About This Conference  

The 200th anniversary of the birth of Philadelphia activist William Still offers an exceptional opportunity to consider his remarkable life and legacy. Born to formerly enslaved parents on 7 October 1821, Still is best known for his work with the Underground Railroad. A clerk at the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, he was for many years the chair of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee, which offered direct aid to fugitives from slavery. Together with his wife Letitia Still, William Still provided domestic comforts and care to hundreds of refugees, visitors, and long-term guests in their Philadelphia household.

October 2021 provides an opportunity to commemorate Still’s birth by thinking historically and broadly about Black American activism as well as the plight and persistence of refugees from violence and terror. These allied topics are highlighted in Still’s efforts to document family connections among people whose escapes from slavery resulted in separations and to honor refugees’ requests for assistance in bringing spouses and children to safety. Still spearheaded resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and chronicled these efforts through his careful record-keeping and publications. He also supported Black civil rights, leading a successful fight against segregation on Philadelphia’s streetcars. 

The conference will feature keynote addresses by historians 
Mia Bay (University of Pennsylvania)
and Martha Jones (John Hopkins University).

This event will convene entirely online. It is free and open to the public, though pre-registration is required.

Header Image: “Twenty-eight fugitives escaping from the eastern shore of Maryland.” Illustration in William Still's The Underground Railroad. Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1872. p. 102. Courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Portrait: “William Still,” frontispiece, in Still, William, The underground rail road: a record of facts, authentic narratives, letters, &c., narrating the hardships, hair-breadth escapes, and death struggles of the slaves in their efforts for freedom, as related by themselves and others or witnessed by the author: together with sketches of some of the largest stockholders and most liberal aiders and advisors of the road (Philadelphia, PA 1883). Rare Book Collection, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscript. 

Co-sponsored by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the Kislak Center for Special Collections, and the Workshop in the History of Material Texts at the University of Pennsylvania