Published March 12, 2024

Levi and Catharine Coffin Receive National Honor

Joanna Hahn, Central Region Manager, Levi and Catharine Coffin State Historic Site

As the site manager of the Levi and Catharine Coffin State Historic Site, where we share remarkable stories of the Underground Railroad and antislavery activism, I try to identify and make connections with other museums and historic sites in the United States that tell similar stories.

The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum in Peterboro, N.Y., is one that I found, and the connection has led to a national honor for Levi and Catharine Coffin and a great opportunity for our historic site.

Our two locations have several similarities. Housed in the building where the first New York State Antislavery Society meeting took place in 1835, the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum preserves that building’s connection to the nation’s fight for abolition. Along with telling the stories of the abolitionists who were on the front lines fighting against slavery, the museum also provides programs focused on the continued fight for civil rights. The hall of fame was established to honor the struggles of the past and underscore their influence of today’s fight for equality.

I was surprised to learn that neither Levi nor Catharine had been inducted into the hall of fame, even though some who they worked closely with had. They included Laura Smith Haviland, who worked with the Coffins during the couple’s years in Cincinnati, Ohio; Frederick Douglass, who Levi Coffin met with on several occasions, both at his home in Fountain City and later in the 1850s in Cincinnati; and John Rankin, of Ripley, Ohio, who was one of Coffin’s Underground Railroad co-workers.

The hall of fame accepts nominations for new honorees every two years, inducting four in each class. By 2022, I tackled the work of writing separate nominations for Levi and Catharine. It is not often the same organization or person nominates two candidates for induction. However, as so much of what Levi and Catharine accomplished was done together, it only made sense to see them inducted as part of the same class. The nominations emphasized Levi’s autobiography, “Reminiscences,” as a primary source detailing decades of dedication as well as a list of the many contemporary accounts of those who worked alongside the Coffins in Indiana and Ohio.

In January 2023, the nominations were submitted for the class of 2024. After a year of waiting, we were excited to hear that both Levi and Catharine were accepted into the National Abolition Hall of Fame.

The 2024 class of inductees will be recognized in a special ceremony the weekend of Oct. 18-20, in Peterboro. After that, the images and biographies of Levi and Catharine will be displayed in the Hall of Fame in Peterboro. They will stand next to many who, like them, fought the battle for abolition. They will also be highlighted on the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum website and the museum in New York will have a traveling version of the hall of fame for any institution that wishes to display it for short periods.

It is important to recognize that this accomplishment was not done alone! Many thanks go out to several staff at the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites who helped to review the nomination forms. And we appreciate the support of our friends group, the Levi Coffin House Association, which provided helpful information for the nominations.