AHEAD OF HER TIME by Dorothy Sterling


Abby Kelley and the Politics of Antislavery
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 From Sterling (ed., We Are Your Sisters, 1983), a full-scale biography that reveals the pioneering spirit of an early feminist and abolitionist. Abby Kelley (1811-87)--``the moral Joan of Arc of the world,'' according to William Lloyd Garrison--initiated the women's rights movement in this country but chose antislavery as her priority. As lecture agent, main organizer, and chief fund-raiser for the American Anti-Slavery Society, she established a network of regional abolitionist newspapers and local antislavery societies in the North and West. At numerous conventions and meetings, Kelley and her abolitionist husband, Stephen Foster, spoke before ``promiscuous audiences''--men and women. The Fosters denounced the constitution as a proslavery document and worked with ex-slaves Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth and feminists Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucy Stone. They deplored the ``Slave Power'' interests of the Mexican War and used their Massachusetts home as a station on the Underground Railroad. When the Civil War erupted, Kelley urged emancipation as a war goal and demanded that slaves have full equality, land, and the vote. A dynamic political force, Kelley and her ``Abby Kelleyites'' lobbied for the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments even as Kelley courageously suffered a two-year illness, the loss of all her teeth, failing eyesight, and a dangerous operation for ovarian cancer. Though Kelley left little source material, Sterling has combed through hundreds of contemporary letters and newspaper articles to flesh out her human side. The plethora of conventions, meetings, and lectures occasionally slows the pace but underscores the commitment of a unique woman whose role in history has been neglected, Sterling says, by the bias of male historians and by suffragettes who felt Kelley should have pushed for a Fifteenth Amendment that included, in addition to voting rights for nonwhites, suffrage for women. A serviceable biography adding to the lore of a difficult period of growth in US history. (Photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 25th, 1991
ISBN: 0-393-03026-1
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1991