Congregation at Duke Chapel

Women in 19th Century American Protestantism

For the ears, you can listen to an audio recording of this presentation. [high fidelity audio playable under all personal computer operating systems via VLC media player, Microsoft Windows Media Player with the Xiph.org codecs for FLAC et al, OS X QuickTime with the XiphQT plugin, etc., on many Android-based mobile devices, and on iOS-based mobile devices via apps such as FLAC Player or Golden Ear]

Mothers, Angels, Authors, and Preachers:

Women in 19th Century American Protestantism

presentation at Adult Forum by
Jamie L. Brummitt
Ph.D Student, American Religion, Duke University
February 1, 2015

Participation in American Churches

  • Protestant women outnumbered men in churches.
  • BUT, women were not allowed to preach or hold offices:
    1. Men looked to the Bible to define women's roles in churches:
      • In 1832, the General Assembly of the Presbyterians declared, "to teach and exhort, or to lead in prayer, in public and promiscuous assemblies, is clearly forbidden to women in the Holy Oracles."
      • "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saiththe law" (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, KJV).
    2. Before 1800, preachers were supposed to be educated at Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. Women were not allowed to attend colleges for professional or pastoral training.
  • Most men recognized women as subordinates in church life.

Religion Outside of Churches

  • Religion was not confined to the church.
    1. Children were taught to read at home using the Bible.
    2. Families worshipped together at home during the week.
  • Second Great Awakening = the revival of evangelical Protestantism (1790s to 1830s).
family at home worship

Family at Worship. Image from the tract "Family Worship," No. 18 (New York: American Tract Society, 1826).


Camp Meetings

  • From the 1790s to 1840s, itinerant Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian preachers took sermons and worship services into fields and forests.
  • This period is known in scholarship as the Second Great Awakening
image of preacher on outdoor stage

Religious Camp Meeting, c. 1839. Watercolor by J. Maze Burbank.


Camp Meetings

sketch of layout for stage, rows of chairs, etc.

Plan of the Camp. August 1809.

For a Methodist camp meeting in Fairfax, Va.

From the journal of Benjamin Latrobe.


Religion Outside of Churches

  • Laypeople published Protestant sermons, tracts, cookbooks, advice manuals, and periodicals for the unchurched.
    • Protestant print culture provided one of the primary means by which Americans received religious instruction.
  • The Second Great Awakening brought religion outside of the churches and in many ways helped democratize American Protestantism by bringing more white and black women into positions of religious authority.

Moral Mothers

engraving of mother, father, and daughters

From the tract "On Early Religious Education," No. 143.

In Publications of the American Tract Society (New York: ATS, 1842.)

Image engraved by Alexander Anderson.


Moral Mothers

engraving of mother with daughter in lap

From the tract "Letters on Christian Education," No. 197.

In Publications of the American Tract Society (New York: ATS, 1849.)

Image engraved by Robert Roberts.


Moral Mothers

engraving of house near stream

"A Christian House," c. 1869, p. 23.

From The American Woman's Home: Or, Principles of Domestic Science by Catharine Esther Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe (New York: J.B. Ford, 1869).


Moral Mothers

Parlor converted to a church.

From The American Woman's Home: Or, Principles of Domestic Science by Catharine Esther Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe (New York: J.B. Ford, 1869).

floorplan sketch showing how the living room / school room also had a pulpit at one end

Moral Mothers

Christ with children, cover of The Tract Primer

Left: "Christ Blessing the Little Children."

Right: Mother Instructing Children.

Both images from The Tract Primer (New York: American Tract Society, 1856).


Guardian Angel

Hope departs from a deathbed

"Hope Departing." From tract Disappointed Hope, No. 238. (New York: American Tract Society, 1832.


Republican Motherhood

Image of an American Woman's Home.

From The American Woman's Home: Or, Principles of Domestic Science by Catharine Esther Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe (New York: J.B. Ford, 1869), frontispiece.

three generations of a family reading, playing in a room

Authors

Portrait of "Sarah Josepha Hale," in Godey's Lady's Book 41 (1850): 326, frontispiece.

portrait of a lady seated in a chair

Authors

Drawing of Catherine Beecher from Sarah J. Hale, ed. Woman's Record (1853), p. 578.

portrait of head and shoulders of a woman

Challenging Republican Motherhood

Image of an American Woman's Home.

From The American Woman's Home: Or, Principles of Domestic Science by Catharine Esther Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe (New York: J.B. Ford, 1869), frontispiece.

three generations of a family reading, playing in a room

"The prejudice that they [women] were going 'beyond their sphere' has met them at every step of their intellectual and moral progress. And these denunciations were made because she established schools for the poor, and female friendly societies to improve the habits and character of those who had none to help them. They were made by men, by clergymen, who feared that a woman, by outvying them in doing good, would rob them of their exclusive glory. As men come more and more to comprehend the spirit and truth of Christianity, so will the estimation of woman's sphere increase. They [men] will see that the religion of Jesus is, throughout, in harmony with female character, that he poured contempt on all those pursuits from which men claim to derive their exclusive power and glory."

- FROM SARAH J. HALE, GODEY'S LADIES' MAGAZINE, NOVEMBER 1837

Extending the Domestic Sphere


Preachers

Jarena Lee, Religious Experience and Journal of Mrs. Jarena Lee (Philadelphia, 1849), frontispiece. First published in 1836.

portrait of head and shoulders of a woman

Preachers

Sojourner Truth, carte de visite, 1864.

portrait of head and shoulders of a woman

Muscular Christianity

Dwight L. Moody, photograph, 1900.

portrait of head and shoulders of a man