University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Amy Kirby Post, "Of whom it was said, 'being dead, yet speaketh'"

Volume XXXVII · 1984
Amy Kirby Post: "Of whom it was said, 'being dead, yet speaketh'"

In the late 1960s, feminists began searching for heroines, women whose lives could provide guidance and inspiration to a new generation of female activists. Many women who were first rediscovered as models of strength, self-reliance, and ingenuity were residents of western New York, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Antoinette Brown Blackwell, and Elizabeth Blackwell. Yet what made this region, and Rochester in particular, a seedbed of female achievement was not only the few nationally renowned women who found a home here but also, and perhaps more importantly, the dozens of women who day by day struggled to lead exemplary lives and to improve the lives of those around them. Amy Kirby Post was one such woman.

In her own day, she was well known among her Rochester neighbors as a radical Quaker, abolitionist, feminist, and spiritualist. To her coworkers and friends throughout the Northeast and Midwest, she symbolized the progressive character of early Rochester, a city thought to be "the seat of discovery" because some "new or wonderful thing [was] being constantly brought to light there."1 The local chroniclers of the 1880s included Amy Post among the area's notable figures and requested her assistance in recounting Rochesterians' part in antislavery crusades. However, in the last century, the achievements of a homegrown radical feminist paled against the exploits of entrepreneurs, educators, inventors, and politicians. Only with the collection of the Isaac and Amy Post Family Papers in the University of Rochester's Rare Books and Special Collections Department could this remarkable woman be returned to her rightful place among our pantheon of local heroes.

Amy Kirby was born in 1802 in the Long Island village of Jericho to a large, close-knit Quaker farm family. Agrarian Quakers of this period developed distinctive patterns of thought and behavior by isolating themselves from many of the economic, political, and social changes that shaped the lives of other Americans. They refused to become embroiled in partisan politics, maintained their own systems of social welfare, relied on religiously based instruments of moral discipline, and insisted on marrying within the faith. Amy Post's later responses to social problems were rooted in the beliefs and customs of Quaker community life: the importance of informal networks of social order and social support, the relatively equal roles of women in the meeting and the community, the emphasis on extended webs of kinship and companionate marriage, the faith in one's inner light as a source of divine guidance, and the commitment to humanitarian reforms.

In the early 1820s, Amy Kirby was still a light-hearted young woman who spent far more time discussing courtship rituals and potential beaus than pondering cosmic or earthly enigmas. The greatest anxiety among her friends was that their lot would be "cast in a distant land" with one of the many young men who sought economic opportunity in the richer lands or urban centers to the West.2 Abbey Gifford, Amy Willis, Maria Willets, and Amy Kirby joked about "the marrying fever" among their acquaintances and counselled each other to find "kind affectionate husbands"3 Yet, as Amy Willis noted, even the kindest of spouses could not wholly replace family and friends. Both the brides who left Jericho and their sisters behind "felt lonely and dejected . . . without one female friend to whom [they] could unbosom [their] feelings."4

Hannah Kirby, Amy's older sister, was one of those who suffered the isolation and homesickness of separation, settling in the village of Scipio in central New York upon her marriage to Isaac Post. Within months she begged Amy to visit: "I feel as if I could not be satisfyed [sic] to pass this summer alone," she wrote. And Amy soon headed north.The eligible young woman was quite popular among the Quaker bachelors in the region, which was particularly important since a Long Island friend predicted that Jericho would "be quite stripped of beaus" within a year. At the same time, youthful widows were already returning home, "severed from the friend to whom [their] heart[s] was most dear."6 It was a time when everything seemed possible, and nothing seemed certain.

In the midst of such concerns, Amy Kirby began to consider more seriously the overtures of Charles Willets; and by the summer of 1825, she had determined to make her home with him in Skaneateles, just a few miles from Scipio. Then in June, before the wedding could take place, Charles Willets fell ill and died. Amy, visiting her family in Jericho at the time, entered a long period of mourning. "And can you wonder," she wrote Hannah, "when I have so long confidently looked to the dear, dear youth, who you deposited in the cold grave .. . as the only source of my earthly happiness . . . these anticipated years of bliss, where are they, oh, with my precious Charles, they have fallen."7 In the following months, misfortunes multiplied. Abbey Gifford, just married, took sick, languished interminably, and died. Hannah Post and her baby son Henry also were in poor health while an aunt, a cousin and female friends in both central New York and Long Island were buried in quick succession. The husband of another childhood friend was jailed for drunkenness and wife abuse. Rarely did a letter appear that did not contain bad news. Then in April 1827, the final blow fell: Hannah Post died, with Isaac, their two children, and sister Amy at her bedside.8

Throughout these years, the only news that competed with family crises for Amy's attention was that describing growing tension within the Society of Friends. Elias Hicks, a cousin of the Kirbys, led the charge against the leading Friends, arguing that in both theology and discipline, the Society had wandered from its roots and taken on the forms of an orthodox church. Hicks was adamant that Friends had become too dependent on "external aids," including the Bible, and on formalized institutions of decision-making and ministry. He insisted that individuals must focus instead on their own "Inner Light" for spiritual direction, must diminish their dependency on committees and "meetings," and must act according to the principles of the Quaker founders.9 In April 1827, the differences between the pro-Hicks and anti-Hicks factions broke into the open at the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and the Society of Friends divided into two rival organizations—the Orthodox and the Hicksite Friends.10

For almost two years, Hicksite and Orthodox Friends struggled in local, regional, and yearly meetings to gain the upper hand. Initially, the Long Island meetings remained Orthodox while the central New York groups quickly associated themselves with the Hicksites. The division weighed particularly heavily on Amy Kirby. Occurring simultaneously with Hannah's death, it must have seemed distant at first; and for the next year and a half, Amy busied herself caring for her half-orphaned niece and nephew. But in 1829, when Amy agreed to give up her role as nursemaid to Hannah's children to become their stepmother, the Friends' division took on new immediacy for her life. The "connubial happiness" and "domestic felicity" enjoyed by Amy and Issac Post in the months after their wedding was widely noted by friends but was marred by being the fruits of disobedience." Amy Kirby, as a member of the still-Orthodox Jericho meeting was considered to have married "out of the order of Society" by taking a Hicksite husband. Friends who attended the wedding were also judged to have "transgressed the discipline."11 Months later, the matter was still not settled to the agreement of the Jericho meeting and Amy Post finally withdrew to become a member of the Hicksite Farmington Quarterly Meeting.

During the next several years, until the Posts moved to Rochester, Amy devoted herself to caring for Isaac, for her two stepchildren, Mary and Henry, and for her own sons, Joseph and Jacob, born in 1830 and 1834, respectively. Sarah Kirby, fifteen years younger than Amy, now provided the sisterly support and domestic labor that Amy had previously rendered to Hannah. Amy Post did not write often on spiritual or political matters in this period, but clearly her life was marked by the crises and confrontations of her twenties and by the social and religious ostracism she faced for standing by her personal convictions. In 1836, the Posts moved to Rochester, where Amy's workload was considerably eased-by the retirement from farm life, Sarah's continued assistance, and her children's increasing self-reliance. Here, in the company of like-minded Quaker neighbors, Amy Post became enmeshed in attempts to revitalize the Hicksite meeting and reform the larger society.

The Genesee Yearly Meeting (GYM), which included the Farmington Quarterly and Rochester Monthly meetings, was founded in 1834. By 1835, Amy Post was assigned to write epistles to other meetings and soon after served on the "meeting of sufferings" and on committees for vocational education and Indian rights. She was also active from 1837 on in persistent though unsuccessful attempts to alter the rules of the discipline of the society so "that men & women shall stand on the same footing in all matters in which they are equally interested."12 By 1840, the Posts joined a number of co-worshippers in advocating a change in church structure, believing as Hicks had in the 1820s, that hierarchy and formalism were superseding communalism and individual responsibility. The GYM as a whole found the "way not open" to decide upon either disciplinary or structural alterations and perennially postponed any divergence from existing practice.13 Some changes were effected in the Rochester Monthly Meeting, where men and women sometimes conducted business jointly, the powers of the Ministers and Elders were diminished, women disowned female Friends without the concurrence of the men, and marriage proposals were approved by both the women's and men's meetings on the date of receipt, "a radical departure from all previous Quaker custom."14

At the same time, debates erupted among Hicksites over the role of non-Quaker associations in promoting the antislavery cause, and the Posts and their friends began holding "numerous little abolition meetings" in their homes."15 In the fall of 1837, Amy Post signed her first "worldly" antislavery petition, setting her name alongside that of several hundred non-Quaker female neighbors.16 By 1841, the Posts began querying other reform-minded Friends about the negative effects of excluding non-Quakers from abolitionist gatherings. John Ketcham, a former Long Island neighbor, responded, concurring with Isaac and Amy's "sentiment that our light (if we have any) would be more likely to shine where it would do good by uniting with all without distinction of Sect or creed. . . ."17 These new principles were put into practice the following year when the Posts became charter members of the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society (WNYASS). The founding meeting was chaired by an agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society, ex-Quaker Abby Kelley; and the participants included Presbyterians and Baptists as well as some two dozen Hicksites.

Amy Post and three other local Quaker women joined Kelley to "draft and present an address to the abolitionists of Western New York, setting forth the benefits of fairs and recommending some definite plan of action" to raise funds.18 The ladies did not stop at devising a plan, however, but proceeded to organize the city's first female-run antislavery fair. It was scheduled for 22 February "as it would be a day easily remembered by the people, the birth day of the great, good, pious, immortal, slaveholding Washington!"19 These efforts were in direct violation of Quaker rules against mingling with "the world's people," and the overseers of the Rochester Monthly Meeting singled out Amy Post for investigation. When "Mrs. Post . . . left her home for the purpose of holding bazars [sic] or fairs to raise funds" for the abolitionist cause, a "committee was appointed to reason with [her]." One of their objects "was to advise her in regard to her duty towards her family," but they could find no sign of domestic neglect and, in fact, found several members of the household joining the family matriarch in her questionable activities. 20

Amy Post refused to be deterred by the meeting's concern. Writing to Kelley on stationery embossed with an antislavery logo, she noted almost with regret, that the overseers had "taken no further notice of my case. . . . I expect they will have a fresh charge against me soon," she continued, "as I yesterday transcribed Epistles for the Preparative meetings on such paper as this, and have but little doubt but that imploring image [of a slave in chains] will disturb their quiet."21 For two more years, Amy Post and other antislavery Hicksites struggled to combine Quaker piety and worldly activism. Mary Kirby, Amy's mother, wrote from Long Island, pleading with her "dear children" to "stand and wait patiently," believing that the meeting's leaders "will be overcome by your good and consistant [sic] lives."22

The situation did not improve, however, but instead became "exceedingly trying," a circumstance made worse by the onset of family tragedies. In the summer of 1844, Sarah's husband, Jeffries Hallowell, died unexpectedly and left behind unsuspected debts. The economic burden fell to Isaac Post and this, in tandem with the aftershocks of a nationwide financial panic, forced the Posts to give up their city home and move to a small farm. Since Isaac managed to keep his drug store afloat, Amy and Sarah took on much of the farm and household labor. Amy thought this would include the care of her youngest child, three-yearold Matilda; but just as the move was completed, the infant was struck with a painful disease which she did not survive. Amy was inconsolable at the loss of her "darling and only little daughter." She wrote her son Joseph, in school on Long Island, of "the loss of thy little interesting sister. . . . We must submit," she claimed half-heartedly, "though the repressed tears often become too potent to obey the check, when reflecting on her loveliness, and our disappointed hopes."23 Having taken sick herself before Matilda's death, Amy remained in poor health the rest of the year and for a time limited her participation in religious and reform meetings.

As she had in the 1820s, when a similar series of tragedies marred her life, Amy Post gradually reconciled herself to the situation and found strength to build anew. During the spring of 1845, both Amy and Isaac Post stopped attending monthly meetings, and in the summer, they withdrew from fellowship with the Hicksites. As they turned their attention away from the Society of Friends, they found more energy for antislavery campaigns. Only a month after Matilda's death, Amy was appointed to the resolutions committee at the WNYASS's second annual meeting, over which Isaac presided. Later in the year, Frederick Douglass stayed with the Posts while touring upstate New York. Douglass wrote to his hostess several months later, having become a celebrity in the abolitionist movement, assuring her that "your family was always Dear, very dear to me, you loved me and treated me as a brother before the world knew me as it now does, & when my friends were fewer than they are now."24 It was this early and earnest friendship of the Posts that helped persuade Douglass to establish his antislavery newspaper, the North Star, in Rochester in 1847.

The WNYASS met again in December 1845, and the women members resolved to make up for their lack of activity in the previous year by organizing their third antislavery fair. Indeed, there "appeared to be more of a determination on the part of the Executive Committee to do something, than at any preceding meeting, especially by the females," and especially by Amy Post.25 Over the next five years, WNYASS women organized dozens of fairs in Rochester and surrounding towns, produced articles for sale, and "perambulated the highways and by-ways of our good city, in quest of contributions of money and commodities."26 Amy Post was the most consistent participant in these activities, travelling throughout western and central New York to aid local women in the management of WNYASS-sponsored events. The Post household, always open to antislavery agents and fugitive slaves, was now constantly expanded by visiting lecturers, itinerant reformers, fleeing or newly emancipated blacks, workers at the North Star, downstate family and friends, and other reform-minded sojourners. In 1847, when Amy gave birth to her last child, Willett, it barely slowed the pace of her public efforts; and Willie became the darling of the many social activists who passed through the Post home.

Amy Post's hospitality, organizing skills, and seemingly boundless energy encouraged travelling activists to stop in Rochester and made the city a congenial location for lectures and conventions. William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, and Sojourner Truth joined Abby Kelley, Wilham C. Nell, and Frederick Douglass among the dozens of public figures who were guests of the Posts. Still, Amy Post was ready to travel herself in "truth's service," and in the summer and fall of 1848, a number of events called her away from home, including the formation of the new Yearly Meeting of Congregational Friends (YMCF) in Waterloo and the first woman's rights convention in Seneca Falls. In Rochester, 1848 was also a banner year, with the holding of the second woman's rights convention in the nation, the formation of a Working Women's Protective Union, and the introduction of spiritualism as an alternate religious faith. Amy Post worked within circles of radical Quaker friends and relatives in each of these endeavors.

The most innovative development of the year was the establishment of a separate movement to consider women's position in society, the economy, and the polity. Throughout the late 1830s and early 1840s, disaffected Hicksites had raised issues of woman's equality within the Genesee Yearly Meeting. Isaac Post had jokingly accused his wife of simultaneously demanding her "woman's right" in the family. Amy and other WNYASS women also sold copies of Rev. Samuel J. May's "Sermon on the Rights of Women" at their 1846 fair.27Not until 1848, however, did feminism become a major focus of radical Quakers' public efforts. Amy Post, Catharine Fish Stebbins, and Douglass were the most outspoken Rochesterians to attend the Seneca Falls convention, and the two women were among the one hundred participants who signed the final Declaration of Sentiments that proclaimed "woman is man's equal." At the end of the gathering, with many points still to discuss, the convention was "adjourned, to meet in Rochester in two weeks." Amy Post, Sarah Fish, Sarah Owen, and Mary Post Hallowell were then appointed to the committee of arrangements.28

When the committee met to draw up an agenda and a slate of officers, the group decided to follow the general framework of the Seneca Falls meeting but to place greater emphasis on economic issues and to nominate a woman, Abigail Bush, to preside.29 Amy Post and her co-workers, who were well practiced in productive labor and public pursuits, believed that woman could be redeemed from her "degraded position" only by "the most strenuous and unremitting effort" to "claim an equal right to act."30 Some members of the arrangements committee were assigned "to invite the oppressed portion of the community to attend the meetings of the convention and take part in its deliberations," and others to present addresses on "woman's place and pay in the world of work."31 This concern with laboring women caused far less consternation than the choice of female officers. At the opening session, both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott proclaimed it "a most hazardous experiment to have a woman President and stoutly opposed it. . . . They were on the verge of leaving the Convention in disgust" when Amy Post "assured them that by the same power by which they had resolved, declared, discussed, and debated, they could also preside at a public meeting."32 The audience, filled with friends and relatives familiar with Amy's long and successful activist career, approved the proposed slate and thereby pushed the newborn woman's rights movement a giant step forward.

The addresses and resolutions presented by the convention's organizers revealed a bold and broad conception of woman's rights, rooted in the grassroots experience of Rochester's radical Quaker women. The elective franchise, the ninth of eleven resolutions at Seneca Falls, topped the Rochester agenda; but political rights were only a small part of local women's demands. The leaders urged "women no longer to promise obedience in the marriage covenant" and to allow the "strongest will or the superior intellect" to "govern the household." They proclaimed the husband's legal right to his wife's wages "a hideous custom" that reduced woman "almost to the condition of a slave."33 They beseeched women to claim equal authority not only within the household but "on all subjects that interest the human family," reminding their audience that "only by faithful perseverance in the practical exercise of those talents so long 'wrapped in a napkin and buried under the earth' "would woman "regain her long-lost equality with man."34

Amy Post's concern with women's economic vulnerability was a product of personal experience-her fears of spinsterhood on the death of her fiancé, her sister Sarah's financial problems at her husband's death, and her sister Elizabeth Mott's abandonment by her husband just the previous year. Writing notes for a speech on the back of a prospectus for the North Star, apparently in response to a resolution on women's property rights, Amy Post castigated the "men in our own county and city who have become so imbued with the [idea] of man's superiority" that "he does assume the prerogative of judging for his wife in everything, almost even if she needs some addition to her wardrobe." While the husband legally controls the purse strings, Amy insisted that "in reality" the family's money "as rightfully belongs to her as to him-she either recev'd [sic] it from her inheritance or contributed her full share of labour to produce it."35

Following the convention, Amy Post and Sarah Owen helped form the Working Women's Protective Union, declaring that women were entitled "equally with men to the products of their labor or its equivalent."36 The signers of the Union's constitution agreed to "associate [them]selves together for the purpose of [their] individual and collective benefit and protection," and four officers were then elected, including Amy Post, Sarah Owen, and two seamstresses who had attended the woman's rights convention.37 The organization disappeared from public record the following year, but Amy Post and her co-workers continued to fight for working women's rights through petition drives, investigative committees, and personal assistance.

The Yearly Meeting of Congregational Friends, convening in the aftermath of these feminist activities, was shaped in significant ways by the women's agenda. Not only in the adoption of a "Basis of Religious Association" but also in the ongoing work of the Congregational Friends, women demanded "equality within the human family, without limitation to sex, or complexion, or national peculiarities." In a period when most publicly active women justified their efforts on the basis of female moral and spiritual superiority, radical Quaker women38, supported by their male counterparts, insisted that men and women had "common natures, common rights, and a common destiny."39 In promoting equality, the YMCF refused to "set apart" any individuals as "ministers," believing that between "the Infinite and all beings there exists an unbroken chain of communication." Thus, women gained equal access to "the Divine illimitable light" that would reveal the path to a better society.40

The news of spiritual rappings in nearby Hydesville simply promised another vehicle for the transmission of divine revelations. When Margaret and Kate Fox, the young girls who first claimed to hear the strange communications from the dead, moved to Rochester in late 1848, they faced ridicule and anger from many local residents. However, a number of radical Quakers, including the Posts, became ardent devotees of spiritualism. While the phenomenon is still puzzling, it is clear that individual believers thought they received legitimation from the spirits of deceased famous men and women for their reform efforts far more often than they received it from fellow Rochesterians. For feminists, it promised, in addition, to negate the power of men in the realm of religion. As Sarah Thayer wrote to Amy Post, the lesson of spiritualism was that a woman "ought to be better qualified to direct the spiritual life of her own sex than any belov'd disciple or even Jesus himself as a man or a brother."41

With new sources of authority, a heightened sense of women's potential, and a grassroots network of supporters, Amy Post entered her most active years. She corresponded with Abby Kelley about organizing a midwestern speaking tour; she was one of Douglass's advisors and closest friends at midcentury; and she was the key figure in a network of activist circles that stretched from Pennsylvania to Canada and from Boston to Wisconsin. In 1849 and 1850, Amy Post was the chief organizer of more than a dozen antislavery fairs in western New York, and the only WNYASS leader to attend every fair. During the early 1850s, she visited fugitive slave communities in Canada, attended antislavery and woman's rights conventions from Boston to Detroit, advocated dress reform and temperance, served as a lay healer and preacher, provided news stories for the Philadelphia-based Woman's Advocate, and became active in movements to abolish capital punishment and to establish coeducational, manual labor schools.

To perform such myriad roles with limited financial resources and continued domestic responsibilities required not only enormous energy but also a redefinition of political activism. For Amy Post and her coworkers, politics was not something one did in addition to one's daily chores; rather, politics was something one lived. Language, childrearing practices, marital relations, forms of worship and healing, use of leisure time, and the choice of clothing, friends, and even stationery were all political acts. By living their politics, women could be as committed to social activism as men and could make political statements through the daily routines of their lives.

Within public and private domains, Amy Post was one of the most dedicated practitioners of this lifestyle politics. She had long been willing to commit acts that were interpreted as challenges to the status quo. After withdrawing from the Hicksite meeting, she rejected the plain style of Quaker speech, believing that bold and shocking images were necessary to awaken the public to the horrors of slavery. Thus, the WNYASS women published addresses in the local papers that described the despicable conditions of "the oppressed and suffering bondmen who still remain toiling unrequited in the southern prison house." They detailed the conditions of the "females, OUR SISTERS," who were "subjected to the cruel and passionate outrages of their tyrannical masters." Having employed unladylike language, radical Quaker women then refused to bow to convention in presenting themselves to the public as antislavery spokespersons. Amy Post and her sister organizers signed their public pronouncements with just their first and last names, without "Mrs." or "Miss"; thus letting the world know that they took full and sole responsibility for their actions.42

Yet Amy Post did not mean to deny the importance of her marital relation or imply any lack of wifely affection. Indeed, she believed that providing the world with a model marriage was as important as providing it with shocking declarations. During the 1840s, radical Quakers began to argue that marital harmony was essential to other forms of social harmony. In 1846, Sarah Hum, a resident of the Sodus Bay Fourierist Phalanx, wrote to the Posts, "If the relation which should exist between husband and wife were better understood and appreciated, it appears to me that much domestic unhappiness . . . might be avoided."43 By 1848, woman's rights advocates contended that equality in the family was essential to establishing the "new order" of society they envisioned.44 To local feminists and scattered friends, the Posts' marriage met the tests of mutuality, affection, commitment, and equality. As Sarah Owen wrote to Amy of her "good Isaac," "I was quite inspired with the wish that I had an Abram, Isaac, or a Jacob if they should happen . . . not to be a 'tyrant instead of an husband,' who heartily adopted the principles of equal rights."45 By refusing to promise obedience in the marriage covenant, rejecting the intervention of state or clergy in the ceremony, and selecting female friends or women ministers to preside at weddings, radical Quaker women sought to establish equality from the first moments of matrimony.

Certainly Amy Post recognized that not "every woman is as happily yoked as I am," and she sought to aid abused and abandoned women by more than moral example.46 Jenny Dods wrote to Mrs. Post regarding a friend who lost her husband and "like many others. . . was compelled to commence a struggle with the cold world." The situation of some wives appeared to be "worse than a widow['s]." A Mrs. Bowen requested help because "the one that should be my Protector is changed to a cruel Enamy [sic] and that," she concluded, "is harder to be reconciled to than my extreme destitution." A third woman, abandoned by her husband, wrote to thank the Posts for their "kindness to me. . . and my child." Now, she promised, "I will exert myself for a living as long as I have strength to do so." Other women who needed shelter, medical care, or employment were sent to the Posts from Pennsylvania, Long Island, and elsewhere, thus extending the informal welfare network forged in agrarian Quaker communities across time and place.47

The Posts also provided shelter and employment for escaped slaves and free blacks, especially women who fled sexual abuse as well as the other harsh conditions of enslavement. In 1849 and 1850, ex-slave Harriet Brent Jacobs lived with the Posts, partly as a domestic servant and partly as an antislavery crusader. Having won Jacobs's trust and having heard parts of her life that she could then only "whisper. . . into the ear of a very dear friend," Amy Post persuaded her to write her autobiography to let the world know the horror of having "slavery stamped upon yourself and your Children."48 Most of the black women aided remained far more obscure, their presence in the Post household revealed only years later through hastily written directions such as the following sent by Frederick Douglass: "My Dear Mrs. Post, Please shelter this Sister from the house of bondage till five o'clock, this afternoon. She will then be sent on to the land of freedom."49

While it was essential to hide the whereabouts and conceal the identities of fugitives, Amy Post believed that it was equally important to make social contact between free blacks and whites highly visible. Thus late in 1849, WNYASS women invited "all classes and colours" to participate in their annual antislavery fair.50 Blacks and whites responded, and "one hundred people . . . sat down to one table" to share turkeys, hams, chicken, salads, and other culinary delights. While the fair made less than two hundred dollars in profits, Amy declared that she would not "despise even the sum of one hundred dollars," for the "eating together of 'Colored with White' " would "kill prejudice."51 Many local abolitionists disagreed, including Frederick Douglass, who thought that rowdiness at the event only reinforced Rochesterians' fears of blacks; and a rival Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society emerged in 1851. Both the existence of a second female society and the fact that it received Douglass's blessing shocked and saddened Amy Post, but she would not yield principle to pragmatism.52 Indeed, she did not retreat from mingling socially with blacks despite causing "great dissatisfaction in the Rochester community" and among her own relatives. The Posts hosted the wedding of a black couple at their home, Isaac frightened his aunt Phebe by "talk[ing] about eating with coloured persons," and Amy offended former friends by "travelling with a colored person" from Boston to Rochester. 53

Such actions were accessible forms of public protest for individuals with limited funds and little political clout. When undertaken by women, these acts of social defiance aroused even greater hostility in the community and placed at center stage the concerns of seemingly powerless females. As Mary Robbins Post wrote her sister-in-law Amy, "I think sometimes they must give us much more influence than we feel we have to say so much against views which only ourselves hold or advocate." At another time, encouraging the Posts to continue their struggle in the face of increased obstacles, Mary claimed, "We rejoice in commotion for it gives signs of vita1ity."54

The decade before the Civil War was one of commotion as well as uncertainty, conflict, and tension for the Posts, for local social activists, and for the country at large. Amy grieved over the loss of Douglass's friendship and support and complained to Nell of "controversies with the 'Lords of Creation'. . . connected with the business operations of the Executive Committee" of the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society.55 The Congregational Friends joined in a lengthy and unsuccessful protest against capital punishment and watched the focus of their campaign, condemned murderer Ira Stout, hang in Rochester. A number of early co-workers, including Abigail Bush and Sarah Owen, moved west, diminishing the circle of committed radicals at a time when a second generation had not yet emerged to replace them. And Amy and Isaac once again faced financial difficulties which forced them to restrict their expenditures just as reform activities seemed to demand ever greater commitments of personal resources.56

Yet there were sufficient signs of improvement to render Rochester's radicals hopeful. After a decade of second thoughts, Amy Post finally declared in 1855 that she "greatly rejoiced in her freedom from Sectarian boundage.57 The Yearly Meeting of Congregational Friends, renamed the Friends of Human Progress in 1854, flourished and attracted the country's most well-known reform leaders to its meetings, including Douglass, Garrison, Anthony, Gerrit Smith, and many others. Within Rochester, the women seemed to be the most active and ardent champions of reform, testified to by Isaac Post in 1858 when he noted that the city would "be represented by 4 strongminded women" but "no men" at the annual American Anti-Slavery Society meetings in New York City.58Even the pain of personal tragedies, which continued as the circle of co-workers aged, was diminished; for spiritualism provided a new view of the great beyond as "a bright and progressive life which takes from death its sting and from the grave its victory."59

In 1860, Amy Post celebrated her fifty-eighth birthday and Isaac his sixtieth, certainly a time to rest from the cares of the world. Coming events, however, required otherwise; and the Posts extended their public efforts over another decade. Upon hearing of the outbreak of Civil War in the spring of 1861, Rochester's perennial agitator began organizing an "Anti-Slavery Pic-Nic" at Gregory's Grove on South Street. She wrote dozens of female friends and asked them to bring their husbands and "as many of those noble women of Coloquy [sic] reputation as you can. . . . The abolitionists surely have a work to do now," she proclaimed, "in influencing and directing the bloody struggle, that it may end in Emancipation, as the only basis of a true and permanent peace."60 Throughout the war, Amy Post helped the National Loyal League gain signatures on petitions promoting emancipation, made and collected goods for escaped slaves and "contraband" blacks freed by the Union Army's progress, and organized supplies to be sent to the contraband camps in Virginia.61

For all their hatred of the bloody conflict, the Friends of Human Progress felt vindicated in 1865 by the Union victory and the emancipation that followed. It was perhaps this sense of triumph that rejuvenated Amy Post and others of her age who had fought for social justice for nearly four decades already. While Garrison and other national leaders retreated from the public spotlight after the war, Rochester's radical women renewed their commitment to social change. A new generation of activists took the lead in these years and focused their energies much more narrowly than their foremothers, hoping to achieve at least the one concrete gain of woman suffrage. But Amy Post was not left behind; with her stepdaughter Mary Hallowell and her sister Sarah Hallowell Willis and other local feminist-abolitionists, she helped organize one of the first meetings of the short-lived Equal Rights Association. With the collapse of a unified effort to gain black and woman suffrage simultaneously, the Post women and their allies concentrated their work in the National Woman Suffrage Association led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Rochester resident Susan B. Anthony. Anthony had seen little of Rochester for more than a decade, except when her lecture tours and petition drives took her through the city, but the groundwork for her return had been solidly laid by local feminists. In November 1872, Anthony decided to strike a direct blow for woman's right to the ballot by voting in that fall's election. She was joined at the registration booth by fifty local women, including Amy Post. On election day, only sixteen of the women were allowed to cast ballots, and of these only Anthony was arrested for voting illegally. She became a cause célèbrelocally and nationally and her trial attracted widespread publicity. To support Anthony and to take advantage of the attention focused on Rochester, those who accompanied the woman's rights heroine to the polls formed a county-wide organization, the Women Taxpayers Association, to promote the "principle of universal justice."62

At this point, Amy Post began to let younger women, including her stepdaughter and sister, carry the burden of the struggles. Just months before the 1872 voting campaign, Isaac Post had died at the age of seventy-two. Though no letters remain to testify to his spouse's grief, only Amy's faith in spiritual communication and the progressive life beyond could have relieved her sense of loss at the death of her lifelong companion and co-worker. Amy Post's youngest child was now twenty-five years old and though the Post household was still crowded, the occupants were no longer relatives, fugitive slaves, or itinerant activists. Instead, the rooms were filled with a former black servant, Mary Johnson, and her daughter and grandson, an Irish dressmaker, and a laborer.

In the last decade of her life, Amy Post's loneliness must have been relieved somewhat by her new status as local celebrity. She was applauded at anniversary celebrations of Rochester's first woman's rights convention, asked to contribute to the city's fiftieth-year histories, and approached for advice by a new generation of female activists. Moreover, she did not abandon her public career entirely, but remained an active member of suffrage associations and of the National Liberal League, which mounted campaigns against Victorian sexual standards and bureaucratic government. Asked to speak at their annual meeting in 1879, Amy Post declined for reasons of health, but she commented by letter on their proposed "Liberal compact for government." She generally agreed with its purpose but discovered "one great omission which seemed to me unworthy [of] the thoughtful and conciencious [sic] men by whom it was signed-that omission was the word woman." Do not forget, she warned, "that we-Women-are the long downtroden [sic] class of National Citizens. . . ." 63

Amy Post had done as much as any Rochesterian to lift up women, both individually and collectively. Even in those years when she was viewed as an agitator and extremist by the general public, she was recognized as a humanitarian by her friends. Abigail Bush, who was forced to leave Rochester in the early 1850s when her husband chose to follow the Gold Rush to California, wrote to Amy as she sailed out of New York harbor: "Oh Amy, I never Expect to find another to stand side by side with me, Heart to Heart, in our Labours of Love & Good will, to our afflicted & Down trodden Fellow Ones. . . . You live unfading & undying in my Heart of Hearts, yeh I should Love thy Shadow."64 Another sister activist wrote from Michigan, "She is like the Saviour, every sufferer, all Humanity, to her are worthy-oh you do not know your self." I was "thinking of your letter," she continued, "and your remarks on Liberty. . . . I exclaimed truly Liberty is Thy watch word-Glorious Woman."65Yet Amy Post wished for more than accolades; she worked for change. Thus, the eulogy presented at her funeral in January 1889 by friend and co-worker Lucy Colman would have been most welcome by her, if she could hear it from the world of the spirits:

"My friends, you have just laid this noble woman into the silent grave, but do you not remember of whom it was said, 'being dead, yet speaketh!' Let
us listen, my sisters, possibly we may find echo in our own hearts."66

Indeed, now, one hundred years later, Amy Post's spirit does live on.



The author wishes to thank Karl Kabelac, Alma Creek, and, especially, Mary Huth of the Rare Book and Special Collections Department for their generous assistance during her frequent visits to the University of Rochester, and Steven F. Lawson for his thoughtful suggestions on this article.

  1. Phebe [Thayer] to Amy Post, 8 May 185_, Isaac and Amy Post Family Papers (hereafter IAPFP), University of Rochester.
  2. H[annah Kirby Post] to Amy Kirby, 182_, IAPFP.
  3. Abbey Gifford to Amy Kirby, 16 May 1823, and Maria Willets to Cousin, 18 April 1823, IAPFP.
  4. Amy Willis to Amy Kirby, 30 August 1823, IAPFP.
  5. Hannah K. Post to Amy Kirby, 14 May 1823, IAPFP.
  6. Amy Willis to Amy Kirby, 30 August 1823, IAPFP.
  7. Amy Kirby to Isaac and Hannah Post, 28 July 1825, IAPFP.
  8. See, especially Caroline ________ to Amy Kirby, 15 April 1827, and M________ Lefferts to Amy Kirby, 23 April 1823, IAPFP.
  9. See, Rufus M. Jones, The Later Periods of Quakerism, 2 vols. (1981 rpt.: Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1970), 1:453, and 444-455, generally.
  10. See, Robert W. Doherty, The Hicksite Separation: A Sociological Analysis of Relgious Schism in Early Nineteenth Century America (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1967).
  11. John Ketcham to Isaac Post, 20 January 1829, IAPFP.
  12. Genesee Yearly Meeting of Women Friends (hereafter GYMWF), Minutes, June 1835, June 1836, and June 1837, Haviland Records Room, New York City.
  13. GYMWF, Minutes, June 1840.
  14. Quote from Rochester Monthly Meeting, "Marriage Intents, 1825-1850," compiled by John Cox, Jr., 1911, New York Public Library, New York City.
  15. Ida Husted Harper, The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, 3 vols. (Indianapolis: Bowen-Merrill Company, 1899), 1:48.
  16. Anti-Slavery Petition of the Women of Western New York, 19 September 1837, House of Representatives, Document HR25A-H1.7, Box 83, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. I thank Paul Johnson for a copy of this document.
  17. John Ketcham to Isaac and Amy Post, 11 March 1841, IAPFP.
  18. Proceedings of the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society (hereafter WNYASS) meeting, in Liberator(Boston), 6 January 1843.
  19. E[lizabeth] McClintock to Abby Kelley, l0 January 1843, Abby Kelley Foster Papers, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts.
  20. Lucy N. Colman, Reminiscences (Buffalo: H. L. Green, 1891), 84. Stepdaughter Mary Hallowell, sister Sarah Kirby Hallowell, Isaac Post, and probably sons Joseph and Jacob Post joined in WNYASS projects.
  21. Amy Post to Abby Kelley, 4 December 1843, Abby Kelley Foster Papers.
  22. Mary Kirby to Isaac and Amy Post, 9 January 1845, IAPFP.
  23. Mary Kirby to Amy Post, 9 January 1845, and Amy Post to Joseph Post, 11 April 1845, IAPFP. In 1837, Hannah's son Henry died at about age thirteen. Sympathy letters at that time were directed almost exclusively to Isaac Post whereas on the death of Matilda, condolences were exchanged almost solely among female relatives.
  24. Frederick Douglass to Amy Post, 28 April 1846, IAPFP.
  25. Proceedings of the WNYASS meeting, in National Anti-Slavery Standard (Washington, D.C.), 22 June 1846.
  26. North Star (Rochester), 7 January 1848.
  27. Isaac Post to Amy Post, n.d. (but certainly written in 1845 or earlier), and Samuel J. May to Isaac Post, 20 December 1846, IAPFP.
  28. Rochester Woman's Rights Convention (hereafter RWRC), "Proceedings," in Mari Jo Buhle and Paul Buhle, eds., The Concise History of Woman Suffrage (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 99.
  29. Abigail Bush was one of the most active members of the WNYASS though she was not a Quaker. She was one of four women from evangelical churches who joined radical Quaker circles; all four were either excommunicated from their evangelical congregations or withdrew voluntarily. Bush seems to have done the latter. It is possible that she was chosen to preside in the hopes of attracting participants outside the Quaker network.
  30. RWRC, Minutes, 2 August 1848, Phebe Post Willis Papers, University of Rochester.
  31. Daily Advertiser (Rochester), 3 August 1848, and RWRC, "Proceedings," in Buhle and Buhle, eds., Concise History, 102.
  32. RWRC, "Proceedings," in Buhle and Buhie, eds., Concise History, 99.
  33. RWRC, Minutes, Phebe Post Willis Papers, and RWRC, "Proceedings," in Buhle and Buhle, eds., Concise History, 102.
  34. Ibid.
  35. RWRC, Speech, 2August 1848, IAPFP. Although there is no signature attached to this speech, it appears to be the work of Amy Post.
  36. North Star, 15 September 1848.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Yearly Meeting of Congregational Friends (hereafter YMCF), Proceedings, of the Yearly Meeting of Congregational Friends, held at Waterloo, N. Y., from the 3rd to the 5th of the 6th Month, inclusive, 1850(Auburn, N.Y.: Henry Oliphant, 1850), 44-48.
  39. YMCF, Proceedings. . . 1850, 15.
  40. Ibid., 47, 19, 5.
  41. . Sarah [Thayer] to Amy Post, 9 March 1853, IAPFP.
  42. Rochester Daily Advertiser, 4 April 1848. This form of signature was unique to feminist Quakers. All other women reformers in Rochester used the titles Miss or Mrs. whether using their own first names or their husbands'.
  43. . Sarah Hum to Amy Post, 11 October 1846, IAPFP. Fourierist Phalanxes were utopian communities organized on principles set forth by the French socialist Charles Fourier. A combination of physical and intellectual labor, a simple lifestyle, and the participation of all members in decision making were the primary features of these communities. The one at Sodus Bay attracted the participation of a number of radical Quakers from Rochester.
  44. . RWRC, Minutes, Phebe Post Willis Papers.
  45. . Sarah C. Owen to Amy Post, 31 July 185_, IAPFP.
  46. . William C. Nell quoting Amy Post in William C. Nell to Amy Post, 11 March 1853, IAPFP.
  47. . Jenny Dods to Amy Post, nd.; E. Bowen to Amy Post, 19 November 1857; Nancy Hassey to ________, nd.; and Ruth Dugdale to Isaac Post, 25 April 1852, IAPFP.
  48. . Harriet Brent Jacobs to Amy Post 21 June 185_, and Harriet Brent Jacobs to Amy Post, nd. , IAPFP. Amy Post did write the introduction to Jacobs's book which was published under the pseudonym, Linda Brent,Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (Boston, 1861).
  49. Frederick Douglass to Amy Post, nd., IAPFP.
  50. . WNYASS, Fair Report [1850], and Amy Post to Frederick Douglass, 2 February 1850, IAPFP.
  51. Amy Post to Frederick Douglass, 2 February 1850, and William C. Nell to Amy Post, 3 July 1850, IAPFP.
  52. The break between Douglass and Amy Post was part of a larger division of antislavery forces that began at the national level in 1840. Douglass became an advocate of electoral solutions to the problem of slavery after 1850 while the Posts and their allies favored moral suasion. The Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society served as a fundraiser for Douglass's newspaper, renamed Frederick Douglass's Paper in 1851, and for male political abolitionists generally.
  53. Mary Robbins Post to Isaac and Amy Post [18491; Isaac Post to Amy Post, 19 May 1849; and Mary Robbins Post to Isaac and Amy Post, nd., IAPFP.
  54. Mary Robbins Post to _______, nd., and [Mary Robbins Post] to Isaac and Amy Post, nd., IAPFP.
  55. See, Amy Post to Frederick Douglass, 2 February 1850 and - August 1850, IAPFP. Quote from William C. Nell to Amy Post, 11 August 1849, in which Nell quotes Amy Post, IAPFP.
  56. See, Liberator, 22 October 1858; and Jacob Kirby Post to Amy Post, 25 April 1858, Isaac Post to Amy Post, 29 April 1858, and Sarah Hallowell Willis to Amy Post, 9 May 1858, IAPFP. Also see, Abigail Bush to Amy Post, 185_, and Sarah E. Thayer to Amy Post, 23 December 1857, IAPFP.
  57. Amy Post to Isaac Post, 15 June 1855, IAPFP.
  58. Isaac Post to Amy Post, 10 May 1858, IAPFP.
  59. Mary Robbins Post to Isaac and Amy Post, 1 October 1850, IAPFP.
  60. Amy Post to ________, 18 June 1861, IAPFP.
  61. In the last endeavor, Amy Post joined forces with the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society to aid their agent Julia Wilbur, who worked in Alexandria, Virginia, alongside Harriet Brent Jacobs, an agent from New York City.
  62. On voting and trial, see Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester), 1 November 1872; Harper, Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony, 1:423-429; and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage,A History of Woman Suffrage, 4 vols. (New York: Fowler and Wells, 1881), 2:628, 687, 689. Quote from Mary Hebard, "Female Suffrage," 1873, np., Pamphlet Collection, New York State Historical Library, Cooperstown, New York.
  63. Amy Post to A. L. Rawson, 9 September 1879, IAPFP.
  64. Abigail Bush to Amy Post, 185, IAPFP.
  65. Susan Lee Humphrey to Amy Post, 30 May 1857, IAPFP.
  66. Colman, Reminiscences, 85.


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