Quaker Women Abolitionists

Created by Christopher Riviello (Masters in Education Candidate at Temple University) with Celia Caust-Ellenbogen (Archivist at Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College)


The history of the United States, in many ways, is the story of a perpetual struggle between inclusion and exclusion. Women and African Americans are two groups that have often found themselves excluded from America’s promises, from their absence in the Declaration of Independence to continuing legacies of disadvantage well into the 21st century.

Since its origins in the mid 17th century, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has offered women both spiritual and administrative authority within their religious community. This accustomed Quaker women to assert themselves and their values in public culture at a time when many women of other faiths were often discouraged from doing so. This trend is exemplified in the mid-nineteenth century, when Quaker women were driving forces behind not just the burgeoning women’s rights movement, but also abolitionism and philanthropic support of formerly enslaved people, in line with a long history of Quaker opposition to slavery.

This primary source set explores the influence of Quaker women in the movements for African American freedom and rights, as well as intersections between that activism and women’s rights work, through a focus on the stories of three strong activist figures: Lucretia Mott, Graceanna Lewis, and Martha Schofield.

Educational Purpose

This primary source set illustrates the complexities of activism and interconnectedness of struggles for racial and gender equality. Its focus on the impacts of Pennsylvania women engages a local focus, encouraging Pennsylvania students to look for real world connections to their local communities.

Grade Levels

This set can be tailored for grades 9-12.

State Standards

Secondary Standards Grades 9-12, 8.1. Historical Analysis and Skills Development

8.1.U.A. Evaluate patterns of continuity and change over time, applying context of events.

8.1.9.B. Compare the interpretation of historical events and sources, considering the use of fact versus opinion, multiple perspectives, and cause and effect relationships.

Secondary Standards Grades 9-12, Pennsylvania History

8.2.9.B. Compare the impact of historical documents, artifacts, and places in Pennsylvania which are critical to U.S. history.

8.2.9.C. Compare and contrast how continuity and change in Pennsylvania are interrelated throughout U.S. history. Belief systems and religions.

8.2.U.D. Evaluate how conflict and cooperation among groups and organizations in Pennsylvania have influenced the growth and development of the U.S. Ethnicity and race, working conditions, and military conflict.

Secondary Standards Grades 9-12, United States History

8.3.9.A. Compare the role groups and individuals played in the social, political, cultural, and economic development of the U.S.

8.3.C.A. Compare and contrast the politics of various interest groups and evaluate their impact on foreign policy. (Reference Civics and Government Standard 5.4.12.E.)

8.3.C.C. Analyze the principles and ideals that shape the United States government. • Liberty / Freedom • Democracy • Justice • Equality (Reference Civics and Government Standard 5.1.9.C.)

Source Set

Teaching Guide

Discussion Questions

  • In addition to their political activism in the abolitionist movement, how else did Quakers combat slavery?
  • What knowledge and skills would Graceanna Lewis have needed to create her leaf charts? What other professions would utilize these same knowledge and skills? Do you think they would have been open to women in the 19th century?
  • Examine the Schofield School photograph. For the abolitionist committed to the uplift of African Americans, what work remained after the Civil War?

Classroom Activities

  • 11th graders: Print out some or all of the primary sources and their transcripts. Highlight the selected excerpts. Print multiple copies of a worksheet for each station with the relevant citation, provided discussion question, and additional primary source analysis prompts if desired. Break the class up into small groups of 2-4 students. Have the groups rotate around to some or all of the stations, giving them 5-10 minutes to read the document and fill out the worksheet at each station.
  • 12th graders: Have the students pair off. Have them each name the cause they are most passionate about. Ask the students to draw a venn diagram and label the circles with their causes. Then, have them brainstorm commonalities and differences between the movements. Next, review the documents in the primary source sets. Lastly, have your students pair up in the same groups, and have them discuss the commonalities and differences between those two movements.

About this Guide

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Additional Resources

Aiken Regional Medical Centers (2020). A woman with a Vision: Martha Schofield. https://www.aikenregional.com/about-us/aiken-history/a-woman-with-a-vision-martha-schofield

Densmore, C. Radical Quaker Women and the Early Women's Rights Movement. Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College. http://web.tricolib.brynmawr.edu/speccoll/quakersandslavery/commentary/themes/radicalquakerwomen.php

Larocco, C. The Complexity of Activism. In Her Own Right, A Century of Women’s Activism, 1820-1920. http://inherownright.org/spotlight/introducing-women-s-activism/feature/the-complexity-of-activism

Moran, K. Board (2017). World Anti-Slavery Convention & Lucretia Mott. Worcester Women’s History Project. http://www.wwhp.org/Resources/Slavery/mott.html

National Geographic. The Underground Railroad: Faces of Freedom. National Geographic Society. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/education/underground-railroad-faces-freedom/

Lukens, R (2013). History’s People: Graceanna Lewis- Abolitionist to Natural Scientist. Originally Published in the Daily Local News. http://www.chestercohistorical.org/historys-people-graceanna-lewis-abolitionist-natural-scientist