Sarah Louise Forten

1814 - 1883—Note this profile is still being updated.


Sarah Louise Forten was an author, organizer and anti-slavery 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.

Sarah wrote frequently for William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper to which her father James lent critical financial support. Using the pen “Ada” and sometimes “Magawisca”, Sarah wrote poetry often addressing the critical political issue of slavery and self-consciously pointing her commentary to Black, white and young and old readers. She was an active contributor from 1831-1837.

In September 1831, Sarah joined other of the city’s African-American women in starting the Female Literary Association. Through the Female Literary Association, African-American women of a range of class positions came together to support each other’s intellectual ambitions as writers, readers, political activists and educators.

In 1833, leaping off of their collaboration in the FLA, Sarah and several other prominent members joined the city’s leading women abolitionists to form the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society (PFASS). 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. Sarah Louise Forten served on the Board of Managers of the PFASS and was selected as a delegate to the First Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women, a national gathering held in New York City in 1837.

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