Margaretta Forten was an anti-slavery and women’s rights activist. She was one of eight children of James and Charlotte Forten. The Fortens were a prominent Philadelphia family and many of the family’s members have had a lasting impact on the city.
Margaretta, along with mother, Charlotte, and sisters Harriet and Sarah Louise, joined many of the city’s leading women abolitionists to form the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. This radical organization, embracing African-American and white members, contributed significantly to local and national abolitionist efforts from 1833 to 1870. The group led petition drives in which they collected signatures for anti-slavery petitions sent to the Pennsylvania State Legislature including petitions to prohibit interstate slave trade and to allow jury trials for people apprehended as fugitive slaves. Additionally the PFASS supported a school, run by Sarah Mapps Douglass, for the Free Black population, held public meetings to recruit members and to advance the cause and organized major fundraising efforts for the anti-slavery movement.
Margaretta was an active member of the PFASS from its inception until it disbanded in 1870, authoring the group’s final resolution. She participated on the committee to write the organization’s constitution and often served as the recording secretary of the Society. In addition to this work, Margaretta was a teacher working with fellow PFASS member, Sarah Mapps Douglass, until she started her own school which she ran for 30 years.
Unmarried, Margaretta assumed many duties for her family and she used her organizational and administrative skills to aid her father’s business as well as the political career of her brother, William. Significantly, Margaretta was a primary role model to and caretaker of her niece, Charlotte Forten Grimké, who continued and broadened the family’s influence as critical thinkers, writers and activists.