Yours for Humanity -Abby: Overview
Yours for Humanity—Abby is a one-woman play about Abby Kelley Foster aimed at a fifth through twelfth grade audience, but has touched audiences of all ages. The half hour drama is set in northeastern Indiana in the spring of 1854 and draws heavily on her correspondence and speeches, reported in The Liberator and other period newspapers. The audience becomes part of the drama as the townsfolk attending anti-slavery lectures and as the members of a newly formed anti-slavery sewing circle. Through her correspondence with her family, the audience understands the sacrifice Abby has chosen to make for humanity. A brief question and answer period follows each performance.
Abby Kelley Foster was a fairly average, middle class New England woman whose special contribution was her skill to reach out to and change ordinary people in small villages and towns across the country. She was one of the most effective public speakers and fundraisers of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Abby felt her true calling was organizing people not yet convinced that slavery was evil. She wrote about going into new territory, clearing the brush of prejudice, planting the seeds of anti-slavery sentiment, and laying the ground work for more famous anti-slavery lecturers like William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips.
Abby paved the way for the women’s movement by her bold behavior and persistent action on behalf of the slave. Abby believed fully in men and women’s equality, and because she acted on these beliefs, she experienced hostility and harassment that was very painful in her early years.
Abby’s story is important, as well, because for about a dozen years she tried to juggle being a paid spokesperson for the American Anti-slavery Society and being a mother. Until family health issues kept her closer to home, Abby was often absent, and her letters show that she agonized over her selfishness at wanting to be with her daughter when so many slave women had their babies torn from their arms and never saw them again. Unlike many abolitionists, she wanted full equality between the races, as she did between the sexes. She wanted to end race prejudice as well as gender prejudice. As she often signed her letters, Abby was Yours for humanity.
To ensure a meaningful experience for students, the complete curriculum packet is available for $10 from the Worcester Women’s History Project. Each school receives a copy upon booking the play. Student awareness of mid-nineteenth-century issues is enhanced when teachers use at least one pre- and one post-lesson. A menu of Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks is included to help determine which lessons align with the student grade level. The curriculum helps draw the connection between the past and our present by noting that both Abby Kelley Foster and Martin Luther King, Jr. were born on January 15. Both people worked tirelessly for human rights and equality.
Community audiences also benefit from this curriculum material, which introduces viewers to supplementary biographies and original manuscripts related to Abby Kelley Foster and the movements of her day. With the assistance of a Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities grant, WWHP has posted the following resources to enrich community understanding of Abby Kelley Foster’s life:
- Parallel U.S. History and Abby Kelley Foster Timeline with hyperlinks to images and/or documents.
- Background papers
- Slavery in the U.S. Constitution
- American Anti-Slavery Society
- Woman's Rights
- Kelley and Foster Family Trees
- Suggested Readings and Resources
At the conclusion of the performance, Abby reminds us that prejudice still remains in the United States in the 21st century and it is up to each of us to do our part in the struggle. She signs off on her letter to her husband Stephen, and to us, with the words “Yours for humanity – Abby.”