WHAT DID ABBY SAY?


In 1851 at the second national woman's rights convention in Worcester Abby Kelley Foster thrilled those in attendance when, alluding to the avalanche of criticism she had received as one of the first women to speak publically before "mixed" or "promiscuous" audiences, she proclaimed ". . . my life has been my speech. For fourteen years I have advocated this cause by my daily life. Bloody feet, sisters, have worn smooth the path by which you have come up hither."
More than thirty years later, at Abby's funeral, her longtime friend and fellow crusader Lucy Stone recalled that Abby almost didn't get to deliver that famous speech. Concerned about her "odious" remarks at the 1850 convention, the organizers of the 1851 gathering seriously considered banning her from attending, much less speaking. What had Abby said that some of her closest friends and co-workers considered so "odious"?

Here is what the Proceedings of the 1850 Convention recorded: "The resolutions were discussed by W.H. Channing, E.L. Rose, A.K. Foster, and C.C. Burleigh. On motion adjourned to meet at 7 o'clock."

The New York Daily Tribune, edited by Horace Greeley, covered the convention in great detail. Its "correspondent" was a member of the convention and recorded the give-and-take of the debate in great detail. He reported: "Abby Kelly Foster also addressed the Convention in a strong speech, and was followed by C.C. Burleigh. I see Wendell Phillips and W.L. Garrison in the audience, having arrived this afternoon.

"The convention has adjourned to meet in this place at 7 o'clock this evening."

His next report gives a hint of this "strong speech" in his coverage of a speech by Lucretia Mott:

She made reference to the language of Mrs. [Abby Kelley] Foster, who she feared would be contrued to favor the use of violence and bloodshed as one of the means of obtaining these rights. She thought she might not be understood. What she said on the subject was based upon the supposition that certain other things were right. She wished her friend had given her own views of the subject. Mrs. Mott then went on in a few eloquent and powerful remarks, to urge that the weapons of their warfare were not carnal, but spiritual, and might through God, to the pulling down of strongholds. That they must fight with the sword of the spirit, even the works of God; they must appeal to the pure sentiments of the mind, and the justice of their cause. She was opposed to any twaddle on that subject, as was her friend. We want to speak earnestly and truly the words of honest and sober conviction. We want to speak in tones of reproof to those on whom the guilt of these wrongs rests. We want to say as Jesus did "Ye fools and blind," "Ye hypocrites," and to our Sisters, who are still indifferent and contented with their position "O, thou slothful and slow of heart, rise up in the strength of thy Womanhood, and Christ shall give thee light." There is no greater mistake than to suppose that what is called non-resistance is timid and inefficient method of meeting those evils. It is the strongest kind of resistance -- the resistance of moral sentiment, of justice and truth. It will not permit us to injure our fellow beings, to take their lives, but it leaves to us that higher resistance which comes from God.

The local paper, the Massachusetts Spy, also sympathized with the cause of woman's rights. In fact, its editor, John Milton Earle, was the husband of Sarah Earle who convened the convention. Its report did not mention Abby Kelley Foster at all despite the fact that she was herself a Worcester resident. Nor did it mention Lucretia Mott's attempt to recast her friend's language.

The other major newpaper to sympathize with the woman's rights movement was the Boston Chronotype, whose editor, Elizur Wright wrote a letter published in the convention's Proceedings. Its report said "Mrs. Abby Kelley Foster, then addressed the convention in support of Mrs. Rose's resolution. Her Subject, The rights of Humanity; shall women have them? She made a brilliant speech." Wright's paper reported nothing of Mott's efforts to tone down the rhetoric of this "brilliant speech."

The other papers to cover the convention in detail were openly hostile to the cause of woman's rights. The New York Herald, edited by James Gordon Bennett, described Abby Kelley Foster, in these terms: "Abby Kelly [sic] Foster is a very striking personage--tall and thin, with an eye wild and resolute, and a cast of physiognomy fearful to the despots who lord it over women's rights; dress, plain black, open collar, dark hair, dressed plain." Here is an excerpted version of its account.

Boston's Daily Mail also covered the convention closely. Here is an excerpted verion of its account.