NAME: Abbie Wesley

African American
Middle class
Unwavering egalitarian
The New Era Woman's Club


Abbie Wesley is a first generation non-slave of the Rodgers (her maiden name) family, born in Hampshire, West Virginia in 1864. Her parents had both been slaves on a plantation in the town where she was born (though West Virginia as a state would not be established until 1861, when it seceded from Confederate Virginia) until, in 1864, slavery was abolished in the state. But having worked their entire lives on the same plantation, they decided to remain on the plantation as sharecroppers.

In the 1870s Abbie was able to receive an education at a local, poorly-funded, colored school. In 1885 she attended Storer College, studying to become a teacher herself, wanting to help spread a basic education in the black community that her parents were never fortunate enough to have.

In 1889 Abbie met Andrew Wesley, a worker on a plantation owned, operated, and employed entirely by African Americans. Four years later, after scrounging up enough money to buy a small home together, the two married and had two children – two girls, Julie and Ramona. Tensions were always high, though, between the colored plantation Andrew worked on and nearby others owned by white farmers. In July of 1899, on his way to work, Andrew found someone who worked on the same plantation as himself in the process of being lynched by the same white farmers. Trying to intervene and stop the lynching, Andrew was himself killed in the process. Devastated and fearing the same could eventually happen to her or her children, Abbie sold the small home she and Andrew had bought and moved as far north as she could without crossing the border into Rochester, New York.

In her late 30s and early 40s, Abbie continued as a teacher in a local colored school in Rochester. Julie and Ramona were among the students that she taught. In 1910 Abbie founded a colored women’s club, the New Era Woman’s Club, with some of the other teachers she had taught with in the area. The club was affiliated with and supported by the National Association of Colored Women Clubs (NACWC). In 1914, at age 50, Abbie retired from teaching and her daughters supported her in their home on Faxon Street in the Corn Hill neighborhood. She took a greater role in her woman’s club, and used it as a platform to push African American inclusion into the fight for a woman’s right to vote forward – an inclusion not easy to keep as the major woman’s rights groups were turning blind eyes to the African American community to gain greater support.

After the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, Abbie’s club shifted their focus to improving the local conditions of the black community. Abbie, not 57, has lost some of the energy she once had fighting for the rights of her fellow African Americans across the country, but remains just as stubborn and determined as ever when discussing such matters.