Strangers & Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740-1845

By Catherine A. Brekus | Go to book overview

Introduction
Recovering the History of Female Preaching in America

On a cold Sunday morning in January of 1827, "all the taste and fashion" of Washington, D.C., streamed toward the Capitol to witness one of the most remarkable events ever to take place in the Hall of Representatives: Harriet Livermore, a devout evangelical, had convinced the Speaker of the House to allow her to preach to Congress. According to the National Intelligencer, a Washington newspaper, the news caused such a sensation that "it was almost impossible to gain admission." Huge crowds of people gathered outside of the building, excitedly trying to push their way up the steps and into the Hall. They all wanted to see the famous woman who described herself as a "stranger and a pilgrim," a woman who had sacrificed her former life of privilege to wander across the country leading revivals and "saving" sinners. 1

More than a thousand people were waiting in the Hall of Representatives when Livermore entered the room at eleven o'clock. Straining to catch a glimpse of her as she walked through the crowd, they saw a striking, thirty- nine-year-old woman with large, piercing eyes who was dressed in a very simple gown and bonnet. According to the rumors that many had heard, she was a "great preacher" who could make audiences shout for joy or fall to their knees in prayer, but as she ascended into the Speaker's chair, which was draped

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