Posts Tagged ‘Oberlin College’

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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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