Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

ANTOINETTE BROWN BLACKWELL
(1825-1921), speaker, writer, and first ordained woman minister

BARBARA S. SPIES

In 1853, Antoinette Brown became the first woman to be ordained into the ministry of a Protestant denomination in the United States. This is reason enough to record her name in the annals of history, but she did much more. In addition to preaching, she spoke regularly on the northeastern circuit in support of temperance, abolition of slavery, social purity, and woman's rights, including suffrage, and through her speaking and writing, she gained a national reputation. In a 1916 address, NAWSA president CARRIE LANE CHAPMAN CATT included her in a list of women who had "builded with others the foundation of the political liberty for American woman" ( MCSFH 2:494).

Brown attended Oberlin College, one of the first institutions of higher education to admit women and Blacks. She first completed the undergraduate women's literary course and then the postgraduate theological course. For many years, ordination as a minister had been her goal, but despite fulfilling all requirements, she was denied ordination by the college. Instead, she had to search out a church that would call and ordain her. Eventually, a small New York Congregational church in South Butler asked her to be their pastor and ordained her in 1853. A year later she became a Unitarian, and in 1856, she married Samuel Blackwell.

Tracing Antoinette Brown Blackwell's career as a speaker during the second half of the nineteenth century reflects the development of early woman's rights rhetoric. Like many others, hers was a voice in transition that moved from a more conservative position grounded in religion to a more radical statement of woman's rights. The shifts in her argumentation reflect a growing understanding of the roots of women's problems. The evolution in her thought is especially interesting given the views of some historians that the radical voice left the movement as the turn of the century approached (e.g., IWSM).

Brown Blackwell is also important because of her work for the elimination of prostitution. She joined the New York Committee for the Prevention of State Regulation of Vice, later the American Purity Alliance, speaking regularly at its conventions and becoming a vice president in March 1895. She argued forcefully against the legalization of prostitution. Unlike others who saw a lack of moral purity as the cause of vice, she stressed that only an elimination of the double standard of morality would restore social purity.

Brown Blackwell was also a well-published author. Her articles appeared in the New York Tribune, the Oberlin Quarterly Review, the Atlantic Monthly, and the Woman's Journal, and she wrote nine books. These works, which span the period 1855-1915, reflect the evolution of her thought.

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