Finding or Creating Your Niche
T he history of the United States is the history of women taking action.
In the 1700s, grassroots efforts by American women included charities and social aid societies. The first women's charity in the United States was the Free African Society, organized in 1778 by freed slaves in Philadelphia. Members deposited 25 cents per week into an insurance pool that was used to help get through emergencies. The Society for the Relief of Poor Widows and Children, founded in 1797 by Isabella Graham in New York City, recruited over two hundred members in its first year. The membership fee of $3 was used both to train 98 widows with sewing skills so they could be self-supporting, and enroll 200 small children in school.1
By the 1830s many women turned their efforts to organizing for the abolition of slavery. Underground networks linked freed and escaped slaves, with Harriet Tubman leading dangerous missions to freedom. White women did support work in abolition societies, and more than one thousand were organized by 1837. The abolition movement was a grassroots effort, based in churches, and funded through thousands of small contributions.2