Biographical Database of NAWSA Suffragists, 1890-1920
Biography of Amy Kirby Post, 1802-1889
By Nancy Hewitt, Professor emerita, Rutgers University
Amy Kirby Post embraced women's suffrage as a cause in the mid-1840s and continued to work on its behalf throughout her life. Born to Quaker parents, Jacob and Mary Seaman Kirby, in Jericho, New York in 1802, Amy attended Friends schools and meetings. In the latter, women held separate meetings for business, spoke during worship services and became traveling ministers. However, decisions among Friends were reached by consensus rather than voting. Amy's extended family included Elias Hicks, a cousin who, early on, urged Friends to free their slaves. He and other abolitionist relatives ensured that Amy and her siblings imbibed ideas about race and gender equality.
In 1828, Amy married Isaac Post, a widower with two children, and moved to his farm in central New York. Isaac was raised near Jericho, and his relatives also included abolitionists. The Posts were immediately faced with a schism in the Society of Friends. They joined the Hicksite branch, which included many Quakers who worked against slavery and the exploitation of Indians. In 1834, Friends in central New York formed Genesee Yearly Meeting with Hicksites from western New York, the Midwest and Canada.
Two years later, the Posts followed Friends to Rochester, where Isaac opened a pharmacy. He and Amy continued to push for equal rights in Genesee Yearly Meeting, which granted men's and women's business meetings equal status in 1840. Amy Post had already signed her first antislavery petition, in 1837. Two years later, the Posts helped found the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society (WNYASS). An auxiliary of the American Anti-Slavery Society led by William Lloyd Garrison, the WNYASS invited whites and Blacks, women and men, to join, speak and vote in their meetings. In 1845, after Rochester Hicksites reprimanded Amy for participating in a "worldly" organization, she and Isaac withdrew from the Society of Friends.
Amy Post threw herself into organizing antislavery fairs alongside other WNYASS women. At the 1846 fair, she sold copies of the Reverend Samuel J. May's pamphlet, On the Rights and Condition of Women. May advocated women's right to vote as part of his critique of Congress declaring war on Mexico. Still, like most Garrisonian abolitionists, the Posts opposed participating in a government that supported slavery and war. They continued to wield petitions as their main form of political influence.
When fellow Garrisonian Frederick Douglass first visited Rochester in 1842, he stayed with the Posts. In December 1847, Douglass launched the North Star in Rochester; and the Posts helped him get settled. WNYASS women now dedicated their fundraising to his paper. The Posts opened their home to other abolitionists and women's rights advocates - William Lloyd Garrison, William Wells Brown, Abby Kelley, William Nell, Sarah and Charles Lenox Remond, Harriet Jacobs, Sojourner Truth - as well as fugitive slaves. In July 1848, Douglass and Post traveled together to Seneca Falls to attend the first woman's rights convention. Despite concerns that Elizabeth Cady Stanton's demand for women's suffrage flew in the face of Garrisonian opposition to electoral politics, Post, Lucretia Mott, and other Friends signed the Declaration of Sentiments, which included the suffrage resolution. Two weeks later, Post helped organize a follow-up convention in Rochester. There, resolutions called for petitioning the state legislature on woman suffrage and granting equality to "woman, whatever her complexion," that is irrespective of race.
Through the 1860s, the Posts remained active in campaigns for abolition, women's rights, health reform, and religious liberty. During the Civil War, Post, Mott, and other activists joined the Women's National Loyal League and petitioned Congress to approve a Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery. After the war, Post, Mott and Sojourner Truth supported universal suffrage - for Blacks and women - and refused initially to join either the American or National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) as they feuded over the Fifteenth Amendment eliminating race as an obstacle to enfranchisement. Still, in 1869, Post was elected to office in the New York State Suffrage Association, a NWSA affiliate.
At the same time, women began testing their right to vote in local, state and federal elections. In November 1872, Susan B. Anthony successfully registered and voted in Rochester. Post, her daughter and sister tried to register in another ward but were refused. Anthony wrote Stanton about her experience and noted, "Amy Post was rejected & she will immediately bring action for that and Hon. Henry R. Selden will be our counsel." After Anthony was convicted of voting illegally, Post again tried (and failed) to register in October 1873.
Post continued to support suffrage as part of a broad women's rights agenda that included equality in education, employment, religion, and the family. In the 1870s, she joined the local Women's Political Equality Club, participated in anniversary celebrations of the 1848 conventions, and served as one of several vice-presidents of NWSA. Still devoted to racial justice, Post criticized Anthony in 1884 when she refused to recognize Frederick Douglass at the NWSA convention after he married his second wife, Helen Pitts, who was white. Her children Mary Hallowell and Willett Post and her sister Sarah Willis joined the next generation of suffragists. In March 1888, Amy attended a conference in Washington, D.C. to form the International Council of Women, where she and other suffrage pioneers were honored. Ten months later, on January 29, 1889, Amy Post died at her home in Rochester.
Susan B. Anthony to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, November 5, 1872, in Ann Gordon, et al, eds. Against an Aristocracy of Sex, 1866-1873, Vol. 2 of The Selected Papers of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000), pp 524-25.
Isaac and Amy Post Family Papers, Special Collections and Preservation Department, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York
"Minutes of the Rochester Woman's Rights Convention, 1848," Phebe Post Willis Papers, Special Collections and Preservation Department, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York.
New York State Census, 1845, 1855, 1865, 1875
Rochester City Directories, various years 1838-1888, Rochester Public Library, Rochester, New York
Society of Friends, Hicksite Meeting Minutes, Preparative, Monthly, Quarterly, and Yearly, Manuscript and Microfilm, 1828-1845: and Congregational (later Progressive) Friends, Yearly Meeting, 1848-1870, Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.
U.S. Federal Census, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
Leigh Fought, Women in the World of Frederick Douglass (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), chs 4-7.
Nancy A. Hewitt, "Feminist Friends: Agrarian Quakers and the Emergence of Woman's Rights in America," Feminist Studies 38:3 (Spring 1986): 27-49.
Nancy A. Hewitt, Radical Friend: Amy Kirby Post and Her Activist Worlds (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018)