Abolitionist Abby Kelley Foster & “Come-outerism”.


Abby Kelley Foster Worcester MA Liberty Farm

This is Liberty Farm, a National Historic Landmark in Worcester, Massachusetts, where Abby Kelley Foster (1811-1887) lived most of her married life with her husband, Stephen Symonds Foster.

Abby Kelley Foster is a name most of us are not familiar with.  She was one of the many extraordinary women from our American past who poured out their lives for a better future, but whose memory has been for the most part lost and obscured.

We need to remember, and to carry her greatness forward into the fabric of our own  present lives.

Abby grew up on a farm in Worcester, and eventually became a teacher.

A turning point in her life came when she was in her twenties when she attended a lecture by William Lloyd Garrison, the prominent abolitionist.  She soon became passionately involved in the anti-slavery movement, as well as the struggle for women’s rights.

In 1838, she spoke at the Anti-Slavery Convention in Philadelphia, a meeting so controversial that after it ended protestors burned the building to the ground.  Two years later, at the American Anti-Slavery Society’s annual meeting, she effectively split the anti-slavery movement by asserting women’s equality.

She advocated not only for the end of slavery, but for full civil rights for African-Americans.  Her home became a station on the Underground Railroad network, helping slaves escape from the South.  After the end of the Civil War, she helped sponsor the 15th Amendment to the Constitution which gave African-Americans the right to vote.  In 1850, she was an organizer and key speaker at the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester.

She was no supporter of progressive reform.  She wanted full rights granted to African-Americans and women now.

Frederick Douglass, the great African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator and writer, sometimes joined Abby on lecture tours.

Douglass wrote about Abby:

“Her youth and simple Quaker beauty, combined with her wonderful earnestness, her large knowledge and great logical power bore down all opposition wherever she spoke, though she was pelted with foul eggs and no less foul words from the noisy mobs which attended us.”

Abby spent more than twenty years traveling and lecturing in small villages and towns across the nation.  Her motto was:  “Go where you are least wanted, for there you are most needed.”

What Abby Kelley Foster is most remembered for is her advocacy of “come-outerism”, a belief that abolitionists were morally bound to leave churches that did not fully, openly, and absolutely condemn slavery.  There could be no middle ground on this moral issue.

She was in agreement with another woman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the great novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, which had an enormous impact about the issue of slavery leading up to the Civil War.  The whole import of her book was that slavery and Christianity were incompatible.

As in Abby’s day, we now live in a morally confusing time.  We have a Republican Congress and Party, along with a great number of our American Christian churches, who support a President who denigrates African-Americans, Mexicans, other nations and nationalities; who aspires to deprive millions of Americans of their health care; who verifiedly lies obsessively through his tweets; who insanely is set on expanding to the tune of another trillion dollars our death arsenal of nuclear weapons; who supports a Congress secretly lusting to abolish Social Security for tens of millions of our elder citizens; who has been caught on tape expressing his low regard for women; who is trying daily to destroy the credibility of our system of justice, of our courts, of our newspapers and media; who would tear apart hundreds of thousands of children – “Dreamers”- from their families …and the list goes on.

It’s time we demand our own sort of “come-outerism”.

Today, Abby Kelley Foster would undoubtedly say:

“If you have any kind of morality and sense of justice, “come out” of the Republican Party.  Withhold your support or participation whatsoever in a Party and a President bound over at all costs to power and profit at the expense of the people.

“If you have any commitment of your own to the basic, root, moral tenets of the founder of your Christian religion, then you must “come out” and sever all your ties with this Party and President, and also walk away from your Church and Church leaders if they choose to cast their lot and support for such an immoral Party and person.

“This is Judgment Day – your judgment.  Where do you stand?”



James Hilgendorf is a filmmaker, speaker, poet, and the author of ten non-fiction books, including “A New Myth for America”.

Order your own digital e-book copy now of “A New Myth for America” from your favorite online bookseller.

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