Associated Salem women (partial list of members):
• Mrs. Parker Brown
• Lucy N. Dodge (Gray)
• Lydia L. Dodge
• Mrs. Cyrus P. Grosvenor
• Lucy G. Ives
• Eliza J. Kenney
• Jane Nichols
• Margaret Savage
• Mary Spencer
• Laura Poor Stone
Organized on June 4, 1834, the bi-racial Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society attracted one hundred and thirty members during its first year, mostly from Salem’s middle and professional classes. The society’s first president was Mrs. Cyrus P. Grosvenor, the wife of the local Baptist minister. Another founding member was Lydia L. Dodge, the daughter of William Dodge, an educator and president of the local chapter of the American Anti-Slavery Society.
The constitution drawn up by its members stated, “It is our belief that the principle upon which all slavery is founded, that man may in some cases innocently hold property in man is FALSE! Any lady professing to believe the sentiments of this preamble and signing the constitution may become a member of this society.”1 During the Society’s thirty-year history, members distributed clothing to “freed Negroes” in the area, provided items for the annual anti-slavery bazaars at Boston’s Faneuil Hall, held their own fairs at Salem’s Masonic Hall and Creamer Hall to raise funds, organized a sewing school for African American girls, aided fugitive slaves in Canada, supported William Lloyd Garrison and his newspaper The Liberator, and hosted a regular lecture series to promote public awareness. When the society dissolved in 1866 after the Civil War, many members joined the Freedman’s Aid Society.
In 1838, Salem women attended the second national anti-slavery convention from May 15-18, which was held in Philadelphia (the first was held in 1837 in New York City). The convention started in Pennsylvania Hall but it moved to Temperance Hall after the first facility was destroyed by an angry white mob. Members of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society who attended were Mary Spencer, Lucy N. Dodge, and Eliza J. Kenney. They contributed $5.00 toward the expense of the convention.
Among the more well-known speakers brought to Salem by the society was Lucy Stone (1818–93), whose lecture in October of 1851 brought in the third highest receipts ever recorded by the society. Although best known for her work on woman suffrage and the movement’s newspaper, the Woman’s Journal, Lucy Stone was also a dedicated antislavery activist. She broke with several leaders of the woman suffrage movement when she insisted on including African American suffrage rights as part of the overall efforts of liberation and inclusion.
Sarah Moore Grimké (1792–1873) and her younger sister, Angelina Emily Grimké Weld (1805–79), also spoke in Salem against slavery. Born as privileged daughters of a Charleston, South Carolina, family who owned slaves, the Grimkés received an upper-class education they wanted to share with enslaved people—an illegal act at that time. They both became Quakers and powerful speakers against slavery. Sarah never married, fearing she would become more of a “slave” than a wife; Angelina married Theodore Weld in 1838 but refused to recite the vow to obey. He agreed with her sentiments, and during their ceremony he “alluded to the unrighteous power vested in a husband by the laws of the United States over the person and property of his wife, and he abjured all authority, all government, save the influence [of] love.”2
Other prominent lecturers included Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass, Charles Lenox Remond (Sarah’s brother), and William Lloyd Garrison. Along with Lyceum Hall, the Society also hosted lectures at Mechanic Hall, 285 Essex Street, which no longer stands.
Friday, May 26, 1854—Had a conversation with Miss Mary Shepard about slavery; she is, as I thought, thoroughly opposed to it, but does not agree with me in thinking that the churches and ministers are generally supporters of the infamous system; I believe it firmly. Mr. [Albert] Barnes, one of the most prominent of the Philadelphia clergy, who does not profess to be an abolitionist, has declared his belief that ‘the American church is the bulwark of slavery.’ Words cannot express all that I feel; all that is felt by the friends of Freedom, when thinking of this great obstacle to the removal of slavery from our land. Alas! That it should be so.
September . This evening Miss S.[arah] B.[rown] and I joined the [Salem] Female Anti-Slavery Society. I am glad to have persuaded her to do so. She seems an earnest hearted girl, in whom I cannot help having some confidence. I can only hope and pray that she will be true, and courageous enough to meet the opposition which every friend of freedom must encounter.
Friday, November 23. …This evening took a pleasant walk with Maria B. the most intimate of my school companions. She is an agreeable, intelligent girl, whom I wish very earnestly to interest in Anti-Slavery.
Sarah Parker Remond, “A Colored Lady Lecturer,” English Women’s Journal 7 (June 1861).
… My mother hailed the advent of this young and noble apostle of liberty with enthusiasm, and among my earliest impressions is mingled the name of that now venerated friend of the oppressed William L. Garrison…As years rolled on, I became more and more interested in every effort made in behalf of the enslaved. The germ of a glorious reform was now planted and had taken root; the American Anti-Slavery Society was founded. Auxiliary societies were formed in different localities of the Free States, and a nucleus formed, around which the friends of freedom have rallied …from my earliest days, until I left the States, fifteen months since, I have attended the public meetings of the abolitionists. I am grateful beyond expression for the many influences which led me to become familiar with the principles and mode of action destined to completely upset that vile system of American chattel slavery.
In 1857 I was urged by a few friends to speak in public. A defective education, and a pro-slavery atmosphere, are not the best incentives for such a purpose. After much consideration and encouraged by one of the noblest women of my native State, one who had made many sacrifices and spent the best years of her life in publicly advocating the cause of the slaves [ Abby Kelly Foster], I started on my first anti-slavery tour in company with my brother Charles.
1 Constitution of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society, 1834.
2 Catherine H. Birney, The Grimké Sisters: Sarah and Angelina Grimké, The First American Women Advocates of Abolition and Woman’s Rights (Boston, 1885), 232–3.
Content copyright 2009-2011. Hurd Smith Communications. All rights reserved.