Hopedale Knew Abby Kelley Foster
By Peter Hackett
A recent poll conducted by the Roper Organization, Inc indicates that 57 percent of American women, a
majority for the first time, give a clear vote of confidence to efforts to change or strengthen their status.
This report is but one of many indications in recent years that the women’s liberation movement has
raised a swell of sentiment for equal rights between men and women even though most women have
not wanted to be identified with militant feminism.
As against this poll, it is significantly interesting to know that some 130 years ago women members of
the so-called Hopedale Community enjoyed very largely the same, equal privileges and
responsibilities as did the men. This, it might be stressed, was not due to any feminism or liberation
movements. It was simply a pertinent example of the high but natural standing of the women who
were members of the Community. The same, of course, could be said of the men.After all, the
Community was founded on the basic principles of “practical Christianity” as understood by the Rev.
Adin Ballou and his followers.
The constitution under which the community was established in 1840 was signed by 32 members, 15
of whom were women. Due to the possible historical significance of their names, here they are: Lucy
Hunt Ballou, Mary Lamson, Ann Eliza Fish, Caroline Hayden Lillie, Mary Louisa Brown, Mary Ann Pitts,
Charlotte Taft Thayer, Martha Harris, Abigail Draper Cook, Ruth Shove Gladding, Jemima Sherman,
Anna Thwing Draper, Miriam P. Wheeler, Emily Gay and Barbara Barker Colburn.
Election of officers was held at the annual meeting. They were styled Intendants, meaning in effect,
chairmen of the many boards and committees. At the second annual meeting Abby H. Price was
elected secretary. In 1851, Lucy Ballou (wife of Adin Ballou) and Sylvia W. Bancroft were elected to the
Council. Almira B. Humphrey and Abbie J. Spaulding were elected to the Relief Committee. In 1854,
Mary A. Walden was elected Recorder (probably secretary), Anna T. Draper and Ann E. Fish were
elected to the Council, Caroline M. May and Catharine G. Munyan were elected to the Board of
Education. Sarah B. Rich and Anna T. Draper were elected to the promulgation committee.
It should be understood, of course, that these committees were composed of men also. It was the
committees, men and woman, that managed the Community and saw to it that everything was in
accordance with the Constitution.
With respect to the women, Ballou noted that the “Female Department found much to do in caring for
and helping individuals and families that, by reason of sickness, misfortune or otherwise, were
brought into circumstances of dependence and need, thus obviating the necessity in numerous cases
of presenting demands upon the common treasury for means of relieve or in any way making public
the exigencies to which improvidence or adversity or injustice may have brought those who silently or
openly appealed to our sympathies and friendliness for aid”
This service by the women was their contribution to the economy of the Community. There were many
other ways they rendered valuable service such as teaching school, conducting Sunday School
classes, coaching plays for concerts and the Community sponsored Lyceum.
The official organ of the Community, the Practical Christian, published semi-monthly, served a useful
purpose. It kept the Community members duly informed of their own affairs as well as those of the
outside world. Theirs, it should be remembered, was a little world of its own. The press that printed it
also, from time to time, published tracts, most of them written by Ballou. He tells about a small book
that came off that press, entitled “The Hopedale Collection of Hymns and Songs for the Use of
Practical Christians.” It was compiled by Ballou and contained 316 devotional hymns and songs, 20
written by himself and, as he noted, “about a dozen each from the pens of Sisters, Abby Price and Mary
He gave some examples in the book he wrote, “The History of the Hopedale Community,” with the
thought that “they were illustrative of the spirit in which the work at Hopedale was carried on and of the
means employed to nourish the better life in our own and each other’s souls, and to stimulate
ourselves and others to a faithful discharge of the duties and obligations set forth and enjoined in the
Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Women of the Hopedale Community, as noted, enjoyed the same status as the men. They, as did the
men, looked with favor upon the women who were abolitionists and social reformers generally.
Ballous “Hopedale Community” names no reference to Abigail Kelley Foster, noted abolitionist, but we
have reason to believe she once visited Hopedale. (One reason would be Anna Thwing Fields'
memory of her as a speaker in Hopedale, which she mentioned in Hopedale Reminiscences.)
The American Antiquarian Society, as late as March, this year, placed on exhibit at the Society’s
building about a dozen items from the collection of Foster’s participation in the anti-slavery and
feminist movements of the 19th century.
A brief reference to this Abby should not be amiss. She was born in Pelham, a community now known
as “one of those towns under the Quabbin Reservoir.” (Wikipedia give the population of Pelham in
2010 as 1321. That's a lot of people to be living underwater.) Her father was “an Irish Quaker yeoman”
who moved his family to Worcester in 1811 when Abby was only a year old.
In time she became a school teacher and also an ardent follower of William Lloyd Garrison, the
famous abolitionist. Her reputation as a speaker brought her many calls to lecture. As a result she
gave up teaching and briefly joined her family, then living in Millbury.
After a personal retreat during which she prayed, meditated and reflected about the cause of abolition,
Miss Kelley began a series of lectures, “first in Hopedale, Hopkinton, Milford and nearby towns.”
In the course of her travels she met a famous abolitionist, Stephen S. Foster, who, after a four year
courtship, she married. Together they suffered unbelievably in the course of their travels, lecturing;
were often thrown off platforms, out of windows, stoned, chased, had eggs thrown at them, all for their
The Fosters mellowed with age and after the Civil War settled in a farm they bought on Mower Street,
Worcester. They refused to pay their taxes on the grounds that Abby was not allowed to vote. The city
promptly seized the property and sold the farm at auction. It was purchased by friends and neighbors
who returned it to the Fosters, satisfied Abby had dramatized women’s need for the vote.
Lucy Stone, a reformer and long time admirer of Abby, wrote these lines. “Over the highway she helped
build, slaves walked to freedom, and over the highway whose foundation stones she laid with
bleeding hands, women are marching to their equal rights.”
Hopedale knew Abby Kelley Foster. Milford Daily News, October 19, 1974.
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