Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Roberta Wollons

Second Advisor

Bonnie Miller

Third Advisor

Olivia Weisser


Responding to the all-male American Anti-Slavery Society and inspired by the expansion of women’s benevolent organizations, the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society (BFAS) was founded in 1833. At the outset, the members defined themselves as pious women dedicated to immediate emancipation, while making no overtures to challenging their place in society. BFAS grew quickly in influence and membership, and helped organize the first national women’s anti-slavery convention in 1837. The convention brought together female abolitionists from all over the United States, some of whom espoused more radical views on women’s rights. This thesis examines how interactions at the national conventions—a network BFAS helped create—impacted BFAS’s thinking around women’s roles, both within the abolitionist movement and in society as a whole. Persuaded by the gender-rights activism of their counterparts, BFAS implemented many of their ideas and embraced the women’s rights cause, abruptly and dramatically changing their rhetoric and behavior upon their return to Boston. While most, if not all, BFAS members shifted towards explicitly supporting women’s rights, they soon disagreed over incorporating gender rights into their abolitionist work. Two factions emerged: some wanted to maintain a focus committed solely to abolitionism, and others wanted to blend women’s rights with the anti-slavery platform. Ultimately, encounters with other female abolitionist societies at the national conventions raised questions and issues to which BFAS members had incompatible responses, contributing to BFAS’s bifurcation into two separate organizations in 1840.