Mott was soon speaking out against slavery in Quaker meetings. After disagreements about slavery split the Quakers into two groups in 1827, Mott became active in the abolition movement in Pennsylvania.
Advocate of the Immediate Abolition of Slavery
Elizabeth Margaret Chandler was a noted author and abolitionist poet in the early 19th century who became the first woman in America to make the abolition of slavery the principal theme in her writing. Her brief life was marked by a series of literary achievements that can only be described as impressive, given the virtual invisibility of women at that time.
Elizabeth Margaret Chandler was born December 24, 1807 in Centre, Delaware to Thomas and Margaret Evans Chandler. She had two older brothers, William Guest and Thomas. The Chandlers were members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and they lived the strict, orderly and disciplined life of a Quaker family.
Sarah Grimke helped pioneer the antislavery and women’s rights movements in the United States. The daughter of a South Carolina slave-holder, she began as an advocate for the abolition of slavery, but was severely criticized for the public role she assumed in support of the abolitionist movement. In Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, and the Condition of Woman (1838), Grimke defended the right of women to speak in public in defense of a moral cause.
Childhood and Early Years
Sarah Moore Grimke was born on November 26, 1792, in Charleston, South Carolina. She was the eighth of fourteen children and the second daughter of Mary and John Faucheraud Grimke, a wealthy plantation owner who was also an attorney and a judge. The Grimkes lived alternately between a fashionable townhouse in Charleston and the sprawling Beaufort plantation in the country.
Lydia Maria Child ranks among the most influential nineteenth-century women authors, and was one of the first American women to earn a living from her writing. She was renowned in her day as a crusader for truth and justice and a champion of excluded groups in American society – especially Indians, slaves and women. She then turned her energies to reform and became a leading abolitionist.
Maria Child is probably best remembered today for the Thanksgiving children’s poem, “Over the River and Through the Woods.” But in her lifetime she published more than fifty books, plus short stories, poems and articles for periodicals. The North American Review, the leading literary periodical of the time, commented: “We are not sure that any woman of our country could outrank Mrs. Child. Few female writers, if any, have done more or better things for our literature…”