In less than a month, Abolitionists Day will again take place at the Sterner Center, on March 7 from 2 to 4 p.m.. The event features well-known and lesser-known Abolitionists, the musicians of Dearest Home and “A Portrait of Sojourner Truth,” refreshments, and displays about Thaddeus Stevens and other giants of Abolitionism. Come and hear stories and music of those of both races who had the courage to stand up for justice, ultimately succeeding in abolishing slavery in this country.

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of women achieving the right to vote, so we are especially focusing on women Abolitionists in this year’s play, “Anna Dickinson, Fighting for Freedom and the Vote.” Many of the women who later won the right for women to vote gained their political experience in the Abolitionist movement. Susan B. Anthony began as an Abolitionist, giving passionate speeches about the moral duty to free the slaves. Anthony was among those portrayed in the first annual Abolitionists Day here in Gettysburg in 2017. This year we see Anna Dickinson breaking every glass ceiling of the mid-nineteenth century. In addition to Abolitionists like Anna Dickinson and Lucretia Mott, some of the members of the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society (PFASS) will be portrayed. The group was founded in 1833 because women were not allowed to join the Anti-Slavery Society, which like many groups at the time was restricted to white men. In contrast, among the eighteen women who founded PFASS, seven were African American women, making it one of the few racially integrated anti-slavery societies of the antebellum era. Women like Harriet Forten Purvis and her daughter, Harriet Hattie Purvis, were prominent members of Philadelphia’s African American elite. So although PFASS was racially integrated, it was fairly homogeneous in terms of social class. Members were nearly all well-educated middle class women. Leadership positions were held by black as well as white women. Young Hattie Purvis was especially active both in PFASS, and later in the National American Woman Suffrage Association, where she was a delegate from 1883 to 1900. In 1899 Hattie and her niece accompanied Susan B. Anthony to London, and attended the meeting there of the International Council of Women. The heritage of freedom for those who had been enslaved, and of the right to vote, first for formerly enslaved men, then for women, is a proud one. Abolitionist families like Anna Dickinson’s were often inspired by the Quaker commitment to justice for all, and many PFASS members were Quakers. Dickinson’s family, like other Quakers, helped passengers on the Underground Railroad, often sheltering those escaping slavery in their home. And few families equaled the commitment to freedom and to the Underground Railroad of the Purvis family. Robert Purvis, husband of Harriet and father of Hattie, was recorded as having helped 9,000 former slaves escape to freedom. The fundraising work that Harriet and Hattie did through PFASS connected seamlessly with Robert’s Underground Railroad “conducting.” Funds from PFASS supported the work of the Underground Railroad, helping the formerly enslaved on every stage of their journey to liberty and to a stable life.

Judy Young is a retired United Methodist pastor and one of the planners of Abolitionists Day.

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