Faith-filled Abolitionist

Sarah Coates to Join Starr Women’s Hall of Fame

From an early age, Sarah Coates pushed the boundaries of bravery, patriotism and what it means to be a woman.

In 1856, Coates and other women in Kansas City sheltered an anti-slavery leader from hostile pro-slavery ruffians, eventually helping him escape the city. Once the Civil War began, Coates offered the cellar of her home as an arsenal, and her living room as a clinic for wounded soldiers.

Following the war, Coates personally founded nine women’s associations. She also fought for women’s voting rights, helping found the Equal Suffrage Association of Kansas City and serving as its president.

She was also known for her faith-filled perspective. Coates was also one of the founding members of All Souls Unitarian Church, still an active part of Kansas City’s religious community.

Throughout her lifetime, Coates stood up for the freedom of all people. She is a shining example of how women can defend our nation’s values, even against great odds.

In recognition of her lifetime achievements and contributions, Coates is one of nine exceptional women from the Metropolitan Kansas City area included in the second class of honorees to be recognized in the new Starr Women’s Hall of FameStories of other inductees can be found online.

The new class will be inducted at a luncheon celebration at 11:30 Wed. March 22 in Swinney Recreation Center on the UMKC campus. Actress and humanitarian Ashley Judd will be the keynote speaker. Information and tickets are available here.

The hall was created to honor women who have made Kansas City a better place, said Debby Ballard, co-chair of the hall of fame planning committee, and the nine women in the hall class of 2017 have clearly done so.

“These women represent another class of remarkable women whose stories will be preserved for those that will come after, to learn from their good work and inspire the next generation of leaders to dream big and not fear the impossible,” Ballard said.

Former Kansas City, Mo. Mayor Kay Barnes – a member of the inaugural class of Hall of Fame inductees, nominated Coates for the current class.

Based on extensive research, Barnes described Coates as “a precocious young girl” raised in “a privileged and intellectually advanced environment” on the east coast, who became a teacher in young adulthood. She married her husband, Kersey Coates, in 1855; “the subsequent decision to leave the privileged and peaceful environment … was a major turning point in their lives.”

They moved to the Town of Kansas, then a frontier outpost of 5,000 people, in 1856 to participate in the Abolitionist settlement of Kansas. That led to her Civil War-era adventures. After the war, she devoted herself to an array of scholarly studies and charitable efforts.

The Starr Women’s Hall of Fame is dedicated to recognizing extraordinary Kansas City women and preserving the history of their accomplishments. These women are social reformers, volunteers, philanthropists, civic leaders, activists and educators. They are neighborhood leaders and grassroots organizers, from yesterday and today, both famous and unsung. They are movers and shakers whose tireless commitment to community has made Kansas City a better place to live. The Hall of Fame is a repository for their legacies. By sharing their stories, the Hall of Fame encourages and inspires women everywhere.

A permanent display honoring Hall of Fame members is now open to the public on the third floor of the Miller Nichols Library at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The display currently includes memorabilia and information about the contributions of the inaugural class of inductees. The library is at 800 E. 51 St., Kansas City, Missouri.

The Hall is named in honor of Martha Jane Phillips Starr, a legendary activist and philanthropist who blazed a trail for family issues and women’s rights. The hall of fame is made possible through the Starr Education Committee, Martha Jane Starr’s family and the Starr Field of Interest Fund, which was established upon her death through the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. The idea for the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame stemmed from Starr Education Committee members.

Additional information on the Hall is available at

The civic organizations that advocate on behalf of women and family issues and have signed on in support of the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame include: American Association of University Women, American Business Women’s Association, Central Exchange, CBIZ Women’s Advantage, Girl Scouts of NE Kansas and NW Missouri, Greater Kansas City Chamber’s Executive Women’s Leadership Council, Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus, Jackson County Missouri Chapter of the Links, Inc.; Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri; KC Metro Latinas, Kansas City Athenaeum, Kansas City Young Matrons, National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators, OneKC for Women, SkillBuilders Fund, Soroptimist International of Kansas City, Soroptimist Kansas City Foundation, UMKC, UMKC Women’s Center, UMKC Women’s Council, UMKC Women of Color Leadership Conference, WIN for KC, win|win, Women’s Foundation, Women’s Public Service Network, Zonta International District 7 and Zonta Club of KC II.

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