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Faithful Women

Throughout the centuries many women have found themselves in leadership positions while they were trying to remain faithful to God’s calling. These women were in circumstances where they could not remain silent about the injustices in the world around them. They spoke out because they were honoring God by working to care for the poor and suffering. They tried to alleviate suffering because they loved the Lord Jesus and wanted salvation and healing for others. They were not seeking leadership positions. Through their faithfulness, God thrust them into positions where they could lead others.

The four women in these reviews lived during a span three centuries: Margaret Fell Fox (seventeenth century), Sarah Osborn (eighteenth century), and the Grimke sisters (nineteenth century). During these centuries women were not supposed to be speaking in front of groups containing men. Yet, these women boldly led Bible studies or held meetings to share God’s love and truth because they were called of God to do so. The stories of their lives are an inspiration to women today who seek to serve God with their individual callings.

 

undaunted zeal margaret fell—  Glines, Elsa F., Editor, Undaunted Zeal: The Letters of Margaret Fell, (Friends United Press, Richmond, Indiana 2003).

Margaret Askew Fell Fox (1614-1702) was a woman of undaunted courage. She lived through one of the most tumultuous times in English history. This is the same time period in which John Bunyan and many other non-conformist Christians were imprisoned for their faith. Through all of the upheavals in government and religious policies Margaret kept a steady faith in God and His Word. She always put God first even if it meant going to prison. She strived for liberty of conscience.

Margaret wrote many letters while in prison under her own name – Margaret Fell. (She did not marry George Fox until 1669, one year after she got out of prison.) In this book, Elsa F. Glines publishes 164 letters of Margaret Fell. The book is divided into three parts for three periods of Margaret’s life. Each section begins with a short biography of that period of Margaret’s life. The introductions to the letters contain a wealth of historical background that is interesting to history students.

Whether you are interested in the history of the Friends, or Quakers, or just in the topic of religious freedom, you will enjoy this book.

 

—  Brekus, Catherine A., Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Catherine-Brekus-Sarah-Osborns-World-195x300Evangelical Christianity in Early America,  (Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 2013).

While most people have heard of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Gilbert Tennent, few know who Sarah Haggar Wheaten Osborn was. Yet during this time of the Great Awakening a religious revival occurred at Sarah Osborn’s house. Decades before Americans were taking abolition seriously, Sarah brought both free and enslaved black men and women into her home and taught them the Bible. Sarah’s life made a difference to thousands.

Through all of the many afflictions in her life, Sarah Osborn (1714-1796) maintained her faith in God. She struggled through wars, poor health, the deaths of loved ones, and conflicts at her church. Today she has been all but forgotten, but Sarah Osborn deserves to be remembered for the part she played in the many lives of others in the eighteenth century. Hundreds of less fortunate people praised Sarah for her faith, courage, and humble service. Sarah believed that God used her suffering to draw her closer to Him and to be an example to others.

In this book, Catherine Brekus relates Sarah’s life through the backdrop of eighteenth century religion. She gives a good history of the rise of evangelicalism that will be interesting to those who love biography, history, and theology. Sarah’s life is still an encouragement to believers today.

 

Angelina and Sarah—  Lerner, Gerda., The Grimke Sisters from South Caroline: Pioneers for Women’s Rights and Abolition, (The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2004).

The Grimke sisters, Angeline and Sarah, have been pretty much forgotten in our day but in the nineteenth century they were well known in abolitionist circles. They made history in speeches against slavery as well as in publishing tracts calling for an end to that evil institution. They recognized that slavery and discrimination, though connected, were two separate issues and fought against both. In 1838 Angelina made history as the first woman to speak before a legislative body in the United States.

In this book, Gerda Lerner tells the amazing story of these two southern born women who became famous for their fight for equality for blacks and for women. The book reads like a novel and is hard to put down. Gerda Lerner also includes some of the famous speeches of Angelina (the better speaker of the sisters) and excerpts from the writings of Sarah Grimke. (See below.)

Many women today can thank Angelina and Sarah for their courage in pioneering justice and equal rights for both blacks and women.

 

—  Wilbanks, Charles, Editor., Walking by Faith: The Diary of walking by faith grimkeAngelina Grimke, 1828-1835, (University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, 2003).

Even as a young girl Angelina Grimke had deep faith in God. Angelina’s prayer was:

O that I might live religion – how striking the exhortation of the Apostle – present your bodies a living sacrifice, Lord enable me so to live that every day I may sacrifice my own will to thine.  (From her diary, December 25, 1828)

Angelina Grimke Weld was born in 1805 in South Carolina. She was the youngest of fourteen children born to slaveholders John Grimke and Mary Smith Grimke. Her older sister Sarah was thirteen when Angelina was born. Sarah doted on her baby sister Angelina and the two remained close until the end of their lives.

In this book, Charles Wilbanks intersperses biographical sketches of Angelina’s life with the diary excerpts over a period of about 8 years. It is a fascinating story of how one woman went from a slaveholding family to being a leader in the abolitionist movement. The reader witnesses Angelina’s spiritual growth and social maturity from her earliest recorded thoughts (age 22) to the writing of a letter to the editor for William Lloyd Garrison’s newspaper (age 30). This letter to the editor propelled her into the public eye as a leader in the fight for abolition. Her diary ends when her public career begins. At this point, I suggest you read Gerda Lerner’s book if you already haven’t done so!

 

Grimke, Sarah Moore, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, and sarah letters to parkerthe Condition of Woman: Addressed to Mary S. Parker…, (Originally published by Isaac Knapp, 25, Cornhill, 1838).

Though of the two Grimke sisters, Angelina was the principle speaker, Sarah was just as passionate about justice for the downtrodden. She left writings that have come to the attention of historians today because Sarah was so far ahead of her time in her thought. Here is an excerpt from Letter #1:

“On the Original Equality of Women”

“Had Adam tenderly reproved his wife, and endeavored to lead her to repentance instead of sharing in her guilt, I should be much more ready to accord to man that superiority which he claims; but as the facts stand disclosed by the sacred historian, it appears to me that to say the least, there was as much weakness exhibited by Adam as by Eve. They both fell from innocence, and consequently from happiness, but not from equality…. The consequence of the fall was an immediate struggle for dominion, and Jehovah foretold which would gain the ascendancy; but as he created them in his image, as that image manifestly was not lost by the fall, because it is urged in Genesis 9:6, as an argument why the life of man should not be taken by his fellow man, there is no reason to suppose that sin produced any distinction between them as moral, intellectual and responsible beings.”

The entire book is especially fascinating when you remember is was written in the 1830’s, well before the women’s suffrage movement. Today woman have freedoms that we take for granted – education, jobs, the vote, and a public voice. Sarah could only dream about and write about those things. She was very courageous to speak out for the truth in 1838. We can be very thankful for women like Sarah Grimke who were pioneers in the suffrage movement.

 

 

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O that I might live religion – how striking the exhortation of the Apostle – present your bodies a living sacrifice, Lord enable me so to live that every day I may sacrifice my own will to thine.            Angelina Grimke, December 25, 1828

Angelina and SarahThe Grimke sisters, Angeline and Sarah, have been pretty much forgotten in our day but in the nineteenth century they were well known in abolitionist circles. They made history in speeches against slavery as well as in publishing tracts calling for an end to the evil institution. They recognized that slavery and discrimination were two separate issues and fought against both.

While there were many famous male abolitionists, the sisters drew large audiences due to their compassionate speeches. Angelina and Sarah were unique because they had been raised in South Carolina on a slave holding plantation and their outspokenness against slavery was based on their first hand experiences witnessing the cruelty of slavery. Audiences came to jeer the women speakers but stayed to listen in rapt silence as the sisters recounted the horrors of slavery and called for an end to it.

Angelina Grimke was born in 1805. She was the youngest of fourteen children born to John Grimke and Mary Smith Grimke. Her older sister Sarah was thirteen when Angelina was born. Sarah doted on her baby sister Angelina and the two remained close until the end of their lives.

Angelina’s family was the type of wealthy southern family that is pictured in movies and books. Slaves were seen as “not quite human” with no rights. They were badly mistreated. One of Angelina’s brothers beat a slave boy so harshly that he could hardly walk. Angelina, even as a young girl, had a deep faith in God and the Bible. She could not reconcile the cruelty to other human beings, made in the image of God just as she was, with her religion. She tried to remonstrate with her mean brother; he told her to mind her own business.

In her personal life Angelina tried to live more as she thought a Christian should live. SheangelinaGrimkeWeld began to dress plainly and stopped going to frivolous parties. Her family who were of the privileged class barely tolerated her. Angelina prayed for them and even tried to convince them of the error of their ways. They were quite happy in their position in life and did not appreciate Angelina’s attempts to enlighten them. She desperately wanted to leave home but stayed to help her mother after the death of her father.

Angelina’s religious life went through several changes. She was uncomfortable in the cold established church that her mother went to. They did not preach against slavery. One day she heard a Presbyterian preacher speak what seemed to her the very words of God. She joined that church and since she was a young woman who never did anything by halves she began to teach Sunday School and to work in the church immediately.

When she thought that the time was right Angelina moved to Philadelphia because she could no longer support the institution of slavery. She waited until she felt like she had her mother’s blessing. Though they still disagreed on the issue of slavery Angelina and her mother would remain on loving terms.

Sarah had moved to Philadelphia some years before Angelina. When Angelina was exposed to the Friends’ Church (Quakers) through Sarah, she thought she had found a people of God who lived more closely to the Bible. As usual Angelina threw herself into meetings and church work and became well known for her spirituality. She became attached to the son of Friends’ ministers, but he died of an illness before they could get married. Angelina was heartbroken but believed that God had some purpose for her.

When William Lloyd Garrison began to publish appeals for the ending of slavery Angelina felt compelled to write him a personal letter to encourage him. “The ground upon which you stand is holy ground,” she told him, “never-never surrender it . . . if you surrender it, the hope of the slave is extinguished.” We must continue to agitate for the end of slavery even if abolitionists are persecuted and attacked because, as she put it, “This is a cause worth dying for.”

Garrison published her passionate letter in his paper “Liberator”. This was the start of Angelina’s career as an abolitionist speaker. It was also the beginning of the end of her relationship with the orthodox Quakers. The church leader came to her and asked her to renounce what she had written. Angelina was surprised at his attitude and respected him as her elder and she did some soul searching.
That night I hardly slept at all & the next day I was sunk as low as I ever had been involved in great darkness & desiring to feel utterly condemned if I had done wrong.  She threw herself as a helpless sinner at the foot of the Cross & plead for sight & for strength to undo, or bear just what was required. Angelina had come to the place where she realized what God had called her to do. She had promised God if He would only prepare me to be & make me instrumental in the great work of Emancipation I would be willing to bear any suffering. … tho’ condemned by human judges I was acquitted by him whom I believe qualified me to will it, and I felt willing to bear all, if it was only made instrumental of good. I felt great unworthiness of being used in such a work but remembered that God hath chosen the weak things of this world to confound the wise and so was comforted.  (From her diary, September, 1835.)

Angelina prayed about the remonstrance from the Quakers in Philadelphia but knew that her call from God was stronger. And so the Grimke sisters began to speak out against slavery. The strong Quaker society in Philadelphia opposed the sisters so much that they decided to move to New York city where they become agents for the American Anti-Slavery Society.

quote-Angelina-Grimke-we-abolition-women-are-turning-the-world-183529_1

At first Angelina began to hold abolition meetings in New York city for women. Soon however, Angelina and Sarah found themselves speaking to mixed groups of men and women. This was shocking behavior in the nineteenth century and the sisters were ridiculed and castigated. The sisters courageously continued because they knew that freeing the enslaved and ending discrimination were too important to quit.

The sisters began to be in demand as speakers. They traveled so much that Angelina’s health was in danger several times. Their lives were also often in danger due to riots and mob violence. Northerners were just as bigoted against black people as Southerners and did not want to change things.

In 1838 Angelina made history as the first woman to speak before a legislative body in the United States. “I stand before you,” she told the members of the Massachusetts legislature as well as a crowd of enemies and supporters in the galleries, “on behalf of the 20,000 women of Massachusetts whose names are enrolled on petitions [which] relate to the great and solemn subject of slavery.”  Angelina pleaded for the end of not only slavery but of racial prejudice that she saw in the North.

Around this time Angelina met abolitionist Theodore Weld. They married on May 14, 1838. Angelina gave one more lecture and then terminated her speaking career. She would take her domestic duties seriously. She and Theodore bought a farm and Angelina had three children. Theodore continued to speak until his voice gave him trouble. In the years to follow the Weld’s and Sarah Grimke would teach in the schools that were established by Theodore. Of course these schools would be open to both boys and girls and black and white children. All three continued to attend meetings and write articles when they could for anti-slavery publications.

angellina quote negro

Angelina lived until 1879. Though she wanted slavery to end peacefully she accepted the fact of war in the 1860’s. For the rest of her life she continued to work for the end to racial discrimination which did not end with the war. It still hasn’t.

After suffering from the effects of strokes for several years Angelina died on October 26, 1879. Theodore died in 1895. Many women today can thank Angelina and Sarah for their courage in pioneering justice and equal rights for both blacks and women.

 

 

 

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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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Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though your were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18)

—  For the last month we have looked at the lives of four very remarkable women. Three lived in the nineteenth century and one in the eighteenth century. Three were slave-born blacks; one was a free black. In spite of the fact that they had seemingly everything going against them as black women, at the bottom of the social scale, they rose above their circumstances and gave much to humanity while serving their Savior.

Why were they able to live in a realm above their circumstances? It is because they all received strength from God. They all answered the call in their lives to serve.

Phillis Wheatley came to Boston from West Africa in 1761. Her owners, John and Phillis Wheatley - 1Susanna Wheatley, were devout Christians. Susanna recognized Phillis’ gift for learning and educated her. Phillis was brilliant enough to read and understand even the most difficult parts of Scripture. She loved poetry and was familiar with Alexander Pope, John Milton, Horace, Virgil and many others that twenty-first century college students cannot read.

Phillis lived as a slave until the death of her owner in 1778. During that time she wrote poetry and much of it reflected her thoughts on the cruelty of slavery. But her poetry also reflected her strong Christian faith. She was able to put into perspective the difference between physical and spiritual slavery. One reason she was able to rise above her circumstances was that she knew that her life with Christ would be forever and life on this earth is short. She was grateful to God for saving her soul:

“On being brought from Africa to America”
‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

Phillis looked forward to the day when slavery would be ended but lived a righteous life that honored God in spite of her circumstances.

 

If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:1)

Sojourner-Truth - 1   —  Isabella Baumfree (Sojourner Truth) was born around 1797 to slave parents in New York. She ran away from a cruel owner around 1826. Kindly Quakers took her in and purchased her from her owner when he caught up with her. Isabella had a life changing experience where her faith became more real to her. There came to her “the true revelation of the character and attributes of God, and of the office of Jesus Christ as the Mediator and Savior; and the converted Sojourner became from that time henceforward one of the most faithful, consistent, and zealous of Christian disciples.” It was during this time that Isabella changed her name to Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner wanted to do something to help her people. Besides trying to get the United States government to give land to the colored people, she became a reformer. She was nearly six feet tall and had a strong, deep voice. When she spoke, people listened. She was active in the temperance movement and argued for better treatment of women.

In Sojourner we have another woman who lived above the pettiness of society. Many other black women of her day went on to live mediocre lives after their emancipation, but not Sojourner. “People ask me,” she once said, “how I came to live so long and keep my mind; and I tell them it is because I think of the great things of God; not the little things.” Sojourner kept her eyes on the things above.

 

I’ll meet you in de mornin’,
When you reach de promised land;
On de oder side of Jordan,
For I’m boun’ for de promised land.    

—  The little lady who rescued three to four hundred slaves in the mid-nineteenth HTubman-1century, earning the title, of a “Moses to her people” was born Araminta Ross around 1820 to Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene, both slaves. Harriet Tubman later took her mother’s name, Harriet. She took her husband’s name when she married John Tubman.

Harriet would not blame God for any of the hard circumstances of her early life, but acknowledge that her difficult upbringing prepared her for the tasks ahead of her when she followed her calling to rescue slaves.

In 1849, she and some other slaves were to be sold. She determined not to be sold and so one night she just walked away. Eventually she arrived in Philadelphia where a white woman befriended her and she got a job. She saved her money and two years after her own escape from slavery she went south to rescue her husband. She found him living with another woman and unwilling to take her back. This did not stop her from her plan of rescuing other family members. She just moved on trusting in the Lord.

Harriet didn’t acquiesce to her slave condition; she did something about it. Risking her health and even her life she lived in crude circumstances in order to rescue and move slaves to freedom. She had to live by her wits but she always gave the credit to God. When someone would express surprise at her boldness and daring she would reply, “Don’t I tell you, Missus, ’twasn’t me, ’twas de Lord!”

Harriet’s life is an example of what can be done, even in horrible circumstances, when a person does not give up or give in. It was her faith in God and her attitude that made all of the difference.

 

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

MariaStewart_   —  Maria Miller was born a free black in 1803 in Hartford, Connecticut. Other than their last name, we don’t really know anything about Maria’s parents. She was orphaned at the age of five and became a servant girl in the home of a minister. While there she learned to read and became very familiar with the Bible. She understood it so well in fact that one she would later incorporate it into her speeches in very intelligent and appropriate ways. When she was twenty-three, Maria Miller married James W. Stewart at the African Baptist Church in Boston. She took not only his last name but also his middle initial and became known as Maria W. Stewart after that.

Maria is well known for her speeches and article on abolition and women’s rights. She was cruelly robbed of her inheritance by white, unscrupulous businessmen when James died. She knew how unfair life was for blacks and especially for female blacks.

In spite of that, she was also a devout Christian who knew what God expected of His people – all of His people. Maria boldly lectured the blacks themselves for doing little to better their own plight. “It is useless for us any longer to sit with our hands folded, reproaching the whites; for that will never elevate us,” she said.

Here was another woman who understood that the most important thing in life is to be right with God. She fought for social justice, but always in the context of the Bible.

All of these women understood that the most important freedom is freedom in Christ. Yes, human slavery is wicked and cruel. We still have it with us today in the form of human trafficking. As long as wicked men have the power to abuse others they will. We will not be free of sin until Christ comes again. We can fight for social justice as all of these women did. It is in service to others for the Lord that we find a meaning in our lives that keeps us going. We are able to rise above our circumstances keeping our eyes focused on Jesus and on the tasks at hand.

We can learn from the examples of these four remarkable women who understood that:

And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:29) and If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:36)
 

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Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?”   Jeremiah 23:29

 

MariaStewart_Not until many years after her death was Maria W. Stewart recognized as an underappreciated black female theologian and speaker of the early nineteenth century.

She is believed to be the first American woman to have given a speech before a mixed audience of men and women. It is possible that there were other women speakers before her, but we don’t have copies of their speeches as we do for Maria.

Maria Miller was born in 1803 in Hartford, Connecticut. Other than their last name, we don’t really know anything about Maria’s parents. She was orphaned at the age of five and became a servant girl in the home of a minister. While there she learned to read and became very familiar with the Bible. She understood it so well in fact that one she would later incorporate it into her speeches in very intelligent and appropriate ways.

At about age fifteen, Maria left this family and took a job as a domestic servant in order to support herself. She further educated herself by attending Sabbath schools.

When she was twenty-three, Maria Miller married James W. Stewart at the African Baptist Church in Boston. Maria took not only James’ last name but also his middle initial and thereafter she called herself Maria W. Stewart. James was forty-four years old. He was a veteran of the War of 1812. When he and Maria married he was a successful businessman earning a good income by outfitting whaling ships and fishing vessels. At this time, blacks or colored persons (as they were called then) made up only three percent of the Boston population. The Stewarts were also members of an even smaller society – the black middle class. They had no children and James died only three years later in 1829.

Heartbreak helped to fuel Maria’s zeal for God and His Word and freedom for women and blacks. But first, before she started her remarkable foray into politics, Maria had to try and get her inheritance. James Stewart had left her substantial property, but she was defrauded by the legal machinations of the unscrupulous white businessmen who were the executors of the estate. After a long court battle they took everything from her.

In 1830 Maria underwent a religious conversion that led her to begin to proclaim the Gospel along with social justice. She made a public profession of her faith in Christ and dedicated herself to God’s service. Being black and female did not stop this remarkable woman. She believed that the Scriptures were the authority of God and she could proclaim them as a servant of God no matter what her gender was. She also believed that it was an act of obedience to God to work for freedom for oppressed people. Throughout her life she would be criticized for speaking out, but Maria would point to the authority of God and say that she was simply following God’s will. This was an incredibly bold stance for a black woman to take in 1830. It would be a few years before other women would follow in her footsteps and now there is a great “roll call” of black and white women who boldly proclaimed the Word of God.

Maria’s first published work was entitled, ” Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality, the Sure Foundation on Which We Must Build”. This appeared as a twelve-page pamphlet, priced at six cents, published in 1831. Soon after this, Maria began her public speaking.

The main thrust of Maria’s speeches was to encourage black women to turn to God. She also urged them to stand up for their rights and not remain silent. She showed that free black women were little better off than the slaves. The only employment they could get was as servants to white people and many were as mistreated as she was. After all, she should know because she was cheated out of her inheritance. Being black and female was the bottom of the totem pole.

While speaking out against the unfairness of the white man’s world, Maria also boldly lectured the blacks themselves for doing little to better their own plight. “It is useless for us any longer to sit with our hands folded, reproaching the whites; for that will never elevate us,” she said.

Maria continued to write articles for publication. In 1832, the famous publisher William Lloyd Garrison published another article entitled, “Meditations from the Pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart.” He also printed transcripts from all of her speeches, but going along with the social requirements of those days he put them in the “Ladies” Department” of the paper.

Maria Stewart continued to speak and write for only two more years. She had encountered so much opposition that she decided to leave Boston. She delivered her last speech on September 21, 1833 announcing her decision. She was truly sorry that even people who agreed with her did not like her speaking in public.

She did not just fade away. Maria refused to go quietly, asserting that women activists had divine sanction: “What if I am woman; is not the God of ancient times the God of these modern days? Did he not raise up Deborah, to be a mother, and a judge in Israel? Did not Queen Esther save the lives of the Jews? And Mary Magdalene first declare the resurrection of Christ from the dead?”

Maria moved to New York where she became a teacher and taught in Manhattan public schools. She continued her political activities, joining many women’s organizations. She did lecture occasionally, but none of these have survived.
In 1852, Maria moved to Baltimore. Here she earned a living as a teacher. In 1861, she moved to Washington D. C. where she operated a school. By the 1870’s she had been appointed a matron at the Freedman’s Hospital and Asylum in Washington. Maria continued to teach even as she worked at the hospital caring for patients.

Finally, in 1878, a year before her death, congress passed a law granting pensions to widows of veterans of the War of 1812. (Big of them, wasn’t it? How many widows could there be sixty-six years after the end of the war?) Anyway, this money enabled Maria to publish a second edition of “Meditations from the Pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart”. It also included new sections, an autobiographical essay and an introduction calling for an end to tyranny and oppression of underprivileged peoples.

Maria died in 1879 at the Freedman’s Hospital at the age of 76. There was an obituary in The People’s Acvocate, giving this recognition to Maria Stewart: “Few, very few know of the remarkable career of this woman whose life has just drawn to a close. For half a century she was engaged in the work of elevating her race by lectures, teaching, and various missionary and benevolent labors.” Maria was buried in Graceland Cemetery in Washington on December 17, 1879—50 years to the day after her husband’s death.
(Continued in Part II, next week.)

 

 

 

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