Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists
Biographical Sketch of Margaretta Forten, 1806-1875

By Morgan Rachlin, Undergraduate student, State University of New York at Binghamton

Margaretta Forten (1806-1875) was a Black women suffragist and abolitionist. She was the daughter of Mr. James Forten, who founded the American Anti-Slavery Society, and Mrs. Charlotte Forten. The latter was an activist along with Margaretta's sisters Harriet and Sarah Forten and her brother Robert Forten. Margaretta's family ties led her and her siblings to activism, due to their early exposure to antislavery and moral reform meetings. The Forten siblings participated in antislavery gatherings and lobbying efforts for Black abolition. Margaretta and her sisters made a large impression on many at the time, influencing the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who wrote, "To the Daughters of James Forten." They made a similar impression on William Lloyd Garrison, who described his visit to the Forten household with great pleasure, praise, and admiration. (Sumler-Lewis, 282)

In response to the establishment of Anti-Slavery Societies that were established but excluded women, fourteen women, including Margaretta Forten, set out to establish a female antislavery society in 1833. They drew up a constitution for the society in order to "promote the abolition of slavery, and to elevate the people of color from their present degraded situation to the full enjoyment of their rights and to increased usefulness in society." (Brown, 145) Only five days after the initial meeting to form the Society, the fourteen women, including Margaretta Forten, had written up a constitution and co-founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, the first female biracial antislavery society. Other founders included Lucretia Mott and the Grimke sisters.

Forten continued her work with the Society and served as Recording Secretary. Forten also served on the Society's Educational Committee, which "dedicated itself to improving the quantity and quality of local black schools" and was successful in assuming the financial obligations of a primary school in Philadelphia for which Forten supervised the finances.

Forten was also active in support of woman suffrage. With her sister, Harriet Forten Purvis, Margaretta helped to organize the Fifth National Woman's Rights Convention that met in Philadelphia in 1854, was a co-founder of the interracial Philadelphia Suffrage Association in 1866, and subsequently a member of the American Equal Rights Association.

Margaretta Forten continued her emphasis on education to assist in the antislavery movement and worked as a teacher in many black schools for thirty years, including teaching at Sarah Mapps Douglass's school in the 1840's. She eventually opened up her own school in 1850. Margaretta Forten never married and moved back into her childhood home after the death of her father, James Forten. Margaretta Forten passed away in 1875 at the age of 68, leaving behind many accomplishments and a great legacy of achievement alongside other female activists.


Brown, Ira V. "Cradle of Feminism: The Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, 1833-1840." The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 102, no. 2 (1978), 143–66

Franklin, V. P. "They Rose and Fell Together; African American Educators and Community Leadership, 1795-1954." The Journal of Education, vol. 172, no. 3 (1990), 39–64.

Sumler-Lewis, Janice. "The Forten-Purvis Women of Philadelphia and the American Anti-Slavery Crusade." The Journal of Negro History, vol. 66, no. 41(981), 281–88.

Whittier, John Greenleaf, "To the Daughters of James Forten." Ptd. by Grimke, C. F, 1833. Reprinted Independent, 61 (15 Nov. 1906), 1139.


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