Leaves from Sojourner Truth Memorial Statue,
Over the last decade Florence has become recognized for the many sites that document African American History, anti-slavery and the Underground Railroad. In a parallel history these sites and many others help us remember the history of the movement for women's rights. Two of the best known abolitionists and women's rights activists, Sojourner Truth and Lydia Maria Child, lived here. Transcendentalist and education reformer Elizabeth Palmer Peabody was instrumental in establishing the first free kindergarten in the United States--The Florence Kindergarten (Hill Institute). But many other women of stature labored here in Florence, Anna Garlin Spencer, Sophia Foord, Elizabeth Powell Bond, Mary White Bond, Frances Judd, and Sarah Askin are but a few whose stories are in evidence in a walk through the streets of Florence.
The split that occurred between conservative and radical wings of abolitionism is viewed by historians as a springboard for the women's rights movement. Child, Truth, and other women of Florence were in the thick of this controversy. The Northampton Association of Education and Industry asserted in its constitution and bylaws the principal of equal rights that had become a major platform of the Massachusetts Anti-slavery Society. "[Article V] The rights of all are equal without distinction of sex, color, or condition, sect or religion." Accordingly women, as well as blacks and fugitive slaves, had an equal vote, and were paid equally for their labor in this rare and forward thinking community.
The Free Congregational Society founded in 1863, largely by former members of the NAEI, continued to emphasize equal rights. "...recognizing the brotherhood of the human race and the equality of human rights, we make no distinction as to the conditions and rights of membership in this society, on account of sex, or color, or nationality." Join us as we explore the lives of the women who helped found Florence as a progressive community.
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