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

By Catherine A. Brekus | Go to book overview

2
Women in the Wilderness

Female Religious Leadership in The Age of Revolution

And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered... And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and there score days.- Revelation 12:1-6

In 1776, as America stood on the brink of revolution, only a few radical sects still preserved a vision of women's public evangelism. In Revolutionary America, only the Quakers, Shakers, Universal Friends, and a few Come-Outers on the New England frontier allowed women to witness or exhort, and with the exception of the Quakers, they were as ambivalent about women's public speech as the New Lights and Separates had been. In the new American republic, the home of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," would women as well as men have the right to preach the gospel?

Two charismatic women in Revolutionary America, Ann Lee and Jemima Wilkinson, struggled to answer this question while traveling across the Northeast to herald the near approach of the kingdom of God. In 1776, as Thomas Jefferson put the finishing touches on the Declaration of Independence, Ann

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