Feast of Abby Kelley Foster and Stephen Symonds Foster (January 15)   Leave a comment

Above:  Liberty Farm, Worcester, Massachusetts

Image in the Public Domain

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STEPHEN SYMONDS FOSTER (NOVEMBER 17, 1809-SEPTEMBER 13, 1881)

husband of

ABBY KELLEY FOSTER (JANUARY 15, 1811-JANUARY 14, 1887)

Also known as Abby Kelly Foster

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U.S. QUAKER ABOLITIONISTS AND FEMINISTS

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I do not talk of woman’s rights, but of human rights, the rights of human beings.  I do not come to ask [for] them, but to demand them; not to get down on my knees and beg for them, but to claim them.

–Abby Kelley Foster, October 1850, at the first National Women’s Rights Convention, Worcester, Massachusetts

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In short, in the harangue of Abby, she simply demands that men and women should be treated as human beings, all alike….

The New York Herald, October 15, 1850, criticizing Abby Kelley Foster and her positions

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Abby Kelley Foster comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saint’s Days and Holy Days, via G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (2006).  Stephen Symonds Foster joins her on the Ecumenical Calendar by virtue of being her husband and her fellow activist.  After all, one of my purposes in adding to the Ecumenical Calendar is to emphasize relationships and influences.

STEPHEN SYMONDS FOSTER

Stephen Symonds Foster, born in Canterbury, New Hampshire, became a radical, according to the standards of his time.  He, raised a Congregationalist, was a carpenter until the age of 22 years.  Foster decided to study to become a missionary, so he matriculated at Dartmouth College.  He eventually graduated, in 1838.  During his college years, Foster found a new direction in life and endured hardships.  He became an abolitionist.  He also went to jail for being in debt and spent time incarcerated with hardened, violent criminals.  This experience led to a movement that ended imprisonment for debt in New Hampshire.

Instead of becoming a missionary, Foster became an activist.  The three social causes for which he worked were feminism, temperance, and the abolition of slavery.  After graduating from Dartmouth College, he studied at Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York, in 1838-1839.  He left that institution because the leadership forbade him from hosting abolitionist meetings.  Our saint even rejected the offer of a scholarship in exchange for his silence regarding slavery.  Foster’s abolitionist activism led to his expulsion from the Congregational Church in 1841 and to a physical attack in Portland, Maine, the following year.  Our saint was outspoken in his criticism of religion that justified slavery.  He expressed himself in both writing and on the lecture circuit of the American Anti-Slavery Society.

ABBY KELLEY FOSTER

Abby Kelley was also making the rounds on the anti-slavery lecture circuit.

Kelley, born in Pelham, Massachusetts, on January 15, 1811, became a radical, also.  She came from a rigid, conservative society with gender norms–separate spheres.  Women did not address mixed-gender audiences.  Schools were not coeducational.  Women’s suffrage was out of the question.  The Quakers, her denomination, had a mixed record regarding opposition to slavery, but they were more progressive than many other Christian bodies.  Abby, a teacher, joined the Female Anti-Slavery Society at Lynn in 1837.  The following year, she began to lecture.  Eventually, she became a full-time lecturer.  Kelley made the connection between the rights of women and those of African Americans, many of whom were slaves.  To insist on the rights of one group while ignoring the rights of the other was wrong, she understood.  This was a minority position within the abolitionist movement in the United States.

THE FOSTERS

Abby Kelley married Stephen Symonds Foster in 1845.  Their marriage was, of course, unconventional.  They were a team of activists.  The Fosters purchased an estate, “Liberty Farm,” in 1847; their home became a station of the Underground Railroad.  After Abby gave birth to a daughter, Paulina Wright “Alla” Foster, in 1847, husband and wife took turns traveling on the lecture circuit, so that one parent would stay home with Alla.  More often that not, Stephen was a stay-at-home father.

Abby made her mark on the United States.  She helped to organize the first National Women’s Rights Convention at Worcester, Massachusetts, in late 1850, and spoke at it.  In 1854 she became the chief fundraiser for the American Anti-American Society.  After the Civil War, she advocated for the ratification of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.  In 1868 she helped to organize the New England Women Suffrage Association.

The Fosters made their protest against the lack of women’s suffrage where they lived by refusing to pay taxes.  Their justification was the revolutionary cry,

No taxation without representation.

The local government sold Liberty Farm for unpaid taxes in 1874.  A sympathetic neighbor purchased the farm then sold it back to the Fosters.  This pattern repeated until both Abby and Stephen died.

Stephen, aged 73 years, died on September 13, 1881.

Abby, aged 75 years, died on January 14, 1887.

IN RETROSPECT

From my vantage point in the United States in 2019, the once-radical and marginal ideas becoming mainstream are mostly hateful and exclusionary.  They tend to be ideas such as white nationalism and Anti-Semitism, and frequently result in violence or other forms of abuse.  The radical and marginal ideas the Fosters espoused fall into a different category:  inclusion.  As the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta says,

DRAW THE CIRCLE WIDE.

The Fosters, ahead of their time, helped to create a better future.

May their ethic of recognizing the image of God, or as their Quaker theology put it well–the inner light–in others then acting accordingly inspire us to do the same.

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Loving God, who has implanted your image and inner light inside all people,

we thank you for the lives and legacies of your servants,

Abby Kelley Foster and Stephen Symonds Foster,

who affirmed the inherent human dignity in those whom

society defined as non-citizens or as second-class citizens.

May we, in our times and places, affirm the image of God in all human beings and treat them accordingly,

so that a moral revolution of values may lead people to define all your children as insiders.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Genesis 1:27

Psalm 97

Galatians 3:23-29

Luke 10:29-37

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 5, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALFRED TENNYSON, ENGLISH POET

THE FEAST OF ADAM OF SAINT VICTOR, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ALBRECHT DÜRER, MATTHIAS GRÜNEWALD, AND LUCAS CRANACH THE ELDER, RENAISSANCE ARTISTS

THE FEAST OF GEORGE FREDERICK ROOT, POET AND COMPOSER

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