Robert Purvis

Before the term “power couple” came into use in the 20th Century, Robert’s and his wife’s, Harriet Forten Purvis, joint and separate activist efforts are examples in the 19th century. Daughter of James Forten, Harriet was an African American abolitionist and first-generation suffragette. With Lucretia Mott, she formed the first biracial female abolition society, the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. The Purvis’ efforts were funded using the fortune Robert inherited from his father. Robert was president of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society and was an officer in the American Anti-Slavery Society. At the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society, Robert made a short extemporaneous speech full of fire, declaring himself a “Disunion Abolitionist” over the crimes against Kansas by pro-slavery forces. He and Harriet worked jointly with Catto in the campaign to desegregate the Philadelphia transit system. Robert joined Catto in the work of the Pennsylvania Equal Rights League. Robert also served as a Commissioner of the Freedmen Bank and used his fortune to try to keep the Bank solvent. A historical marker is at Robert Purvis’ last residence at 1601 Mt. Vernon Street, Philadelphia. Another historical marker honoring the Female Abolition Society stands at 5th and Arch Streets in Philadelphia in front of the U.S. Mint.

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