Archive for September, 2015

In a previous post this month we recounted the main events of the life of Antoinette Brown Blackwell. This week we will examine Antoinette’s thinking. Antoinette was a brilliant woman – a theologian and a philosopher, compassionate and intelligent, able to submit to authority yet also a leading orator in her day. Antoinette was a faithful and loving wife and mother.

Theologian and Philosopher – First of all Antoinette was a religious woman. The Brown’s were Congregationalists. Antoinette had a pious grandmother who taught Antoinette and her siblings about God. She read the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress. God’s love and mercy were emphasized in her family. Antoinette loved to walk in the nearby woods and commune with God.

When Antoinette was eight years old she joined the church. She decided she wanted to be a minister. Of course she was criticized. Girls were not supposed to dream of becoming ministers.

But Antoinette held on to this dream and pursued the study of theology at Oberlin College when she was in her early twenties. Though Oberlin espoused education for women, there were limits. They would not promote the ordination of women to preach. Antoinette would have to wait until 1878 to receive an honorary M.A. and until 1908 before being recognized by the college for her work with an honorary Doctor of Divinity.

When Antoinette graduated from Oberlin she was hoping to be able to preach in Congregational churches. After initially denying Antoinette a license to preach, they finally granted her one in 1851 but they would not ordain her.

Eventually in 1852 Antoinette received a call from a Congregational Church in South Butler, New York. Since the Congregationalist’s would not ordain her, she received ordination from a Methodist minister. Rev. Luther Lee preached the ordination sermon from the text, “There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). He stated, “…in our belief, our sister in Christ, Antoinette L. Brown, is one of the ministers of the New Covenant, authorized, qualified, and called of God to preach the gospel of His Son Jesus Christ.”

Antoinette was thus the first woman to be ordained in a Protestant denomination in the United States. Later she would officiate at a wedding becoming the first female minister to do so.

Luther Lee’s views were in the minority, and criticism from all sides would lead to some depression for Antoinette. Even members of her own congregation made life difficult for her. Though she longed to minister to people she knew she had to resign and did so in 1854 after serving for less than a year.

Antoinette went home to rest for a while. Then began the period on her life in which she began to work in the areas that she is known for to this day – abolition, temperance, and women’s rights.

Compassionate and Intelligent – Antoinette spent a year working in the slums and prisons of New York City. She had a compassion for the poor especially abandoned and destitute women and children.

Even while she was ministering at the South Butler church, Antoinette would receive invitations to lecture on woman’s rights, antislavery, and temperance. Antoinette helped found the Association for the Advancement of Women in 1873 to promote the general betterment of women. In the 1800’s there were few laws protecting women from abusive husbands. She spoke regularly at suffrage meetings at the state and national levels and was elected president of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association in 1891.

Antoinette helped to found the American Purity Association, which supported efforts to prevent state regulation of prostitution and to reform the social relations of the sexes. Then as now prostitution only benefits men while harming women. Regulation of prostitution only provides easy access to this sin for men. Antoinette and other Christian women fought to help the women to a better life.

Wife and Mother – Antoinette married Samuel Charles Blackwell in 1856. Theirs was a love match start to finish. Samuel was supportive of Antoinette’s activities. Antoinette took time off to raise her five daughters. She set aside lecturing and touring to be an attentive mother. Antoinette agreed that, “…the paramount social duties of women are household duties, avocations arising from their relations as wives and mothers, and as the natural custodians of the home. I make hast to endorse this dogma; fully, and without equivocation.” Yet she went on to advocate for women to integrate outside work with their household duties. If women did not reach out to care for the poor in their neighborhoods the world would be a sadder place.

For herself Antoinette decided that writing was something she could do from home. Samuel occasionally entertained the girls so their mother could get a couple of hours alone to write. This was her way of contributing something to society while being a good wife and mother.

Orator and Writer – Antoinette’s first book was published the same year as the birth of her last daughter. She went on to write and as the girls grew independent she returned to speaking and being active in social work.

Her first book – Studies in General Science, was a compilation of essays. In the late 1800’s philosophical discussions were part of everyday life even in the middle classes. Antoinette showed in her book that she had given much thought to philosophy. Educated philosophers of the day commended her book as intelligent and thoughtful. Her theory was that everything in the universe was moving towards harmony.

Other publications include: The Sexes throughout Nature (1875); In The Physical Basis of Immortality (1876) she further elaborated on what she viewed as scientific evidence of the “indivisible ‘mind-body’ “. In this book Antoinette wrestled with the question of the immortality of the soul concluding that souls are timeless. Her final works, The Philosophy of Individuality (1893), The Making of the Universe (1914), and The Social Side of Mind and Action (1915), further elaborated on these themes, underscoring the harmony of nature and individual actions. She also published a novel, The Island Neighbors (1871), and a book of poems, Sea Drift (1902).

Here are a few excerpts of her wisdom:

  1. Family – “The family is the basis of civilization. It is the unit of social ABBlackwell3-235x300relations… The most fundamental of all human relations must be the most carefully safeguarded…”
  2. Harmony – Antoinette wanted all groups to work together to accomplish goals and lamented the fact that there were organizations that seemed to be competing with each other when they should have been working together. For example, the two leading suffrage movements worked apart harming both until finally in 1890 thanks to Antoinette’s mediating work they joined and made one organization.
  3. Politics – “My grandmother taught me to spin, but the men have relieved womankind from that task and as they have taken so many industrial burdens off our hands it is our duty to relieve them of some of their burdens of State.”
  4. Spiritual Issues – Antoinette believed that spiritual and political issues were interrelated. (I would agree today especially on the issue of abortion.)
  5. Worldview – “The more noble (man) is, the more he suffers from a sense of his own incapacities, and the boundless need of a Beneficent Helper… to Be assured that there is an Almighty Arm and a Sleepless Omniscient Eye, able to see all things and to reach everywhere, cannot fail to bring its own comfort!”
  6. Final Things – Antoinette’s mind remained clear and bright even to her 97th year when she quietly died in her sleep. She did not fear death but looked forward to meeting Sam and her predeceased children. “But after all it is only to me slipping through a door which opens to receive a new guest.”

Antoinette believed that women should undertake intellectual work and she did much to advance the opportunities for women to get education. Today we take it for granted that women can go to any educational institution that men do. We owe that to Antoinette Brown Blackwell and others like her.

Women need to stretch out and improve themselves. “Nothing is lacking but courage, perseverance, resolution applied… diligently.” Thank you for your courage, Antoinette Brown Blackwell.


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ant. brown quote 1

If any college dared to refuse a female student her hard earned degree today just because of her gender, that school would be in big trouble. Not only could there be a lawsuit pending, but society would be outraged. We cannot imagine a woman not getting a degree or a good job or a position in an organization just because she is a woman. As women today we take it for granted that we should be treated with respect. We expect to be paid fairly and given our due for our hard work.

This has not always been the case. In the mid-nineteenth century women were seldom allowed to attend college and less seldom given the degrees that they earned. Society was wary of giving women the idea that they could do anything outside of the home. While we agree that marriage and family are high callings and women should be careful to honor their husbands and be good mothers, society should not limit them from where God has called them.

a b blackwellToday, the reason women can go to school, even seminary, and get their diplomas and then get good jobs is thanks to women like Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell.

I greatly admire Antoinette Blackwell who often stood alone to be faithful to her own convictions. At the same time Antoinette was willing to be a peacemaker in order to advance the cause of justice. Antoinette always sought to do what was right.

Antoinette came from a Christian home and longed for the church to get serious about the Christian duty to take care of the downtrodden and abused. She united her faith to her actions.

This week we will recap the main events of Antoinette’s life and next week we will examine her thinking. Antoinette was a brilliant woman – compassionate and intelligent, able to submit to authority yet also a leading orator in her day, a theologian, a scientist, a wife, a mother, and a philosopher.

Antoinette Louisa was born to Joseph and Abigail Morse Brown on May 20, 1925 in Henrietta, New York. Demonstrating her intelligence at an early age she started school at the age of 3. Before she reached her ninth birthday she was admitted to the Congregational church as a member. This was unusual in her day, but the elders of her church were convinced of her learning and her piety.

Antoinette’s entire family was drawn to the reform movements in the 1800’s – anti-slavery, temperance, and moral reform. Joseph and Abigail encouraged all of their children, sons and daughters, to get an education. Antoinette went to local schools and eventually became a teacher in 1841.

In 1846 Antoinette began to attend Oberlin College. Oberlin was known as a college that believed that women and blacks (the term “African American” did not come until many years later) should receive an education. There were two groups of abolitionists in her day. Antoinette and her family believed that abolition should come as a result of political action; she was a “voting abolitionist”. The more radical abolitionists advocated extreme measures to free the slaves. The Brown family was hopeful that legislation would end the cruel system in a peaceful way.

While at Oberlin Antoinette made a life-long friend, and future sister-in-law, of Lucy Stone. They were good friends even though Lucy did not approve of Antoinette’s orthodox religious views or her view on political abolition. Both women however were interested in advancing the cause of justice for women.

Antoinette received a literary degree in 1847. That was what was available to women at that time. She was determined to remain at Oberlin for three more years in order to study theology and train for the ministry. When she had completed the course work for the degree the faculty refused to grant it to her. While the male students were invited to the commencement exercises, Antoinette’s name did not even appear in the official listings of the theological class of 1850. It was not until 1908 that Antoinette Brown’s work was fully recognized when Oberlin granted her a D.D.

While at school Antoinette accepted speaking engagements in Ohio and New York. She spoke on slavery and women’s rights.

After completing her work at Oberlin, Antoinette left for New York and began to do charitable work in the slums. She lectured to earn money to help in the cause for the poor.

Antoinette traveled to Massachusetts to attend the first National Woman’s Rights Convention. After this she began to lecture more frequently in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New England on slavery, temperance, and woman’s rights. She sometimes preached on Sundays when invited into local churches.

In the fall of 1852, Antoinette fulfilled a dream since childhood by becoming the minister at a Congregational church in South Butler, New York. On September 15, 1853, Antoinette was ordained as a minister, becoming the first woman to be officially ordained in a Protestant church in the United States.

This ministerial position only lasted until July 1854 when Antoinette resigned. She had found that being in charge of a church was not really her calling. There were stresses and strains with her congregants. She was also feeling the tug to get back into more work to raise the status of women.

Antoinette left for New York and worked with Abby Hopper Gibbons for women criminals and prisoners. In 1855 Antoinette’s lifelong friend, Lucy Stone, married Henry Blackwell. The Blackwell family members were all involved in various reform movements. Henry’s brother Samuel became interested in Antoinette. He knew that she shared the same feelings of concern about justice as he did. He proposed almost as soon as he met Antoinette. Antoinette had to think about it a while, but finally they were married in 1856.

Over the next few years the Blackwell’s had seven children. Five girls survived until adulthood. The Blackwell’s moved to New Jersey to raise their family.

Antoinette put aside her lectures to be with her husband and children. She was a happy wife and mother. Antoinette turned to writing because she could do this while tending her children. When the girls were old enough, she took a few speaking engagements. Sam proved to be a man ahead of his time. While Antoinette was busy writing or speaking he looked after the children.

In 1869 Antoinette published her first book, Studies in General Science. In this book she reveals what a fine mind she had. She was optimistic as people in the mid-nineteenth century were, seeing a time when people would ultimately cooperate and get along with each other. Five or six more works followed including a book of poems and a novel.

In 1878 Antoinette joined the Unitarian church. They recognized her as a minister and she began to work with the Unitarians for the rest of her life.

Antoinette outlived most of her fellow reform workers. She alone experienced the ABBlackwell3-235x300passage of the nineteenth amendment and tasted the sweet victory of enfranchisement in 1920 when she cast her vote for Warren G. Harding for president.

Antoinette died in Elizabeth, New Jersey on November 5, 1921. This brave woman had been a leader in many reform movements. Antoinette knew how to put her principles into action her whole life, integrating her orthodox theology with her concern for justice for women, blacks, and the poor. We can learn much from her life.









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