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Olympia Brown was born in Prarie Ronde, Michigan on 5th January, 1835. One of four children she was educated locally and became a schoolteacher when she was 15 years old.
After being refused entry to the University of Michigan because she was a woman, Brown was accepted by Antioch College. While studying at Antioch she heard a speech made by the anti-slavery campaigner, Francis Gage. Afterwards she reported that: "It was the first time I had heard a woman preach and the sense of victory lifted me up."
Brown graduated from Antioch in 1860 and after much resistance, managed to enter St. Lawrence Seminary. In June 1863, she became the first woman to be ordained as a minister of the church. Over the next few years Brown worked as a pastor in Marshfield, Weymouth, and Bridgeport.
A founder member of the New England Woman's Suffrage Association in 1867 she joined Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Lucy Stone in Kansas where Negro suffrage and woman suffrage were to be decided by popular vote. However, both ideas were rejected at the polls.
In 1878, Brown, now president of National Woman Suffrage Association in Wisconsin, became the pastor at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Racine. Over the next few years she invited leading campaigners for women's suffrage, such as Julia Ward Howe, Susan B. Anthony and Mary Livermore to speak from the pulpit.
During the First World War Brown joined Alice Paul and Lucy Burns to form the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage (CUWS) and attempted to introduce the militant methods used by the Women's Social and Political Union in Britain. This included organizing huge demonstrations and the daily picketing of the White House. Over the next couple of years the police arrested nearly 500 women for loitering and 168 were jailed for "obstructing traffic".
In June, 1920, Brown, now aged eighty-five, was one of the women who took part in the march on the Republican Convention in Chicago. This was the last of the great suffrage demonstrations as the Nineteenth Amendment was passed two months later. Of the original campaigners, Brown was the only one who lived long enough to witness women being granted the vote.
Olympia Brown died in Baltimore on 23rd October, 1926.
Olympia Brown: Crusader for Women’s Rights
Olympia Brown made U.S. history in the North Country 150 years ago, early this summer. She became the first woman to become a fully ordained minister with a degree from a regularly established theological school. Olympia was ordained in the Universalist Church of Malone by the St. Lawrence Association of Universalists on June 25, 1863 and graduated from the St. Lawrence University Theological School in Canton two weeks later, on July 9, 1863.
Throughout the remainder of her 91-year-old life, she was an outspoken Universalist preacher and a fearless campaigner for suffrage and equal rights for women. Olympia marched, lectured, testified, published, protested and picketed a myriad of times from coast to coast.
Weighing in at barely 90 pounds, she was a courageous woman of action. When Olympia was campaigning for universal suffrage in Kansas after the Civil War, she faced down a howling mob of men who threw rocks and debris at the schoolhouse where she was speaking. A year later during a meeting of the American Equal Rights Association at Cooper Union in New York City, the diminutive preacher got into a heated dispute with the six-foot tall black civil rights leader Frederick Douglass, when he argued that black men should get the vote before women.
Year after year, decade after decade, Olympia attacked what she called the American “aristocracy of sex,” never forgetting her mantra, “Let the chips fall where they may!” When she was in her eighties, she braved gangs of hooting and jeering men to picket the White House and burn President Woodrow Wilson’s speeches on democracy and freedom to protest the president’s failure to back a woman’s suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
After the voting rights amendment was added to the Constitution in 1920, Olympia was quick to demand that Congress next propose an equal rights amendment. She could foresee that woman’s suffrage, in and of itself, would not grant women equal rights, nor would it prevent Congress from passing laws to take previously-won rights away from women.
Because Olympia was so outspoken and uncompromising, some activists within the women’s movement criticized her. The leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw, condemned women like Olympia who marched and picketed in Washington, D.C. as “disgusting and reprehensible.” Olympia’s own state women’s organization in Wisconsin agreed with Catt and Howard and shunned Olympia for years, describing her activity as “improper.” Olympia answered her critics by stating that women had been dignified and proper for over 60 years and “we still do not have the vote.”
Celebration of the sesquicentennial of Olympia’s historic achievements is not without historical controversy. On the basis of a report in a 1860 newspaper, some historians believe that Lydia Ann Jenkins may have been ordained several years before Olympia by the Ontario Association of Universalists in Geneva. However, official records documenting Lydia’s ordination have not been found. In any case, unlike Olympia, Lydia did not graduate from a recognized theological school.
For many New Yorkers, the struggle to stamp out the American “aristocracy of sex” goes on. In Albany, debate rages about passage of new legislation to protect and expand women’s rights by making state law agree with federal protections. As battle lines harden about these proposals, words originally written on a bronze tablet installed by St. Lawrence University to honor the centennial of Olympia’s graduation and ordination continue to have meaning today, fifty years later. The last few lines on the plaque declare, “Preacher of Universalism, Pioneer and Champion of Women’s Citizenship Rights, Forerunner of the New Era, ‘The Flame Of Her Spirit Still Burns Today.’”
Photos: Above, women picketing the White House in 1917- and below, a portrait of Olympia Brown (courtesy Library of Congress).
- A Teacher Open House at the Gage CenterThe Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation in Fayetteville, NY would like to share with teachers the opportunity to learn more about Matilda Joslyn Gage, an important local historical figure on [&hellip]Olivia Twine: Suffrage and Global CitizenshipThe sturdy wooden wagon on display in the New York State capital last summer was the centerpiece of an exhibit called “From Seneca Falls to the Supreme Court- New York's Women Leading the [&hellip]Free Love: Emma Goldman and Victoria WoodhullVictoria Woodhull 1828-1927Love was too important to be left in the hands of the state, thought Victoria Woodhull. And she said so, at Steinway Hall just off Union Square in New York City [&hellip]
August 18th, 1920. Olympia Brown smiled to herself with satisfaction. After working diligently for the rights of women since she was young, she could at last take a deep breath. She was now 85 years old. The 19 th amendment passed, giving women the right to vote! She had stood in the past with Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Reverend Brown had marched alongside women throughout her life, steadfast in her vision. Women had rights too!
Olympia looked back at the stepping stones in her life. Growing up in Prarie Ronde, Michigan, just south of Kalamazoo, her parents impressed on her the value of a good education. Olympia went to Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in South Hadley Massachusetts, but switched to Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
In 1874, Bridgeport, Connecticut became the center of women’s rights movement. The Hartford Courant published this notice in the news of the state.
Persons visiting Bridgeport for the purpose of attending the women’s suffrage convention are requested to report to the Rev. Olympia Brown, Golden Hill, and they will have entertainment provided for them. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other good speakers are to be present. The convention is to take place in Templar’s Hall on Tuesday evening.
Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was not able to attend the evening meeting due to an illness in her family. However, other prominent citizens throughout State of Connecticut did. The Hon. Joseph Sheldon of New Haven delivered an address on the “women’s need for a ballot”. He held the audience for an hour and a quarter on the whole subject of women’s suffrage.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the choir sang “America” with the whole audience joining in. A meeting was announced for the next day. The Rev. Olympia Brown made remarks of the condition of the Suffrage Society and that there was growing interest in the cause of women’s suffrage.
After graduating from Antioch College in Yellow Springs Ohio, in 1860, Olympia attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. In July, 1863, the Universalist Church of America gave her the accreditation as the first fully ordained woman minister.
Reverend Brown’s first job as a minister was in 1864 in Weymouth Landing, Massachusetts. She was successful in Massachusetts. Her congregation took on new tasks and they became used to her methods of asking the congregation to be active participants. Olympia continued her vocal campaign, supporting women’s suffrage organizations.
In 1870, the Universalist Church of Bridgeport, Connecticut asked her to take on the ministry of the church in the city. Olympia was excited about moving, and being part of a new church. P.T. Barnum, the museum founder and showman, was a Universalist himself and was friends with clergymen in New York.
One of Olympia’s Weymouth Landing parishioners, John Henry Willis, moved to Bridgeport. He opened up a grocery store on Main Street. John and Olympia became married in Rhode Island in 1874. Unusual for the time, Olympia kept her maiden name, using Mrs. John Willis in more formal settings.
Olympia was active in the New England Women’s Suffrage Association, and her husband, John, was treasurer. Olympia did not hide her feelings about woman’s rights, and had even invited many prominent suffragists to speak at the church.
The Hartford Courant reported that on January 11, 1875, “The filed injunction against the trustees, Universalist church in Bridgeport, has been modified as to enable them to hire a pastor. But said pastor must be male-which Olympia Brown must step down and out.”
On the Board of Trustees was James Staples, a prominent businessman who lead the effort to hire a male minister. In 1875, Olympia stepped down from her position. The Reverend John Lyon was elected minister instead. After she was removed from her position, Olympia and her family first stayed in Bridgeport until she moved her family to Racine, Wisconsin. There, she continued her work for women’s rights, associating with Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
The Universalist church Brown had left behind in Bridgeport had a strong connection to famous city resident, P.T. Barnum. Barnum became an official member of Bridgeport’s Universal church in April 1879, although he had been active in church affairs much earlier. In the Universalist Church of Bridgeport was the pew where P.T Barnum worshipped. The pew became the best-known feature of the Bridgeport church, which stood at 262 Fairfield Ave. The pew was near the front of the church, and Barnum used to drop notes to Olympia with comments about her sermons.
In 1940, the church steeple was demolished because of damage from a 1938 hurricane. In 1957, the church left its home of 113 years and moved to a new building in Stratford, Connecticut.
Olmpia Brown - History
For the rest of her 91-year-old life, she doubled as an outspoken Universalist preacher and a fearless campaigner for suffrage and equal rights for women. Of the original pioneer crusaders for women’s rights with whom Olympia worked closely—Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Isabella Beecher Hooker, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton – only Olympia lived long enough to vote after the Nineteenth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.
Olympia was born in a one-room log cabin in Schoolcraft, Michigan, a small settlement in the southern part of the state, on January 5, 1835. She was the oldest of four children born to her parents, Lephia Olympia and Asa, who had migrated to Michigan from Plymouth, Vermont.
Olympia grew up in a “strong anti-slavery” family. Her uncle’s house nearby was part of the Underground Railroad system and she often traveled there to visit with runaway slaves. For seven years, one of the fugitives worked for her father as a hired hand on the family farm.
According to Olympia, her mother was a “very zealous” Universalist and “the earliest reformer I ever knew.” She taught her daughter about universal salvation, the brotherhood of man, and the importance of equal rights for women.
The radical views concerning women’s rights, anti-slavery, and dress reform in Horace Greeley’s New York Weekly Tribune also helped shape Olympia’s value system. When she was a teenager, family discussion of the Tribune’s coverage of speeches given by Anthony, Stanton and Stone at a women’s rights convention in Worcester, Massachusetts “stirred her soul.” The three women promptly became “great heroes” to her.
After high school, she attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, an all-girls school in Massachusetts. She left after one year to go to another college after being crushed by Mt. Holyoke’s “strict rules” and repulsed by the weekly prayer meetings which bombarded her with threatening talk of hellfire and brimstone.
Olympia’s choices to obtain a higher education after leaving Mount Holyoke were slim. Almost every college in America at that time was exclusively for men. She considered Oberlin, the nation’s first coeducational college located in nearby Ohio but she rejected the school because it would not allow women to participate in public exercises. Instead, she chose Antioch, also in Ohio, because the college’s president, Horace Mann, promised incoming students the opportunity to take part in “a great experiment”—the education of women on the same terms as men.
As a student at Antioch, she wore clothing popularized by women’s rights advocate, Amelia Bloomer. Olympia found the long baggy pants, worn under a skirt, “convenient and comfortable.” In keeping with the spirit of her new garb, she challenged the college’s practice of only inviting men to be visiting lecturers and arranged for Antoinette Brown Blackwell, a well-known women’s rights activist and lay preacher, to come to Antioch and speak. It was the first time Olympia had heard a woman preacher and Olympia said she felt as though “the Kingdom of Heaven were at hand.”
Greatly influenced by Blackwell’s appearance, Olympia decided that after she graduated from Antioch in 1860, she wanted to go to theological school and become a fully ordained minister. She knew of no other woman in America who had done that and she wanted to be the first.
Like most of the undergraduate colleges in the U.S. at this time, theological schools were also almost entirely for men, not women. She applied to the Unitarian Theological School at Meadville, Pennsylvania but it turned her down because of her sex. Oberlin’s theological school said it would accept her but Olympia chose not to go there because Oberlin’s acceptance, once again, was on the condition that she not participate in any public exercises.
Olympia ended up applying to the only other theological school open to her—the Theological School of St. Lawrence University, a Universalist seminary which had opened in 1858 in Canton, New York. The school’s president, Ebenezer Fisher, told her she could come to the school but should not expect to be ordained as a minister. He said he did not think women were called to the ministry but added, “I leave that between you and the Great Head of Church.” Olympia thought that was “just where it should be left” and arrived in Canton for classes in the fall of 1861.
She was the only female student on campus. Faculty wives were either cool to her at first or outright hostile. During her first year, male students derided her by standing outside her windows at night and mimicking her soft, high-pitched voice.
Olympia spent her vacations between classes getting experience preaching. She took assignments at Universalist churches in Vermont, and in and around Canton, including those in nearby Ogdensburg and Heuvelton. The congregation in Heuvelton liked her so much, they offered her a full-time job to be their pastor after she graduated. However, first she had to become officially ordained by a governing body of the Universalist church.
The governing body closest to Olympia’s school was the St. Lawrence Association of Universalists. It had been officially organized in 1839 and represented the Universalist churches in St. Lawrence, Franklin and Clinton Counties. Every June each of the Association’s churches sent their minister and two delegates to an annual meeting where they would transact ecclesiastical business, which included ordaining ministers. The Association’s next meeting was scheduled for June 24, 1863 in Malone, New York, about 50 miles east of Canton, in Franklin County.
Olympia was on track to graduate from theological school on July 9, 1863 and once again discussed ordination with President Fisher. He told her he was opposed to her ordination and would speak against it in Malone if she sought it at the Association meeting. She knew that the representatives from the Heuvelton Universalist Church would support her bid for ordination at the meeting, so whether the president of her school supported her or not, she decided to go to Malone and seek ordination by herself.
In June 1863, Malone was bustling with Civil War news and activity. Newspapers were filled with stories about Robert E. Lee’s invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania and speculation that Confederate forces might continue their advance into western New York State and attack Buffalo. A train carrying the Sixteenth Regiment, a unit organized in 1861 with men recruited from Clinton, Franklin and St. Lawrence Counties, had recently pulled into the Malone railroad station. The men’s term of service had expired and the regiment’s 350 men had returned home from the fighting. Ulysses S. Grant had tightened his siege of Vicksburg and the Provost Marshal’s office in Malone was busy registering men under the newly enacted draft law.
Families in Malone were also excited by the fact that on the same day that the St. Lawrence Association of Universalists planned to open their annual two-day conclave, A.P. Ball’s Great Collosseum [sic] would be in Malone to put on a show in a two-center-pole tent that was said to hold 2,000 people. Ticket holders had been promised that they would see “gymnastic feats, acrobatic performances, antique Olympic games, grotesque dances, comic scenes, pantomimes and plays.”
If Olympia had read the local newspapers as she waited for the Association’s meeting to open, she would have been encouraged to see that three women in Malone were advertising their own businesses—a music and drawing teacher, a “fashionable” clothing store operator, and a bonnet and dress trimmings store owner. However, Olympia probably would have been appalled by two other articles about women that were in the newspapers. The first, entitled, “The Art of Wife-Preserving,” provided women with advice about what wives should do to keep their husbands happy.
The tips ranged from “be fresh, fair and fascinating” to “bring him slippers and coffee, care and courtesy” to “acquire cultivation.” The second article, entitled “‘Woman’s Rights’ Which Have Been Overlooked,” listed ten of such “rights.” The number one “right” was “to have her home in order whenever her husband returns from business.” Number two was “to be kind and forebearing whenever her husband is annoyed.” It is highly unlikely that Olympia read the remaining eight “rights.”
Universalist preachers had begun coming to Malone as early as 1824. In 1846, the First Universalist Society of Malone was incorporated and a church building was erected on Main Street. On June 24, 1863, the doors to that church swung open for the first session of the St. Lawrence Universalist Association’s annual meeting, and Olympia walked in to make an argument for her ordination.
Her request to be ordained was “bitterly contested.” Behind the scenes, she learned that one of the most potent arguments brought up against her ordination was that it would “bring down the price of preaching” because it would encourage women to “flock to the ministry.” Nevertheless, the ordaining council voted in favor of ordaining Olympia and the official ceremonies were held on the next day, June 25, 1863. Two weeks later, on July 9, 1863, Olympia became the first woman in U.S. history to become a fully ordained minister with a degree from a recognized theological school, when President Fisher handed Olympia her diploma.
The Reverend Olympia Brown believed that it was her duty as a minister to candidly preach a “living religion” that made war on “the great social and political evils” of her day. She planned to wage battle for the weak and powerless not only in churches, but also in the nation’s streets, homes, lecture halls, government offices and places of business. One of the greatest evils Olympia planned to confront was the subjugation of women. She said, “The United States is an aristocracy of sex. It is the meanest aristocracy on the face of the earth.”
Life for women in America’s “aristocracy of sex” was similar in many ways to life for women living today under Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Women’s speech and participation in public events was proscribed. Their physical movement was limited by the restrictive clothing they were expected to wear. They were not allowed to control property they inherited or money they earned if they were married. Their access to higher education was practically non-existent. And they did not have the right to vote. Olympia dedicated her life to changing all of that.
According to Olympia, women were being fed an education consisting of “broken bits of knowledge, half-truths and make-believes” that were all “crumbs from the rich man’s table.” She said that the female seminaries were “miserable farces” that cheated women out of any semblance of learning. Olympia demanded higher education for women that would give them “the executive ability of the business man, the intellectual acumen of the scholar, the comprehensive thought of the philosopher, and the prophetic vision of the seer.” This kind of higher education would enable a woman to forge armor for herself “to do battle with the world,” to learn how to support herself independently, and to realize “the power and beauty of true womanhood.”
Olympia’s demand for suffrage, the second key women needed to gain self-respect and independence, was couched in religious terms. She said that woman’s suffrage not only involved the principles of democratic government, but also the doctrine of justice taught in the Golden Rule. She contended that God had given women an interest in their government and had intended men and women to rule “side by side.” Paraphrasing words from the Bible, she argued that the founding fathers wanted to create a republic in which there should be “neither Jew nor Greek, nor bond nor free, nor male nor female.”
From the beginning to the end of her career, Olympia fought fearlessly for equal rights for women, never forgetting the biblical exhortation, “Let no man despise you.” She marched, lectured, testified, published, protested and picketed thousands of times from coast to coast.
Olympia was a woman of action. Her small, slim, delicate looking appearance was deceiving. Weighing in at barely 90 pounds, she may not have looked very formidable to bystanders, but she had no fear for her personal safety when she went into action. In 1867, at the age of 32, she campaigned for universal suffrage in the heat of Kansas during the months of July and August. Working alone, she traveled the length and breadth of the state speaking two or three times a day at meetings that were often 50 miles apart. She slept on floors, or in lofts in log cabins, or shared a bed in a dugout or sod house. In one town, by herself, she had to face down a howling mob of men that threw rocks and other debris at the school house where she was speaking.
Fifty years later in Washington D.C., when she was 82, Olympia could still be found courageously demanding equal rights for women. Ignoring the risk of being attacked by gangs of hooting and jeering men as the police looked on, she picketed the White House to protest President Woodrow Wilson’s failure to speak out in favor of woman’s suffrage. A year later in 1918, she joined a protest demonstration in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, on the day Wilson was to be officially received by the French at the peace talks being held in Paris at the end of World War I.
About 400 women gathered to burn all of Wilson’s speeches and books on freedom and democracy. A rowdy group of men also gathered to heckle the protesters. When Olympia stepped forward and threw the speech Wilson gave when he arrived in France, into the fire, the catcalling stopped. Her speech castigating Wilson brought applause and cheers.
Olympia did not censure men only, she had plenty to say about women too. She told them that their indifference and inertia were the greatest obstacles to women’s rights, especially suffrage. She said that sometimes, women just did not fully understand what the women’s movement was all about. At a tea once, the poet and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, told Olympia that the women whose opinions he admired did not favor suffrage for women. She bluntly responded by telling Emerson, “I should not value the opinion of any woman who was opposed to woman’s suffrage.”
When Olympia’s battle for suffrage took her to Washington, D.C. to testify before congressional committees, she often had to joust with women who were opposed to suffrage. At the age of 78, Olympia rebutted the testimony of the treasurer of a national woman’s anti-suffrage association who had charged that woman’s suffrage was a “political disease” and that two-thirds of the suffrage leaders were out and out socialists.
The most serious disputes Olympia had with women took place when she was in her 80’s and was marching and picketing the White House as a member of the militant Woman’s Party. The leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw, condemned the marching and picketing as “disgusting and reprehensible.” Olympia’s state organization in Wisconsin agreed with Catt and Howard and shunned Olympia, describing her activity as “improper.” Olympia answered by accusing her detractors of cowardice and being more interested in receiving publicity than working for principles. In a speech to her association’s board of directors, she asserted that although the U.S. may have entered World War I to make the world safe for democracy, “we cannot say that the United States is a democracy as long as women cannot vote.” To the criticism that it was improper and disgusting for women to march and picket, she declared that women had been dignified and proper for over 60 years and “we still do not have the vote.”
In her personal and religious life, she relentlessly challenged the status quo whenever she believed that it contributed to the subjugation of women. Nothing was sacrosanct—not marriage customs, her fellow ministers, or even the Bible.
In 1915, When Olympia was president of the Federal Suffrage Association, an organization she had helped found in 1892, she criticized the fact that there were so many male preachers. She said that too many of them were “influenced by rich men in their districts” and were “afraid to attack child labor, white slavery, and other evils.” Olympia’s solution? More women should become ministers.
When it came to the Bible, Olympia agreed with Elizabeth Cady Stanton that it was a document that had been written by men for men and that it was largely responsible for the subservient state women found themselves in. To help change that, Olympia worked with a committee that provided commentary for Stanton to use in writing her new book, The Woman’s Bible. It assailed the rampant sexism she ascertained was prevalent in the recently revised King James version of the Bible. Stanton’s book became a best seller.
Olympia was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights who lived by the motto, “Let the chips fall where they may!” She took uncompromising positions which often alienated wealthy business interests, immigrant groups and blacks.
Shortly after she began organizing and speaking out for suffrage for women and black men, she crossed swords with abolitionists, black activists and Republican political leaders who were demanding that black men should get the vote before women did. Her first inkling that women were about to be pushed to the end of the voting rights line behind black men took place at a universal suffrage rally in Kansas in 1867 when she heard Charles Henry Langston, a well-known black activist and educator, ask the audience if they “wanted every old maid to vote?”
Matters came to an ugly head on this issue at a subsequent meeting of the American Equal Rights Association at Cooper Union in New York City where she got into a bitter dispute with another nationally prominent black civil rights leader—Frederick Douglass. After listening to speaker after speaker discuss strategy for winning voting rights for black men, she questioned why no one was speaking up for women, only for black men. Olympia was promptly rebuked by the six-foot tall Douglass who said he championed the right of black men to vote because it was a matter of life and death for them, unlike women. Seething with anger, Olympia stood up and interrupted Douglass asking, “Do you really believe that it is more important for two million Negro men to vote than it is for seventeen million women?” He refused to specifically answer her question but continued to argue that the black man needed the vote to protect his life and property. Olympia responded stating that what Douglass had said about black men, applied equally to black women.
During her career, Olympia refused to defer to wealth and she did not hesitate to tell her parishioners how she felt. In one sermon she said, “There are those today who are worshipping Mammon rather than God . . . [who] would sell their birthright in God's kingdom for a miserable mess of pottage in bank stocks and government bonds and yet they attend church, sit in cushioned pews, and talk about enjoying religion." She ultimately paid a price for being so forthright. Shortly after she was hired to be a minister in Bridgeport, wealthy and influential members of her new church began work to oust her because they were angry the church had hired a woman. They called in ministers from neighboring churches to go among her parishioners telling them “what you need here is a good man.” In the end, she was driven out of her job and she left Bridgeport to become a minister in Racine, Wisconsin in 1878.
Olympia also had a curious duel with the American liquor industry. She supported temperance because she believed the liquor interests were “destroying body and mind” with “the poisons” they were selling—“a great and manifest evil.” However, she was opposed to connecting temperance with woman’s suffrage, as other organizations had done. She had seen in Kansas how the liquor industry fought woman’s suffrage with newspaper ads, posters and speakers which warned voters that if women got the vote, they would shut down all the saloons. Olympia was convinced that identifying prohibition with woman’s suffrage was a political error. She said doing so “put us back twenty-five years.”
In the 1880’s, when vast numbers of “new” immigrants from central and southern Europe arrived in the United States and became eligible to vote, Olympia made some of the most acrimonious statements of her career. She said it was “unbearable” that American women were “the political inferiors of all the riffraff of Europe that is poured upon our shores.” Olympia stated that it was an “enormous injustice to women” that “we enfranchise the saloon and the poorhouse, the irresponsible classes” and “make the daughters of America subject to the serfs and slaves from the old world.” She was infuriated that political leaders gave the vote to “aliens, paupers, tramps and drunkards” while refusing to give it to “teachers, church members, preachers, and mothers.”
Olympia did not expect to see “complete victory” for women’s rights in her lifetime. She believed that “each generation must be content to do its part, leaving it for others” to do theirs. Recognizing that woman’s suffrage, in and of itself, would not grant women equal rights, Olympia called for Congress to introduce an equal rights amendment, immediately after it adopted the woman’s suffrage amendment. She could foresee that an equal rights amendment would not only help women make additional gains, it would also prevent Congress from passing laws to take rights away from women.
As pressure on Congress to enact a constitutional guarantee of equality for women builds again, and debate in Albany about new legislation to protect and expand women’s rights heats up, words on a bronze tablet installed by St. Lawrence University to honor the centennial of Olympia’s graduation and ordination are more meaningful than ever on this, the sesquicentennial, of her history-making accomplishments. The last sentence on the tablet proclaims, “The Flame of her Spirit Still Burns Today.”
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Who Was Afraid of Olympia Brown?
Today Unitarian Universalists point proudly to the Reverend Olympia Brown as an example of the denomination’s forward thinking attitude regarding women in the ministry. However, Olympia had not always been so esteemed by her Universalist colleagues. Today UU’s cite the memorial plaque to her at the Washington D.C. Universalist Church. It states “He who works in harmony with justice is immortal.” Presumably she is, too. According to Gwendolen Willis, this was her mother’s favorite quotation. In her day the Universalist establishment was not always so admiring of the Reverend Olympia Brown.
In working for justice, Olympia was fierce, feisty, and relentless. She had no time for the social niceties with which women were expected to concern themselves. Uncompromising on matters of principle, she had no patience with incompetence.
Olympia Brown had to struggle constantly to make inroads into the male monolith that was the Universalist ministry. Rather than being welcomed as an opportunity to have Universalists “live their soul,” she was discouraged first from enrolling in Divinity School, then from becoming an ordained parish minister and finally from progressing in her ministry.
Although in her autobiography Olympia is circumspect regarding her disillusionment, her daughter indicates that her mother time and again was given struggling parishes in various need of financial, emotional or spiritual sustenance. These parishes were available because few other ministers wanted to take on the problems they presented. Olympia worked with each parish diligently and effectively. Several times she was able to turn the parish around until it would appeal to a male minister. Even after Olympia proved her abilities as a minister, so called desirable parishes failed to come her way.
First of all, there was the matter of money, so often the defining factor in our dealings with one another, whether social, religious, political or familial. It was thought that having too many women enter the ministry would bring down the price of preaching, since they would, of course, accept lesser salaries.
Then there was the age old argument of opening up the floodgates. As one woman opined at the time of Olympia’s ordination, she would no doubt be the precursor to dozens and dozens of women entering the ministry, no doubt to deleterious effect.
Another dangerous precedent was the matter of public speaking. This, as the Grimke sisters and Ernestine Rose learned so painfully, was not considered a woman’s role. Such usurpation of the man’s rightful sphere could have only the most dire consequences.
Indeed, in1837, the Reverend Nehemiah Adams was so appalled at the prospect of a woman on the speaker’s platform, or worse yet in the pulpit, that he felt it incumbent upon his august personage to deliver the following warning to the Congregational Churches of Massachusetts:
“There are dangers which at present seem to threaten the female character with widespread and permanent injury.” He then proceed to denounce the behavior of females who “so far forget themselves as to itinerate in the character of public lecturers and teachers.”
Women, and the Reverend Adams apparently had this on good authority, should “abide by appropriate duties and influence as stated in the New Testament.” He then assures us that a woman’s strength derives from her dependence and weakness.
“But when she assumes the place and tone of a man as a public reformer, our care and protection of her seem unnecessary…and her character becomes unnatural. If the vine, whose strength and beauty is to lean upon the trellis work and half conceal its clusters, thinks to assume the independent and overshadowing nature of the elm, it will not only cease to bear fruit, but will fall in shame and dishonor into the dust.”
Rev. Nehemiah Adams
Pastoral Letter to the General Association of the Massachusetts Congregational Churches, as quoted in Grimke Sisters of South Carolina, by Gerda Lerner, (p.189).
Here we have it! The decline of civilization in one fell swoop and all because there are women who apparently do not know their place. They are unnatural and will become barren and then where will civilization, as we know it, be? Because of uppity women like Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Susan B. Anthony, Mary Livermore, and Victoria Woodhull, danger was lurking everywhere.
Apparently nobody had ever told these women about the joys of being a vine. They wanted to be an elm, or an oak or a chestnut.
This letter was written when Olympia Brown was only two years old…fortunately for the Reverend Adams. Or he might have been the recipient of one of her memorable missives. The attitude captured in this exhortation, however, characterized the established ministry even in the 1860’s, when Olympia was looking for a parish.
In addition to resistance on the part of some of the male religious establishment, one thing that might have made the ministerial road a bit more difficult for Olympia was her personality.
As described by her daughter, Gwendolen Willis, her mother “was indomitable and uncompromising, traits that do not lend themselves well to politics and leadership. She cared little for society, paid no deference to wealth, represented an unfashionable church, and promoted a cause (woman suffrage) regarded as certain to be unsuccessful. She was troublesome because she asked people to do things, to work, contribute money, go to meetings, think and declare themselves openly as favoring a principle or public measure.” (Olympia Brown: The Battle for Equality, Charlotte Cote, Mother Courage Press, 1988, p. 171)
Her work in the woman suffrage movement gives us a clear idea of the type of woman the Universalist hierarchy had to deal with.
After the Wisconsin Suffrage Association, which Olympia led for many years, became embroiled in an internal personnel struggle and asked Olympia to step down, the powers that came to be had second thoughts. They decided, as a consolation prize, to invite her, in the capacity of elder stateswoman, to their state suffrage convention. Olympia replied in two sentences:
“I do not think I shall be needed at Tower Hill. I never go where I am of no use.” (Cote, p. 154)
Although she greatly admired the early suffragists, she made no attempt to hide the fact that the second generation, led by Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw did not measure up. Olympia was convinced that they were too busy being proper, socially acceptable ladies to lead the movement effectively.
It was her firm opinion that the movement languished between 1890-1910 because of their lackluster leadership. When asked to make a donation to a fund honoring Anna Howard Shaw as she ended her presidency of the National American Suffrage Association in 1916, the reply sent was vintage Olympia. It reads in part:
“We are engaged in carrying forward the greatest reform that has ever been undertaken in behalf of freedom. We have only made a beginning: there is yet much to be done. All the money that can be raised should be applied to the accomplishment of the object for which we have all worked so long. Besides, I do not approve of making such gifts of money to individual workers. It introduces commercialism into the advocacy of a cause which should be sacred and which calls for self-consecration and self-sacrifice.
Hundreds of women have worked longer than Miss Shaw and sacrificed more.
You speak of this as a ‘national tribute.’ This would surely be a misnomer…as there is a great diversity of opinion in regard to Miss Shaw’s character and methods and a great variety of estimates in regard to the value of her work….
You mention as a reason for this contribution ‘that those closest to her know that she has contributed of her capital.’ The inference is that she is in need. This cannot be the case. Miss Shaw is strong, she has a splendid gift of oratory, and she is most thoroughly advertised. She can command, at any time, a fine salary by her own independent effort…Under these circumstances, I do not feel justified in making any such pledge as you request…
Olympia Brown to Cora M. Stearns
January 19, 1916
(Cote, p. 155-6)
It was always so difficult to tell what was on Olympia Brown’s mind!
As this letter demonstrates, she was opinionated, independent and outspoken. Olympia leaves little doubt that she regards Anna Shaw as someone of dubious abilities and unimpressive accomplishments.
One can readily see why the Reverend Olympia Brown might have had a challenging career as a parish minister. Consider her determined, forthright, take no prisoners personality, and remember what a contrast this was to the conventional image of the 19th century middle class woman who was to be predominantly decorative and decorous. It is not hard to see why many in the Universalist establishment were indeed afraid of Olympia Brown.
Her difficulties began when she applied for admission to Divinity School.
John Morgan of Oberlin informed her, in April of 1861, that they had never received a lady as a regular member of the Theology Department. However, “if a lady wishes to avail herself of any facilities which here exist to improve her knowledge of Scriptures or systematic theology, we are glad to give her our help.” (letters quoted are from Olympia Brown Papers at the Schlesinger Library, folder 127). In other words, Miss Brown was welcome to come to study, but she should not think of becoming a minister,
From Meadville Theological School in Pennsylvania, on June 16, 1861, came this interesting response to Olympia Brown’s application. Mr. Stearns questioned the propriety of his “taking a step which will change the whole future policy of the school.” After apologizing for having kept her waiting for a reply he allowed as how “were it my private concern, I should say at once ‘come!’ I have no prejudice against a woman’s studying anything she can or against a woman’s speaking in public. From what I’ve heard of you, I’d be glad to have you for a pupil and more like you. But I have no right to commit the Institution to a new course of action.”
What a comfort it must have been for Olympia to know that Mr. Stearns was not prejudiced, but………….
Shortly thereafter followed a letter from Ebenezer Fisher, president of the Theological School in Canton advising Olympia to study Greek there and board with a private family. He confirms September 25, 1861 as the beginning of her study. Then he adds: ” It is perhaps proper that I should say you may have some prejudices to encounter in the institution from students and also in the community here. Nothing very mighty or serious, I trust…The faculty will receive and treat you precisely as they would any other student.
My own judgment is that it is not expedient for women to become preachers, but I consider it purely a question of experience and not at all of right–the right I cannot question. The other matter of expedience or duty I cannot decide for you. I am willing to leave it between you and the Great Head of the Church.
If you feel He has called you to preach the everlasting Gospel, you shall receive from me no hindrance but rather every aid in my power.” (June 21, 1861)
In her autobiography, Olympia wrote: “this, I thought, was just where it should be left, and I could not ask anything better. But when I arrived, I was told that I had not been expected, and that Mr. Fisher had said that I would not come as he had written so discouragingly to me.” (Autobiography, p 27)
Ebenezer Fisher, alas, had a poor sense of audience.
Olympia continues: “I had supposed his discouragement was my encouragement, and I went with high hope and great expectation…In spite of the real opposition to my becoming a minister, which I later found existed at St. Lawrence, I was treated fairly by the professors in so far as my work was concerned…some of them, and also their wives, were even cordial and kind. President Fisher…..in spite of his discomfiture at my entering the school, was just to me as a student and never discriminated against me until I began to take steps looking toward ordination.” (Autobiography, p. 27)
Although she makes note of a few men who made derogatory remarks about her sermons and mocked her high pitched voice, she casts most of her divinity school experiences in a positive light. In her letters to Isabella Beecher Hooker, however, she remarks that those students who did everything to demean and discourage her were inevitably Republicans. Many years later, when she is organizing Connecticut for the woman suffrage movement she vividly remembers their slights and is determined to do nothing to aid the Republican cause in Connecticut.
Rather than belabor her difficulties at Divinity School, Olympia sums things up in one sentence: “My second year was less disagreeable than the first.” (Autobiography, p.29)
Already showing signs of her abilities as an organizer and strategist, Olympia found out during her second year at St. Lawrence that the Northern Universalist Association was to hold its meeting in Malone, New York. She resolved to go there and formally ask for ordination. Because members of this ordaining council knew something of Olympia’s work and of her character, she felt that they would look upon her possible ordination more favorably than other bodies elsewhere might. When the day of her application approached, she wrote, “I was told that Mr. Fisher was opposed to my being ordained. In fact he stated that I could ‘go to Malone if I chose,’ speaking in a significant manner which seemed to say that I would be sorry, for he would oppose me.” ( Autobiography, p.29-30) Olympia counted on the fact that one of the council delegates was almost certain to support her candidacy. He was from Heuvelton, New York, where she had preached. So impressed was the Universalist congregation there that they had invited her to become their preacher.
She writes: “So, I went to the presence of that body (the ordaining council) feeling quite confident and although there was much discussion and opposition, I spoke for myself, and when the vote was taken it was in my favor. The ceremony took place. Mr Fisher had so far overcome his feelings that he took part in the exercises….
Afterward Mrs. Fisher, who had been especially opposed to me, had said gloomily to one of my classmates “You will see now the consequence of this. Next year there will be fifteen women in the class, and then women will flock to the ministry.” (Autobiography, p.30)
After graduation, Prof. J. L. Lee of St. Lawrence Univ. helped arrange for Olympia to fill the pulpit of Marshfield, Vermont, being vacated by the Rev. Eli Ballou. After a trial Sunday, Olympia was invited to become their preacher.
However, it seemed that progressive thinking among Universalists only extended so far. Although willing to have a woman preacher, a great credit to the congregation at that time, permitting her to live in their homes was another matter entirely for the good Universalists of Marshfield, Vermont. Olympia said she was surprised to realize that “people would be willing to have as a teacher and spiritual guide a woman whom they would not have in their own families.” (Autobiography, p.32)
Realizing that the new minister would not find lodging in town, Mr. And Mrs. Smith, living a mile away in the country, sought her out and asked Olympia to stay with them. Taking such a radical step might be expected of this couple, since they were Democrats, and therefore quite beyond the pale in respectable Vermont.
At this time, she also secured for herself preaching duties at East Montpelier, seven miles way, since Marshfield was a half time ministry.
As the year wore on, family concerns caused Olympia to return home. Her brother, Arthur, had become seriously ill while at the University of Michigan. Olympia went there to help her mother care for him.
By the Spring of 1864 her brother’s condition had stabilized and Olympia went to Boston. She consulted with the Reverend A.A. Milne, then considered the leader of the Universalists (and not of Winnie the Pooh fame). Where, she wondered would it be best to apply for a pastorate and what did he think was the general outlook for women’s preaching?
She tells us that he spoke of the opposition still prevalent toward women and remarked, ‘It is no use opposing them. If they can’t preach they won’t preach. People don’t do what they can’t do.” (Autobiography, p. 33) Milne suggested she try Weymouth Landing.
She preached there one Sunday on trial and stayed for six years. Of this time Olympia writes: “My pastorate in Weymouth was perhaps the most enjoyable part of my ministerial career. The work had all the fascination of a new problem. I had nothing else to divide my attention and my people were thoroughly united and most congenial.” (Autobiography, p.33)
In this felicitous environment, Olympia’s ministerial skills grew.
By every indication, she was a dedicated, capable and inspiring minister. Her sermons reflected the teachings of the merciful and compassionate God of Universalism who loves all Her creatures equally.
Rather than standing behind her pulpit, sermon notes spread out in front of her, Olympia came directly down into the congregation. She worked her sermons over with such care that she needed few notes, by the time Sunday arrived. Thanks to her elocution training at the Dio Lewis School in Boston (which would go on to train the formidable speaking voice of one James Michael Curley), Olympia’s voice carried and she became a commanding presence in church.
Gone were the thin high pitched tones that were such a source of amusement to some of her fellow Divinity students.
In 1871, one year after Olympia decided to leave Weymouth for her star crossed ministry in Bridgeport, George Baker, a grateful parishioner writes to tell her how grateful Weymouth was to her careful guidance of the parish. Tokens of affection for her, made by the Sunday school, were enclosed in the letter. Baker mentioned how the Sunday school is prospering, based on her good work there. Indeed, the entire congregation had benefited from the sound footing she has created for the church. He closed with this wonderful admonition, “Don’t wait for any more women’s rights. We think you can manage Him with what you have.” (Olympia Brown papers)
From the outset, her path at the Bridgeport church seemed to have been one fraught with peril. A letter by Samuel Larkin, dated August 1st (presumed to be 1871) asked to retain Olympia’s services and implored her not to leave, as he felt the church is just starting to prosper under her guidance. He regretted the difficulties she had encountered in the past year, but was optimistic about a brighter future and noted that, “with one exception, all are satisfied with your course.” He feared the church would not be able to go on if she left. (Olympia Brown papers, Schlesinger Library)
Although Olympia felt she was preaching well in Bridgeport, she felt almost at once coldness and covert hostility coming from a small fraction of the congregation that refused to be won over. The faction was led by a Mr. James Staples, whom Olympia described in a letter to Isabella Beecher Hooker, as an evil man. Yet she persisted….and so did he.
In spite of the fact that many church members, including P.T. Barnum, supported their minister, the anti-woman and therefore anti-Olympia faction would not relent.
Having married John Henry Willis in 1873, Olympia gave birth to a son, Henry Parker, the following year. During her absence, she arranged for Dr. Lee of the Canton Theological School to take her place. Upon her return to her parish, she writes: “I saw no cause to be dissatisfied with the condition of my parish so far as I knew. But some ill feeling began to appear, the exact cause of which I never learned. There had always been a small faction in the church which had been opposed to a woman minister. This faction now began to work up its opposition and although (or because) my parish gave me a vote of endorsement passed by a large majority, these enemies continued their underhand work, calling in ministers from neighboring churches to go among the people promulgating this doctrine, “What you need here is a good man.” It is not necessary to recount the results of this, the division of the people and the consequent acts of injustice, nor are these facts incompatible with an actual record of successful work for between six and seven years and an enlarged church and Sunday School. I left this church and we remained in Bridgeport two years longer, during which time my daughter Gwendolen was born.” (Autobiography, p. 40)
Thus, in one short paragraph, Olympia dispatches what was probably the most painful and difficult time of her ministry.
Perhaps her reluctance in writing her autobiography in the first place stemmed from her feeling that useful work was to be done by actions geared toward the future, rather than ruminations about the past. Still, it is most remarkable that she can relate such a shattering experience in such a businesslike fashion. No muss, no fuss, no wringing of hands. Just the facts.
Only in her letters do we get a more detailed account of what went wrong in Bridgeport.
While Olympia was away in Elmira N.Y. to bear her second child and take part in a new method of child delivery called the “water cure,” Mr. Staples and his minions seized the moment to agitate for a change in pastorate.
Olympia’s biographer, Charlotte Cote, gives us a perfect description of his methods: “He pecked away at her ministry like a raucous crow, attacking from any and every direction….In spite of her efforts, Olympia’s flock began to scatter…he was a bitter agitator” whose influence became so invidious that Olympia’s best efforts at conciliation failed. He went so far as to organize meetings which ministers from other churches came to so they could inveigh against women preachers. (Cote, p. 112-113)
Due to the untiring efforts of this man of God, the church split and in 1875 a special meeting was called. At this time the Staples faction requested that “the acting Trustees of said society are not hereafter restrained from employing any Gentleman in good standing as a clergyman.” (cited by Jane Ciarcia in a letter dated Feb. 24, 1979, Brown papers)
The insult to Olympia could not have been more stunning. The resolution, passed by the church she had so devotedly ministered to, stated that any gentleman in good standing, regardless of qualification, could be called to the ministry of this Universalist church. Although she retained the loyalty of the Board of Trustees and some faithful parishioners, it was apparent that the fabric of the church was torn beyond repair.
In March 1876, there was not enough money to hire a preacher, due to an injunction put upon the church by the dissenters. The Board of Trustees resigned in protest.
So ended Olympia Brown’s ministry at the Universalist Church of Bridgeport, Connecticut. It had been an excoriating experience for her.
Ever the unsinkable Olympia Brown, though, she began looking for a new parish shortly after her daughter, Gwendolen, was born. She writes that “after the tempestuous time in Bridgeport, I considered where I should go to continue the work of preaching, to which I had, as I thought, a distinct calling.” (Autobiog. p. 40)
Curiously, A.H. Saxon, writing for the Proceedings of the UU Historical Society in 1988 , concludes that the struggle in Bridgeport put an end to Olympia Brown’s ministerial career.
In his article, ominously titled, “Acts of Injustice or Failed Ministry?,” Mr. Saxon states that “the evidence suggests (and is not cited by the author) that her increasing militancy on behalf of women’s rights-both inside and outside the church led to her undoing. Her staunchest supporters were themselves overwhelmed by a small faction led by Staples” (“Acts of Injustice of Failed Ministry,” by A.H. Saxon, Proceedings of the UU Historical Society, Vol XXI, Part I, 1987-88, p. 63)
This would imply that Olympia neglected her work as a minister to devote her time to suffrage. Her letters, however, do not bear this out, since they show her actively recruiting speakers, tending to the growth of the Sunday school and lavishing enormous amounts of time on her sermons. She felt that she was preaching better than ever before, but that nothing that she seemed to accomplish as a minister dissuaded the Staples faction from their determination to remove her. The sermons from that time, many of which are among her papers at the Schlesinger Library, speak for themselves. Anyone with experience in writing or in sermonizing can readily see that they could not have been written in haste by someone whose mind was elsewhere.
Olympia Brown was much too devoted to the cause of Universalism to take her ministry lightly or neglect it to further another cause. In her letters to Isabella Beecher Hooker there are several that show how deeply committed Olympia was to Universalism. In one letter, she apologizes for espousing her beliefs with such passion and thus overwhelming the gentle Isabella with her religious fervor.
On November 25, 1872, E.H. Cobb wrote to Olympia from East Boston, to thank for a recent visit with her and with her husband. He recalls fondly being with people who have “the same warm and loving hearts beating in perfect unison with my own. I appreciate such friends and when once possessed, I never give them up. I think, Sister Brown, that we do not need to wait till we shake off this mortal coil to find ‘heaven,’ for we surely can have the kingdom within us here, when we love one another . You and I are blest with large and loving hearts that make us feel the assurance that we ‘have passed from death to life.” After indicating that he has some sermons to discuss with her, he ends with this” “I am delighted, my dear sister, of the high commendations which so often come to me of your great success in the great work of your ministry. I should rejoice to see you in your prosperous and growing parish.” (E.H. Cobb, Nov. 25, 1872, Schlesinger Papers)
This would not be how I would describe a failed ministry.
Mr. Saxon also implies that Olympia’s allying herself with questionable women in the suffrage movement accounted for the upright people of the Bridgeport Universalist congregation needing to distance themselves from her. Of course, Victoria Woodhull’s name is brought forth as a prime example of such misalliances. Oddly enough, the name of the respectable Isabella Beecher Hooker, of the esteemed Beechers of Hartford, is not mentioned here. This in spite of the fact that Isabella and Olympia were the closest of friends and colleagues in the struggle to win the vote for women. Nor is the name of Paulina Wright Davis, a cherished suffrage co-worker from a very prominent family in Newport, Rhode Island cited.
Other errors of fact occur in Mr. Saxon’s article. John Henry Willis, a very successful business owner from Weymouth, is dismissed as a grocer from Bridgeport.
Furthermore, how could Olympia’s struggle in Bridgeport have put an end to her ministry when she went on to become a full time minister in Racine, Wisconsin for almost nine years? After that she helped out smaller churches in Wisconsin who could not afford to hire a full time minister.
Is there no life west of the Hudson?
Mary Livermore had been encouraging Olympia to look to the West, convinced that the attitude toward women in the frontier states was much more enlightened than in the supposedly sophisticated East. As early as March 3, 1869, Livermore had written to her friend: “I would leave the East. Here is the field for the present. We shall have woman suffrage here first…You must come out here–everything is at flood tide.”
Offering to help Olympia in any way, Livermore writes: “I know you do not think this generosity capable of me and that you believe me only to be self-seeking. That has been written of me so often I’m not likely to be ignorant of it. But that is because you do not know me. Not so am I judged here where I have lived a dozen years. Come and I will convince you you are mistaken.” (Livermore to Brown, March 3, 1869, Schlesinger Library).
The idea of a new location intrigued Olympia, particularly since she had grown up and gone to school in Michigan and Ohio.
Olympia hoped that if the West was the land of new beginnings and new opportunities for men, it would be doubly so for women.
Unfettered by the upper middle class dictum to be sweet, simple, and silent, frontierswomen needed to be resilient, resourceful, independent and strong. This was not the place for tight corsets, bustles and fainting couches. These women were expected to work along side their husbands in the fields, keep house and raise families under the most difficult circumstances as well as to endure isolation and often deprivation without complaint. There was no time to have vapors or to spend hours getting ready to take tea.
Life in the West was not without its challenges for women. After a bitter campaign, in which Olympia played a key role, Kansas, in 1867, had refused to pass a suffrage amendment. In Wisconsin, the suffrage struggle, even when later led by the indefatigable Olympia, was fierce, frustrating and often fruitless.
The Church of the Good Shepherd, the Universalist church in Racine, Wisconsin, had been without a minister for some time. Perhaps that was why they would consider a woman minister. No doubt few, if any, male ministers had applied. In any event, Olympia certainly found the congregation in Racine more hospitable to a woman minister than it was in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Unfortunately, her new parish was also in disarray. Its clerk, Mr. A.C. Fish, honorably not wanting Olympia to move her family half way across the country for a dubious ministerial experience, wrote her a candid letter describing the state of the church. It seems that “a series of pastors, easy-going, impractical, some even spiritually unworthy, had left the church adrift, in debt, hopeless and doubtful whether any pastor could again arouse them.” (Autobiography, p.40-41)
Olympia tell us “those who may read this will think it strange that I could only find a field in run-down or comatose churches, but they must remember that the pulpits of all the prosperous churches were already occupied by men and were looked forward to as the goal of all the young men coming into the ministry with whom I, at first the only woman preacher in the denomination, had to compete. All I could do was to take some place that had been abandoned by others and make something of it, and this I was only too glad to do.” (Autobio. p. 41)
And so, Olympia headed West in February of 1878.
At this point, we must pay tribute to supportive and feminist husbands. Olympia described her life partner as “one of the truest, and best men that ever lived, firm in his religious convictions, loyal to every right principle, strictly honest and upright all his life…He shared in all my undertakings. I could have married no better man.” (Autobiography, p. 41)
Having sold his business, John Henry Willis had first followed Olympia from Weymouth to Bridgeport, hoping to win her hand. This, as it turned out, was not a task for the faint of heart and he patiently continued his courtship until success was his. In Bridgeport he again went into business and willingly closed it when the time came to move to Racine. There he invested in a newspaper publishing and job printing business. His newspaper, The Racine Times Call, flourished. It would later become part of the The Journal Times, which is still the Racine daily newspaper.
How the move to Racine was undertaken says a great deal about the partnership that was the marriage of these two remarkable people. Undaunted by the thought of moving such a great distance with two very young children, no job awaiting him in Racine and only Olympia’s small salary from a precarious parish as security, John Henry Willis set out for Wisconsin ahead of his family. His goal was to find a comfortable home and get everything in readiness for the arrival of his strong willed mother-in-law, his goal oriented wife and his children.
We can assume that both husband and wife knew how to manage their finances well and had some savings to draw upon at this point. John Henry bought a spacious two story house overlooking Lake Michigan. With rolling lawns and handsome trees, it would be the perfect home for his little band. There was also room for a garden, which turned out to be one of the joys of Olympia’s life. She was to live in the house on Lake Avenue (then called Chatham Street) until her later years. Perhaps it was John Henry’s goal to help Olympia look forward to a bright new beginning in a new land after her disappointment in Bridgeport.
Having house hunted on his own most successfully, he then returned to Bridgeport to help with the move.
From all accounts, John Henry was an astute businessman and his help in keeping the family on a sound financial footing was invaluable. In addition, once in their new home, he became active in community affairs, served as vestryman at Olympia’s church, joined the music committee and taught in the Sunday School. He often helped with child care and was unfailingly supportive of Olympia’s work, whether with the church or in the suffrage movement. When travel was necessary for Olympia, he and Lephia, Olympia’s mother, capably managed the home front.
To Mr. Fish’s discouraging assessment of the Church of the Good Shepherd Olympia had replied in February of 1878 that “I am sent to just such churches. Let me come and see what I can do. (Cote p. 117). Now she set about doing it. A building campaign was undertaken. Pastoral calls were made conscientiously. The Sunday School was nurtured and contrary to Mr. Fish’s gloomy predictions, Olympia was able to resurrect her parish.
Understanding how important it was for the church in a small frontier town to be more than a spiritual home, Olympia set out to make her church a social center as well as a place of learning. She writes: “I felt it my duty, as well as a pleasure, to bring to the town as many important speakers as I could command and our church became know for its lecture courses and entertainments. Some of those who had come to Bridgeport at my invitation now came to Racine to speak. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Julia Ward Howe, Mary A. Livermore, Phoebe Hanaford, and others of less distinction but great merit occupied our platform.” (Autobiog. p. 43)
Of her time at the Church of the Good Shepherd, a ministry that was to last almost nine years, Olympia writes that we “proved to be a very happy company of believers, bound together by our regard for the great principles of Universalism.”
Susan B. Anthony, who knew talent when she saw it and was relentless in her pursuit of it for the woman suffrage movement, had been campaigning for years to have Olympia devote herself full time to suffrage. After Olympia’s resourcefulness, endurance and courage during the campaign in Kansas, Anthony knew her woman and worked tirelessly to win her over as a full time suffrage worker. In Olympia, however, even the formidable Susan met her match. Her heart belonged to the ministry and it would be there that she would focus her energies.
Finally, though, Susan’s Olympia campaign bore fruit. In 1887 Olympia Brown resigned her ministry in Racine. She would never again be a full time minister. Although she continued to preach in the small parishes of Mukwonago, Columbus and Neenah, between 1893-1898, her days as a full time resident minister were over.
Her letters show a fervent dedication to Universalist principles. She was a gifted sermonizer, a compassionate pastor and a competent church administrator. She had struggled and sacrificed to become one of the first women ministers in America. Why, then did she give it up?
Was it because, as her daughter had said, she had only been given struggling parishes that were not attractive to male ministers? Was it because, at the age of 52, she was ready for a new challenge? Was it because she felt torn between her work as a minister and her work in the suffrage movement? Did she see victory at hand for suffrage, a cause she cared deeply about, if more women such as she would devote themselves to winning the vote?
Her autobiography is not very revealing on this point. She mentions the difficulty of passing some suffrage legislation in Wisconsin, which required a canvass of the entire state to instruct women about their rights. This involved tremendous town to town organizing and tireless discussions with women to enlist them in the suffrage cause. Olympia concludes that “at length the consequence of this was the resignation of my ministerial work in Racine, which occurred in 1887.” (Autobiog. p 43) That’s it.
Tellingly, however, this fifth chapter of her autobiography, entitled “Ministry,” ends with this: “There is certainly room for women in the ministry. It is often said of a preacher ‘he is a good preacher but no pastor. He does not call upon his people.’ This is because one man cannot do everything, and the same person is not usually suited to both pastoral work and pulpit service. One of these should be a woman.
But women are not urged to enter the ministry.
At a convention a few years ago at La Crosse, Wisconsin, the audience being composed largely of women, a minister addressed himself wholly to young men, showing them the great advantages of Lombard University (a co-educational institution, by the way). I called out, “What about young women, Doctor?” He replied that no church had ever asked that a woman pastor be sent so far as he knew. He then described the difficulties which a woman would encounter but, said he, “if a woman accepts these difficulties Lombard is hers. (Lombard had refused admission to Olympia Brown). I afterwards showed him that such talk as he had given created a public sentiment against women’s preaching. Ministers are themselves largely responsible for the limited number of women who enter the ministry. The churches are prepared by such talk not to want a woman as pastor. Yet, not withstanding this discouragement and small remuneration, a number of women are doing good work as ministers, chiefly in the Universalist and Unitarian denominations.” (Autobiography, p.44)
How proud Olympia would be today that her spiritual daughters are taking their places in Universalist and Unitarian congregations throughout the world. And today, women predominate in the UU ministry.
One hundred years after her ordination, the theological school that was so reluctant to let her enter their hallowed halls had an impressive ceremony to honor its first woman graduate. It was a fitting, if somewhat overdue tribute.
However, the pomp and circumstance of academic processions and high flown tributes never really impressed the no fuss, no frills Rev. Brown.
More than this I think she would have been touched by the efforts of a group of smart and tireless women at the Church of the Good Shepherd almost 100 years after she had been a minister there. It seems there was an elementary school in Racine that was to be re-named. Ever alert to singing their foremother’s praises, a committee from the church submitted Olympia Brown’s name, with all attendant support material. The School Board winnowed the list to three possible choices. Olympia’s name was not among them.
This would not do. The women, led by Marcia Alexander, Jane Beauregard and Margaret Wernecke, went to work. Other church members were mobilized in a campaign that would be the envy of any presidential candidate. Everyone connected to the church was prevailed upon to canvass, buttonhole, exhort and cajole any friend, acquaintance, co-worker, neighbor or casual passer by. Calls were made, letters were written, debts were called in, meetings were held, petitions were circulated–in short, the monolithic public school bureaucracy was no match for these daughters of Olympia. Finally the School Board relented and allowed her name in what was now to become “the final four” choices.
In Racine, Wisconsin there is now an Olympia Brown Elementary School. The final vote of the school board to name the school in her honor was unanimous. Wonder how that happened?
The Church of the Good Shepherd in Racine has been re-named the Olympia Brown Church.
The plaque honoring her as the first woman to be graduated by the Theological School at St. Lawrence University reads:
“Her Universalist ordination in 1863 made her the first woman in our country to achieve full ministerial standing recognized by a denomination.
|Preacher of Universalism |
Pioneer and Champion of Women’s Citizenship Rights
Forerunner of the New Era
THE FLAME OF HER SPIRIT STILL BURNS TODAY.
And the Reverend Olympia Brown stands before us still, fiery and fearless.
Notable Women B
She grew up in the Cambridgeport (MA) Universalist church and married the Rev. Henry Bacon on Sept. 19, 1836. She shared his ministries in East Cambridge, Haverhill, Marblehead and Providence (RI). Her book, A Memoir of Rev. Henry Bacon, was published in 1857 (Boston: A. Tompkins).
Emma Eliza Bailey (Sept. 18, 1844-Nov. 23, 1920) Universalist
Born in Wilmington VT, she moved with her family as her father, who was a minister, served different congregations. After his death she and her mother joined her brother who was settled in Titusville PA. Emma began writing for the Christian Leader and later for the Star in the West. She began supply preaching and was licensed by the Universalist Missionary Board of the Miami (OH) Association. She considered herself a missionary and worked with many churches. However, Emma spent a total of over twenty years at Mansfield PA in three different settlements. Her autobiography, Happy Day, or the Confessions of a Woman Minister (New York: European Publishing Company, 1901), provides a fascinating look at the life of a woman in ministry and includes the texts of several of her sermons.
Florence Christiansen Bailey (May 30, 1925-Nov. 15, 1995) Unitarian Universalist
Born in New Jersey of Danish backgrounds, “Chris” worked in the chemistry laboratory of an oil company alter finishing high school. At the same time she attended County Junior College full time. Later she graduated from the State University of Iowa where she met and married Gerald Bailey and converted to Unitarianism. While raising six children, she served Unitarian Universalist churches in Ann Arbor MI and Montclair NJ as Director of Religious Education. When her marriage ended, she enrolled in Starr King School for the Ministry and received her Masters of Divinity in 1978. She served churches in Cleveland Heights OH and Fayetteville AR.
Harriet S. Baker (Sept. 11, 1820-?) Universalist
She was born in Norridgewock ME, far from any organized church, but was a life-long Universalist. An invalid for nearly forty years, she never married, but wrote for the Gospel Banner and New Covenant. Because there was no Sunday school nearby, she organized classes in her home and taught local children for over twenty years.
(Sara) Josephine Baker (Nov. 15, 1873-Feb. 22, 1945) Unitarian
Children’s health reformer, physician, public health administrator, she was for many years a Unitarian. After beginning her medical career in private practice in New York City, she was appointed a city medical inspector working in poor African American and Irish American neighborhoods. As Assistant to the health commissioner in 1907, she helped find “Typhoid Mary.” Her advocacy of breast-feeding among Italian immigrants contributed significantly to a lowering of the infant death rate and led to the establishment of the Bureau of Child Hygiene. A popular speaker, she published three books in 1920: Healthy Babies, Healthy Mothers, and Healthy Children. Later a she added The Growing Child (1923) and Child Hygiene (1925). She wrote over 200 articles for the popular press and some 50 articles for the American Journal of Public Health. Her autobiography is called Fighting for Life (1939).
Emily Greene Balch (Jan. 8, 1867-Jan. 9, 1961) raised Unitarian
She grew up in the Jamaica Plain Unitarian Church in Boston MA. but later in life joined the Quakers. The first recipient of the Bryn Mawr European Fellowship, she went to the Sorbonne to study political economy and published the results of her research. Public Assistance of the Poor in France (1893).. After further study and travel, she became an economics professor at Wellesley College in 1896, teaching about socialism, Marxism, immigration, consumption, and the economic roles of women. She also served on numerous public commissions, including the first one on minimum wage. Her major work, Our Slavic Fellow Citizens (1902), includes economic analysis and first-hand viewpoints of immigrants and counters nativist racial assumptions common at that time. She was a pacifist, became active in international peace work, and helped found the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), while also writing for The Nation (1917-18). Because of her radical activism, Wellesley chose not to renew her contract in 1919, so she became a full-time worker for WILPF. Based on a special mission to Haiti, she wrote and edited Occupied Haiti (1927), recommending removal of troops and restoration of self-government. In 1939, she circulated Refugees as Assets, an appeal to the United States to welcome refugees from Nazi Germany. In 1946, she won the Nobel Peace Prize. She was cited for peace work by the American Unitarian Association in 1955, and affirmed her connection to Unitarianism in her acceptance speech. One of her poems, “Letter to the Chinese People”(1955), was translated and circulated in China it affirmed that ideological differences need not be a barrier to love. Her papers are in the Swarthmore College Peace Collection. A complete list of her prolific writings is in Beyond Nationalism: The Social Thought of Emily Greene Balch. by Mercedes. M. Randall (1972).
Maria Louise Baldwin (Sept. 13, 1856-Jan. 9, 1922) Unitarian
Educator, civic leader, and the first African American woman principal and master in Massachusetts, Maria was known for the dedicated and disciplined manner in which she pursued her personal goals and enhanced the educational environment for children. Educated in Cambridge schools, she dedicated over four decades to the Agassiz School and was well known for innovative projects in mathematics, science, and fine arts. She moved easily in the cultural and social circles of Boston and was active in organizations such as the Twentieth Century Club, the Cantabrigia Club (Harvard), the Teachers Association, and the Church of the Disciples in Boston. She served on the council of the Robert Gould Shaw House, a Boston social settlement house for African Americans. A widely sought-alter speaker on women’s suffrage, poetry, history, and historical personages, she was the first woman to deliver the annual Washington’s Birthday memorial address before the Brooklyn Institute (1897). Her funeral services were conducted at the Arlington Street Church (Unitarian).
Lucy Hunt Ballou (Oct. 31. 1810-Aug. 7, 1891) Universalist
A descendent of one of the founders of Concord MA, Lucy was educated in the Milford, MA, schools and in Providence RI. She was called home to minister at the bedside of Rev. Adin Ballou, whom she married on Mar. 3, 1830. She assisted Adin in his labors as editor and author, and also cared for him on his deathbed. When she died a year later, she left $2000 to the Universal Peace Union of Philadelphia.
Anna Laetitia Aiken Barbauld (June 20, 1743-Mar. 9, 1825) British Unitarian
Writer, social activist, poet, critic, she collaborated with her brother John on publication of her poems and Miscellaneous Pieces of Prose (1774). From a family of radical dissenters, she married a Unitarian minister, Rochemont Barbauld and helped run a nonconformist boarding school. Her writings include Lessons for Children (1778) Hymns in Prose (1781) Civic Sermons to the People at Home (1792) on popular rights and religious toleration Sins of Government (1793) selections in Evenings at Home (1792-95) A False Spring. She edited Collin’s Political Works (1797) Selections from the Spectator, Tattler, Guardian and Freeholder (1804) Correspondence of Samuel Richardson (6 vols.) The British Novelists (50 vols.) The Female Speaker (1811), a selection of prose for girls. See Wendy Lamont’s thesis at Emerson College. William McCarthy has republished her “Address to the Opposers of the Repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts” in The Meridian Anthology of Early Women Writers (New American Library, 1987). Excerpts from her 1824 essay `Mrs. Barbauld’s Thoughts on Public Worship,” are included in Standing Before Us: Unitarian Universalist Women and Social Reform. 1776-1.936 (Boston: Skinner House, 2000).
Margaret Bowers Barnard (June 22, 1860-Aug. 24, 1950) Unitarian
Her essay, “A Woman’s Experience in the Ministry,” published in Annual Meeting Records (Deerfield, MA: Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, 1942), gives an excellent description of her experience as a woman in ministry. Anna Garlin Spencer gave her ordination sermon in Chelsea MA, in 1897. There is a memorial garden dedicated to her next to the church in Rowe MA.
Sarah Merrill Barnes (June 20, 1824-Jan. 6, 1901) Universalist
Born into a Universalist family in South Andover MA, she married Alfred Barnes, a minister whose ill health forced him to resign from his parish. They lived in Rhode Island and then in Peoria IL, where Alfred reentered the active ministry and served several midwestern parishes. Sarah Barnes was a Civil War nurse, leaving Vicksburg just before the surrender. She lectured for the temperance movement, was active in the Sunday School and Home Mission, and wrote “Doctrinal Teaching.” In 1875 she was licensed by the Kansas Universalist Convention after supplying her husband’s pulpit in Lawrence for several months. She traveled thousands of miles as an itinerant preacher and was finally ordained in Junction City KS in 1894.
Lucy Barns (Mar. 6, 1780-Aug. 29, 1809) Universalist
The daughter of a Methodist minister, Rev. Thomas Barnes (who also became a Universalist), she left Methodism because of her belief in the doctrine of universal salvation and wrote probably the first defense of Universalism by a woman. Soon after her death, her writings were printed in a 71-page pamphlet, The Female Christian. Later her writings were collected and published as Familiar Letters and Poems Principally on Friendship and Religion (Akron OH: Aunty Brown, 1904). Excerpts from her writing are included in Standing Before Us: Unitarian Universalist Women and Social Reform, 1776-1936 (Boston: Skinner House, 2000).
Margaret Barr (Mar. 19, 1897-1973) British Unitarian
This Unitarian minister was an educator, administrator, and midwife. A friend of Gandhi, she worked for 35 years in India, founding schools for children of all religions and helping to create a Unitarian church movement in the Khasi Hills. In 1971, she was made an honorary fellow of Manchester College, Oxford University, the first woman to be so honored. Just before she died, she wrote A Dream Come True. The Story of Kharang (ed. Roy Smith, London: Lindsey Press, 1973). The Davenport IA church archives contain a few of her letters in response to shipments of sweaters from the Women’s Alliance. See Spencer Lavan Unitarians and India (Boston: Skinner House, 1978, p. 149ff),
Katherine Isabel Hayes Chapin Barrows (Apr. 17, 1845-Oct. 25, 1913) Unitarian
Ophthalmologist, stenographer and reformer, she was born in Irasburg VT, of Scotch Presbyterian emigrants who later moved to Derry NH. She accompanied her physician father on his rounds and graduated from Adams Academy in Deny, NH. Married at 18 to William Wilberforce Chapin, a Congregational minister, she accompanied him to a mission in India where he died a year and a half later. Returning to the U.S., she married Samuel J. Barrows, a shorthand expert who became a Unitarian minister. She pursued medical studies at the Woman’s Medical College of New York Infirmary and also learned shorthand. In 1869, she accompanied Mary Safford to Europe and studied eye surgery at the University of Vienna. Rejoining her husband in Washington DC, she established a practice as Dr. Bella C. Barrows. She taught at the Howard University School of Medicine and also did stenographic work for Congressional Committees, the first woman to do so. Samuel became minister of First Parish Unitarian Church in Dorchester MA and later edited the Christian Register, with “Bella” as unofficial assistant editor. She also became interested in women’s prison reform and from 1884-1904 was reporter and editor for the National Conference of Charities and Correction. In 1909 she attended the International Prison Conference in Paris .Madeleine B. Stern wrote her biography, So Much in a Lifetime: The Story of Dr. Isabel Barrows (1964).
Clara Barton (Dec. 25, 1821-Apr. 12, 1912) Universalist
[revised 2010] Although she never became a church member*, Clara was raised Universalist and claimed Universal ism as her religion. Her book, The Story of My Childhood (NY: Baker and Taylor, 1907) contains at least one reference to the formative nature of her Universalist background (pp. 45-46). Her opinions about war are included in a memorial volume, Clara Barton: Memorial Address and Funeral Tributes (Worcester MA: N.A. Pearson, 1912).( pp. 19-20.) She also wrote A Story of the Red Cross (1904). There are 35 Volumes of her diaries available in the Library of Congress, and a collection of her papers at Smith College. A recent biography by Stephen B. Oates is A Woman of Valor: Clara Barton and the Civil War( New York: The Free Press, a division of Macmillan Inc, 1994). Excerpts from one of her speeches are included in Standing Before Us: Unitarian Universalist Women and Social Reform, I 776-1736 (Boston: Skinner House, 2000). [*She may have been a member of what is now the Universalist National Memorial Church, Washington DC.]
Anna Maria Bates (Feb. 2, 1834-1870) Universalist
A poet and writer who died at the age of 36.
Mrs. Samuel C. Beane (Dates unknown) Unitarian
She wrote “Jesus,” a pamphlet published by the Post Office Mission.
Clara Bancroft Beatley (Dates unknown) Unitarian
She was a member of the American Unitarian Association Committee on Religion and the Home. Also a poet, she wrote a book of poems and essays entitled Joys Beyond Joy (Boston: James H. West Co., 1902).
Margret Jonsdottir Benedictsson (1866-1956) Canadian Icelandic Unitarian
A strong feminist, she edited and published a newspaper, Freva (named after the Icelandic community in Winnipeg. A proponent of women’s suffrage and of women’s equality, she was much ahead of her time. Born in Iceland, she emigrated to North Dakota, working as a domestic servant to support herself and walking six miles to attend classes at Bathgate College to learn English. She joined the Ethical Culture Society and was among those who eventually left to form the Winnipeg Unitarian Church. In 1892, she married Sigfus Benedictsson, an outspoken critic of outmoded institutions and staunch supporter of women’s rights. Together they founded Freya, a widely circulated women’s paper, which Margret kept going for 20 years, even after the marriage broke up in 1905. A popular speaker and organizer, she founded the First Icelandic Woman Suffrage Association in 1908.
Henrietta Adelaide Burrington Bingham (Dec. 29, 1841-Feb. 18, 1877) Universalist
She attended school and later taught in South Woodstock VT. At 21 she went to Boston and worked at the Universalist Publishing House. She later taught at St. Lawrence University, where she met theology student Henry L. Bingham, who died 5 months after their marriage. She wrote poetry and a popular book, Mignonette. From 1859 to 1864 she was editor of the Ladies‘ Repository.
Alice Stone Blackwell (Sept. 14, 1857-Mar. 15, 1950) Unitarian
(revised 2010 by HZ) She was born in Orange NJ, she returned to Boston with her parents, Henry Browne Blackwell and Lucy Stone in 1870. Daughter of women’s suffrage leader, Alice carried forth her mother’s work. Her biography of her mother, Lucy Stone: Pioneer Woman Suffragist (Norwood MA: Plimpton Press, 1930), provides wonderful insight into the lives of her mother and her mother’s friends and sister suffragists.
Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell (May 20, 1825-Nov. 5, 1921) Unitarian
Although originally ordained as a Congregationalist, she left that denomination and later became fellowshipped as a Unitarian minister. She did not serve a Unitarian parish until she helped found the church at Elizabeth NJ, but she did most of her writing and public speaking as a Unitarian. She wrote and published extensively, yet none of her works is currently in print. Studies in General Science (New York: G. P. Putnam and Son, 1869) contains her reflections on scientific principles in relation to metaphysics. In The Physical Basis of immortality (Putnam, 1876), she attempts to reconcile the need for personal identity with the then-new theories of scientific dynamism, to discover whether there is a Rational Mind behind creation, and what the implications of these theories are for social justice. Her search for truth proceeds in an intelligent and sensitive manner that is well worthy of reflection today. Some of her thoughts are particularly relevant to the current UU principle of “the interdependent web.” Other important books are The Sexes Throughout Nature (1869) The Philosophy of Individuality or, The One and the Many (Putnam, 1893) Sea Drift or Tribute to the Ocean (1902), a book of poetry. She was the sister-in-law of Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell
Elizabeth Blackwell (Feb. 3, 1821-May 31, 1910) British/US Unitarian
Born in England, she emigrated at age 11 to the US with her family. In Cincinnati at age 18, she shocked her Episcopal parents by joining William Henry Channing’s Unitarian Church. The first woman physician with a medical degree in modern times, Elizabeth also made time for writing. Her Laws of Life, with Special Reference to the Physical Education of Girls (1852) and Counsel to Parents on the Moral Education of Their Children (Brentano’s Literary Emporium, NY, 1880) are among the earliest self-help books for mothers. She also wrote Christian Socialism (pamphlet, 1882), The Human Element in Sex (1884), and The Religion of Health. In 1869 she returned to Britain, lived for a time with Mary Carpenter and joined her in campaigns for sexual equality, hygiene, and public morality. She also served as chair of gynecology in the New Hospital and London School of Medicine for Women. During her last years, she attended the Unitarian Church in Hastings. By her request, she was buried in Scotland. Some of her papers and letters are included with the Blackwell family papers at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe and in the Library of Congress.
Emily Blackwell (1826-1910) Unitarian
Sister of Elizabeth, Emily also became a doctor and they worked together to establish clinics offering good medical care to women. Painfully shy, she was nevertheless an excellent student and studied nature avidly. In 1848 she began reading under Dr. John Davis at the Medical College of Cincinnati. She taught school to earn money for her education. After being turned down by eleven medical schools, she was finally accepted by Rush Medical College, but was not allowed to return for a second year. Finally Western Reserve University in Cleveland accepted her and she graduated with honors in 1854. After additional study in England, Emily joined her sister, Elizabeth, at the dispensary she had started. As the clinic grew into a college and a hospital and Elizabeth returned to England, Emily remained in charge. She died in York Cliffs ME, and her ashes were buried at Chilmark MA.
Harriet M. Skinner Blanchard (May 9, 1818-?) Universalist
During the Civil War she was a hospital worker in Washington DC. She served on the Board of Managers for the Newsboys Home and for the Association for the Relief of Colored Women and Children. In 1870, she organized the Women’s Christian Association in the District of Columbia.
Harriot Eaton Stanton Blatch (Jan. 20, 1856-Nov. 20, 1940) Unitarian
The famous daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she devoted her entire life to her mother’s passion–getting women the vote. She learned a great deal from her mother and in 1881 helped her and Susan B. Anthony in writing History of Woman Suffrage. In 1882 in the Unitarian Chapel in London, she married William Blatch, an English businessman, and the two spent many years in England, where she served on the executive committees of the Women’s Local Government Society and the Fabian Society. She was greatly impressed by the work of the Women’s Franchise League, run by Mrs. Jacob Bright and Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst. In 1907 in the United States, Harriot Blatch formed a new suffragist group, the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women, which, in 1910, became the Women’s Political Union and, in 1917, merged with the Congressional Union founded by Alice Paul and Lucy Burns. In 1916, Harriot voted for president by establishing residency in Kansas. During the war, she was head of the Food Administration’s Speakers Bureau, and director of the Woman’s Land Army, organized to provide needed farm labor. She wrote Mobilizing Woman-Power (1918) and A Woman’s Point of View (1920), both about the war: the latter concerns how women can play a role in avoiding another conflict. She aligned herself with the National Woman’s Party and for several years served as chair of its congressional committee. She worked for the League of Nations and world peace. With her brother Theodore, she edited Elizabeth Cady Stanton, As Revealed in Her Letters, Diary and Reminiscences (1922).
Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (Apr. 8, 1827-1891) British Unitarian
One of the first active British feminist organizers, she came from a Unitarian family and was given her own income and freedom to travel unchaperoned .In 1852 she opened Portman School in Paddington, a unconventional nondenominational school for mixed social classes, which she ran for ten years with Elizabeth Whitehead. She wrote Women and Work (1857). With Bessie Parkes in 1858, she founded The Englishwoman’s Journal, which became a major forum for the discussion of women’s issues. They were known as the “Ladies of Langham Place,” as this location became a focal point for the development of the feminist movement in Britain. She served as a model for George Eliot’s Romola (1863). Excerpts from her writing are included in Standing Before Us: Unitarian Universalist Women and Social Reform, 1776-1936 (Boston: Skinner House, 2000).
Edna Madison McDonald Bonser (Aug 1, 1875-1949) Universalist
The first woman minister in Illinois, she served the Urbana Universalist Church from 1898-1902 with great personal vigor and an eye for organization that increased membership and improved the quality of worship and community life. She preached a personal salvation that advocated good conduct as meritorious for personal reasons rather than scriptural justification. From 1931-1944 she was associated with the Riverside Church in New York City in an educational capacity and preached many times when the Rev. Fosdick was away. Sophia Lyon Fahs was at Riverside during Edna’s tenure, and they worked together developing religious education materials. A writer and poet, her books include How the Early Hebrews Lived and Learned (1924), The Golden Rule (1925), Child Life and Religious Growth (1926), and Little Boy of Nazareth (1929).
Anne Charlotte Lynch Botta (Nov. 11, 1815-Mar. 23, 1891) Unitarian connections
This author, teacher and literary hostess was born in Bennington VT. She graduated from the Albany NY Female Academy in 1834 with highest honors. She lived in Shelter Island NY, Providence RI, Philadelphia PA, New York NY, and Washington DC, teaching and writing wherever she went. After a tour of Europe, she settled in New York and married Vincenzo Botta who taught Italian language and literature. She was close friends with Julia Ward Howe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and others. She admired William Ellery Channing, but her approach to religion was to attend all churches and hear all views. She is chiefly remembered for her literary salons which attracted all the important figures of the day.
Georgene E. Bowen (Feb. 13, 1898-1984) Universalist
Born in S. Charlestown NH, she moved to Bellows Falls VT in 1902 where she grew up. She attended Northeastern Conservatory of Music in Boston and worked for the National League of Girls Clubs. In 1925 the University of Chicago sent her to Tokyo to head Blackmer Home for underprivileged girls. She returned to the states in 1936. She served as the assistant head of Hull House and then became head of a settlement house in New York City. In 1946 she went to Philadelphia to organize clubs for the aged. In 1963 she returned to Boston, having established 148 clubs, three vacation houses and several classes in local universities for older people. She was invited to Japan to instruct workers, resulting in the establishment of 6,000 older people’s clubs.
Ada Choate Burpee Bowles (Aug. 2, 1836-April 14, 1928) Universalist
Active in women’s suffrage, abolition, temperance, and home economics, she was a friend of many of the leading reformers of the day. Married to a Universalist minister, she studied with him and was ordained in 1869. She served congregations in Marlborough MA, Highstown and Trenton NJ, Easton PA, northern California, Pomona CA, Valley Falls RI, and North Carolina. While in California, she edited a column on women’s suffrage for the San Francisco Transcript and was president of the San Francisco Woman’s Suffrage Society. She was the first woman minister on the Massachusetts Universalist Convention Board. She helped to organize the National and International Councils of Women and spoke at the World’s Congress of Representative Women.
Amy Morris Bradley (Sept. 12, 1823-Jan. 15, 1904) Unitarian
Educator and Civil War nurse and administrator, after the war she worked with poor white children of the South, under the auspices of the American Unitarian Association, feeling they had been degraded by slavery. She established and directed the Hemenway School, the Pioneer School, and a teacher-training institute, the Tileston School, in Wilmington NC. She edited and contributed to the weekly Soldiers Journal. Excerpts from her letters and articles are included in Standing Before Us: Unitarian Universalist Women and Social Reform, 1776-1936 (Boston: Skinner House, 2000).
Lydia Moss Bradley (1816-1908) Unitarian and Universalist
Daughter of Revolutionary Army Capt. Zealy Moss, she was called “Peoria’s Most Public Spirited Woman” for her philanthropic contributions to the community. She and her husband joined and helped support the Unitarian church in Peoria IL, when it was founded in the 1850s. When it disbanded, they joined the Universalist church. After her husband’s death, Lydia relieved the church of its $30,000 debt, in return for which it was named the Bradley Memorial Church. She donated 100 acres of the Bradley farm to the town for the Laura Bradley Park, named in honor of her daughter: donated a hospital site built a Home for Aged Women and founded the Bradley Polytechnic Institute, now Bradley University, in memory of her husband.
Alice Goidmark Brandeis (1866-Oct. 11, 1945) Unitarian
[revised 2010 by HZ] She was born in 1866 in Brooklyn to Viennese immigrants Dr. Joseph and Regina Goldmark. She attended Sunday School at the Unitarian Church in Brooklyn. She married attorney Louis D. Brandeis in March 1891. The couple had two daughters, Susan (b. 1893), and Elizabeth (b. 1896). The Brandeises moved to Boston and, when Louis was appointed to the US Supreme Court in 1916, to Washington DC. Alice Goldmark Brandeis was outspoken on behalf of woman suffrage, industrial reform, organized labor, the legal rights of children, and the fledgling American Zionist movement. She assisted in the campaign on behalf of anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, and embraced the third-party presidential campaign of Robert La Follette (1924). During World War II, Alice associated herself with militant critics of American policy toward European Jewry and Palestine. She died on October 11, 1945.
Fredrika Bremer (Aug. 7, 1801-1865) Swedish Unitarian
Novelist and social activist, she was brought up in a repressive household in Sweden, toured Europe in1820-21, and became involved in charity work. In 1828, she published Sketches of Everyday Life anonymously to raise funds. Active in reform and education, she worked to establish an age of majority for unmarried girls, nursed cholera victims, founded an orphanage, and established a school to train teachers. She visited New England in the 1850s and became radicalized through her contacts with Unitarians and others. She returned to Sweden to become a leader of their political feminist movement. In 1854 during the Crimean War, she appealed to women internationally to work for peace. Her novels include The Neighbors (1837) The House (1843), which won the Swedish Academy gold medal in 1844 and Hertha, a feminist novel which caused an uproar. In addition to her fiction, she wrote Homes of the New World. Four volumes of her letters were published in 1914.
Alice Williams Brotherton (1848-1930)
She was an American poet and author of children’s stories
Sarah Sumner Broughton (Oct. 29, 1802-Dec. 20, 1853) Universalist
Born in Vermont, she moved with her family to New York State at the age of 12. Soon thereafter, her father died, and by the time she was 15 she was supporting herself by teaching. In 1825, she married S. H. Broughton, an alcoholic. In an attempt to cure him, she moved the family to Michigan and spent her last years with her son Henry, a successful prospector in the Lake Superior area. Though raised Presbyterian, she became Universalist through reading the Bible. She contributed poetry to Magazine and Advocate, Universalist Union, Ladies’ Repository, Rose of Sharon, and other Universalist publications.
Lucinda White Brown (1822-after 1911) Universalist
A teacher and a writer, some of “Aunty” Browns writings are published in her book, Aunty Brown in the New Shoe (Akron OH, n.d.) She taught at Buchtel College in Akron OH, after teaching in several other places. She was well known in her day for spreading the comforting and hopeful ideals of Universalism to those who had been living in fear of the torment of hell. She was married to a Universalist minister, the Rev. John S. Brown, who died in 1855. [Aunty Brown’s Story: A Token Of Love And Friendship (1908) is available in paperback, October 2009 and is also on line at Andover-Harvard Theological Library, from the collection of the Universalist Historical Society.]
Marjorie Moore Brown (1884-1987) Unitarian Universalist
Her book, Lady in Boomtown (American West, 1968 University of Nevada, 1991) about the life of a pioneer in a Nevada silver-mining town, draws on her 20 years’ experience in Tonopah NV, with her husband and children. She returned to live in San Francisco, where she was active in the Unitarian Church, on the Board of Trustees, and chair of their centennial celebration. Her creative interests turned toward poetry- and play-reading, which she presented to west coast audiences for over forty years.
Olympia Brown (Jan. 5, 1835-Oct. 23, 1926) Universalist
She has been acclaimed as the first woman ordained by full denominational authority (1863), although that honor properly belongs to Lydia Ann Jenkins, who was officially sanctioned by Universalists in 1858. Determined to become a Universalist minister, Olympia prevailed upon St. Lawrence University’s theological school to admit her as its first woman in 1861, and then persisted, against opposition, in seeking ordination and a career as a parish minister. A meeting with Susan B. Anthony persuaded Olympia to work for women’s suffrage while she was still in her first ministry in Weymouth Landing. She was both a skilled organizer and forceful speaker. For many years she combined her duties as a minister, wife and mother of two children and suffrage advocate. At the age of 52, she decided to leave full time parish ministry to work for getting women the vote. After the 19th Amendment was passed she was one of the few early pioneers who was still alive to cast her vote. The last years of her life were devoted to working for world peace and she became a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She wrote about her life as a reformer in Acquaintances, Old and New Among Reformers (1911). “Olympia Brown: An Autobiography” and “Olympia Brown: Two Sermons: `But to Us There Is One God” and `Man Does Not Live by Bread Alone'” were published in 1963 in the Journal of the Universalist Historical Society. Excerpts from speeches and articles were reprinted in Suffrage and Religious Principle: Speeches and Writings of Olympia Brown, edited by Dana Greene (Metuchen NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1983). Charlotte Cote has written a biography of her, Olympia Brown: The Battle for Equality (Mother Courage Press, Racine WI, 1988). Excerpts from an article and a sermon are included in Standing Before Us: Unitarian Universalist Women and Social Reform. 1776-1936 (Boston: Skinner House, 2000).
Edna Bruner (May 14, 1906-Aug. 3. 1997) Universalist
Edna grew up in southern Ontario where her parents were active in the Olinda church. She earned a BA in 1929 and a BD in 1931 from St. Lawrence University. She was ordained on June 8, 1930, and served the Universalist Church of Waterloo IA. Later she became a field worker for the Universalist Church of America, visiting various congregations with books and supplies for religious education. In 1945 she became minister of the Canton NY church and in 1950 again took to field work for the MA and CT Universalist Conventions. She was Educational Consultant for the Department of Education of the Unitarian Universalist Association from 1961 to 1968. From 1968 to 1972 she served the church in Kennebunk ME, and then retired to Ferry Beach and later to Boston.
Elizabeth Davidson Buchtel (Aug. 25, 1821-?) Universalist
A member of the Universalist Church in Akron, she participated actively in the social and philanthropic work of the church. With her husband, the Hon. John R. Buchtel, she was co- founder of Buchtel College in Akron OH. Although the college admitted both men and women, there were no women professors. The Buchtels offered to endow a professorship for women, provided the women of the area would raise equal funding for a second professorship. The money was successfully raised by the Women’s Centenary Association. In his wife’s honor, John Buchtel instituted the Elizabeth Buchtel Professorship in English Literature.
Florence Buck (July 19, 1860-Oct. 12, 1925) Unitarian
Her ordination took place during the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions, with eight women ministers in attendance and five participating in the service. She worked for the Unitarian Religious Education Department for many years and edited the New Beacon Course, which included her popular Story of Jesus (1925). She also compiled the Beacon Hymnal (1919). Many of her writings were published in pamphlet form, such as “Religious Education for Democracy” (Boston: American Unitarian Association, 1919) and The Divineness of Common Things (Cleveland: The Branch Alliance, n.d.) Her partner for many years was Marion Murdoch.
Levisa Barnes Buck (Dates unknown) Universalist
A sister of Lucy Barnes, Levisa wrote Memoir of the Rev. Thomas Barnes (S. H. Colesworthy, publisher, Portland ME, 1856) as a tribute to their father. She also versified the books of Job and Psalms in the belief that they would be read by those who would not read the originals. She traveled considerable distances on horseback in order to attend meetings of various groups and congregations. [Rev. Thomas Barnes a prominent early Maine Universalist, and founded the Universalist Church in Norway, Maine, in 1799. (HZ)]
Constance Hoey Burgess (Oct. 10, 1906-Aug. 27, 1995) Unitarian Universalist
Although she was born in Miami Beach, FL, Connie was educated in Massachusetts at Quincy High School and Thayer Academy, where she graduated at 16. Her early employment was with John Hancock Insurance. In the 1940s-50s she became deeply involved with the League of Women Voters and she served as its Legislative Chair for Massachusetts from 1952 to 1954. In 1960 she became the Executive Director of the Unitarian Women’s Alliance and in that capacity was instrumental in guiding the merger with the Universalist Women’s Association into the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation. She served as the Executive Director of the Federation. She participated in various demonstrations and marches such as the civil rights march to Selma and the March for Peace. She was a member of John Fitzgerald Kennedys Commission on Equal Rights for Women and a member of the federally-appointed Commission on Aging. In 1969 she became president of the Council of National Organizations which included such agencies as the American Red Cross, the Chamber of Commerce, etc. She was given the Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism in 1972. She received an honorary doctorate from Starr King School for the Ministry in 1973.
Celia C. Burr Burleigh (Sept. 18, 1826-July 25, 1875) Unitarian
Born in Cazenovia NY, she was a teacher and author and frequent contributor to magazines and to The Christian Register. In 1865 she married William Burleigh (the second marriage for them both) and moved to Brooklyn CT. After his death, she determined to carry out his wish that she be ordained to the ministry. She was the first woman ordained as a Unitarian minister on Oct. 5, 1871. She served the Brooklyn CT church, the Danville and Syracuse NY parishes and worked in the Unitarian church of Sioux City IA until her untimely death at age 48.
Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) British Unitarian
She was one of the “Ladies of Llangollen”, a retreat estate that was visited by writers and dignitaries, along with Sarah Ponsonby.
On March 10, 1883, the Woman’s Club of Olympia is founded “for study and mutual improvement of its members” by Abbie Howard Hunt Stuart (1840?-1902), Emily Olney French (1828-1897), Mary Olney Brown (1821-1886), Clara Sylvester, Ella Stork, and Janet Moore. The membership, limited to 50 in number, will meet in a variety of locations until the Stuart Block building becomes available for club meetings. Later, Abbie Stuart will donate land for a permanent clubhouse structure, which still stands today.
A First and a Model
The Women's Club of Olympia is generally credited as the first woman’s club in Washington state (although an earlier "Columbia Maternal Association" composed of missionary wives had a brief existence in the 1830s). The Olympia group’s format and activities became representative of future literary and civic clubs that would soon form throughout the region’s cities and towns. The club embraced a formal style, using a constitution, by-laws, and parliamentary procedure, electing officers, keeping minutes, printing an annual program, and screening new members through an executive committee.
Women met 26 times each year, from September through June, to discuss cultural topics and current events via formal papers researched and delivered by the members. Incendiary topics, like politics (in the capital city!) and religion, were discouraged, to encourage harmony, social interaction, literary study, and civic reform projects. Allied with the Washington State Federation of Women’s Clubs and General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the clubs members conferred with women in other clubs to share techniques for raising funds for community projects and lobbying legislators for social welfare programs for needy women, children, and the impoverished.
30 great concerts in Michigan history
With memorable acts and historic venues, Michigan has been a crossroads of pop music for decades. Here's a look at 30 memorable concerts over the years. Were you there? Share your memories in the comments or use this form to tell us about the best Michigan shows you attended.
The Beatles played two shows at Olympia Stadium in 1964 during their first visit to Detroit. Show times were 2 and 6 p.m. Like many shows of the era, the crowd could barely hear the music over the screaming crowd. One Detroit paper said a police officer stuffed his ears with bullets to block out the sound. The Fab Four would return to Olympia in 1966.
What's the best show you ever saw in Michigan? Tell us here!
Jimmy Page didn't think much of the Silverdome when Led Zeppelin played to 77,000 people in 1977. He said playing to the massive crowd indoors was like something out of the movies "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "A Clockwork Orange." "It was really odd walking into this air-lock," he recalled. ". but we played well under the circumstances."
Goose Lake International Music Festival, Goose Lake, 1970
The Goose Lake International Music Festival in 1970 took place a year after Woodstock with promoters striving to create a better-organized rock festival in Leoni Township. They succeeded in provided better accommodations for an estimated crowd of 200,000 people, but the festival was attacked for open drug use in the crowd. Music took center stage, though, and crowds were treated to dynamic performances by Faces, Chicago, Mountain, Bob Seger, MC5 and The Stooges, among many others. Tickets were $15 for the three-day festival.
The Who, Pontiac Silverdome, 1976
The Who played the inaugural concert at the Silverdome in 1975. Some 76,000 people attended to hear the 24-song set that included many of their great songs, including "Baba O'Riley," "Pinball Wizard" and closed with "Won't Get Fooled Again."
What's the best show you saw in Michigan? Tell us about here.
U2's first show in Metro Detroit was at Harpo's in 1981, but it's their 1985 show at Joe Louis arena that saw the band at the height of the ➀s power. Free-Press reviewer Beth Fertig said Bono and company "was almost flawless" and brought an "almost holy quality" to the performance. U2 would return several times to tepid reviews for their arena shows, but this one soared.
Bob Seger, Cobo Hall, Detroit, 1976
Bob Seger recorded his legendary "Live Bullet" at Cobo Hall in Detroit in 1976. The album launched Seger to national mainstream fame with live takes of "Turn the Page," "Nutbush City Limits," and "Travelin' Man" into "Beautiful Loser" that became rock-and-roll classics.
Jay-Z and Eminem teamed up for "The Home & Home Tour" in 2010, with the rappers playing two sold-out shows at Comerica Park in Detroit, Eminem's hometown, and two sold-out shows at Yankee Stadium in New York, Jay Z's city.
Guitar god Hendrix played at set in 1967 at the now closed Fifth Dimension in Ann Arbor. The venue was a bowling alley converted into a concert hall before later becoming a restaurant called The Whiffle Tree. This was Hendrix's first tour of the U.S.
Kiss, Cobo Hall, Detroit, 1976
KISS is known for two legendary performances in Michigan. The first was at Cobo Hall in 1976 when it recorded part of its "Alive!" live album that launched the band to fame. "Alive!" was a Top 10 hit and the band's first Gold-certified album. It's also credited as being among the great rock albums of all time, influencing rock acts for decades.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Crisler Arena, Ann Arbor, 1971
John Lennon and Yoko Ono joined the John Sinclair Freedom Rally at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor in 1971. The gathering's rallying cry was "10 for two," referring to Sinclair receiving a 10-year prison sentence for the equivalent of two joints of marijuana. Lennon was among a number of celebrity performers at the rally, which also included Bob Seger and Stevie Wonder. Lennon and Ono played four songs at 3 a.m., all acoustic, and only for 15 minutes, but the rally still lives in Michigan concert lore.
This was Kid Rock on the cusp of stardom. The Detroit Free-Press's Brian McCollum says this is the show that got Bob Ritchie signed to the major record deal that would lead to "Devil Without a Cause" and international fame. It was a long way back for Ritchie, who had been dropped from a label after Vanilla Ice fizzled. He reinvented himself from rapper into songwriter with a killer stage show, and won over the industry and millions of fans.
The White Stripes were on the rise in 2002 when they played a raucous outdoor show at Chene Park with The Strokes, a band then arguably at their peak. The 6,000-seat venue was packed to catch a pre-"Seven Nation Army" Stripes tear through their older catalogue, including "The Big Three Killed My Baby."
Big Sean, Joe Louis arena, Detroit, 2015
Big Sean brought some friends out for a memorable Detroit show last year. Eminem, Royce da 5ɹ", Dej Loaf, Danny Brown and Trick Trick all came together to perform "Detroit vs Everybody" for the frenzied crowd. It was a rare cameo for Eminem, who hadn't performed on stage in 2015 until that moment.
Olmpia Brown - History
Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are barred from attending the World Anti-Slavery Convention held in London. This prompts them to hold a Women's Convention in the US.
Seneca Falls, New York is the location for the first Women's Rights Convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanton writes "The Declaration of Sentiments" creating the agenda of women's activism for decades to come.
The first state constitution in California extends property rights to women.
Worcester, Massachusetts, is the site of the first National Women's Rights Convention. Frederick Douglass, Paulina Wright Davis, Abby Kelley Foster, William Lloyd Garrison, Lucy Stone, and Sojourner Truth are in attendance. A strong alliance is formed with the Abolitionist Movement.
Worcester, Massachusetts is the site of the second National Women's Rights Convention. Participants included Horace Mann, New York Tribune columnist Elizabeth Oaks Smith, and Reverend Harry Ward Beecher, one of the nation's most popular preachers.
At a women's rights convention in Akron, Ohio, Sojourner Truth, a former slave, delivers her now memorable speech, "Ain't I a woman?"
The issue of women's property rights is presented to the Vermont Senate by Clara Howard Nichols. This is a major issue for the Suffragists.
"Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe, is published and quickly becomes a bestseller.
Women delegates, Antoinette Brown and Susan B. Anthony, are not allowed to speak at The World's Temperance Convention held in New York City.
During the Civil War, efforts for the suffrage movement come to a halt. Women put their energies toward the war effort.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony form the American Equal Rights Association, an organization dedicated to the goal of suffrage for all regardless of gender or race.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Parker Pillsbury publish the first edition of The Revolution. This periodical carries the motto “Men, their rights and nothing more women, their rights and nothing less!”
Caroline Seymour Severance establishes the New England Woman’s Club. The “Mother of Clubs” sparked the club movement which became popular by the late nineteenth century.
In Vineland, New Jersey, 172 women cast ballots in a separate box during the presidential election.
Senator S.C. Pomeroy of Kansas introduces the federal woman’s suffrage amendment in Congress.
Many early suffrage supporters, including Susan B. Anthony, remained single because in the mid-1800s, married women could not own property in their own rights and could not make legal contracts on their own behalf.
The Fourteenth Amendment is ratified. "Citizens" and "voters" are defined exclusively as male.
The American Equal Rights Association is wrecked by disagreements over the Fourteenth Amendment and the question of whether to support the proposed Fifteenth Amendment which would enfranchise Black American males while avoiding the question of woman suffrage entirely.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony found the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), a more radical institution, to achieve the vote through a Constitutional amendment as well as push for other woman’s rights issues. NWSA was based in New York
Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, Julia Ward Howe, and other more conservative activists form the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) to work for woman suffrage through amending individual state constitutions. AWSA was based in Boston.
Wyoming territory is organized with a woman suffrage provision.
The Fifteenth Amendment gave black men the right to vote. NWSA refused to work for its ratification and instead the members advocate for a Sixteenth Amendment that would dictate universal suffrage. Frederick Douglass broke with Stanton and Anthony over the position of NWSA.
The Woman’s Journal is founded and edited by Mary Livermore, Lucy Stone, and Henry Blackwell.
Victoria Woodhull addresses the House Judiciary Committee, arguing women’s rights to vote under the fourteenth amendment.
The Anti-Suffrage Party is founded.
Susan B. Anthony casts her ballot for Ulysses S. Grant in the presidential election and is arrested and brought to trial in Rochester, New York. Fifteen other women are arrested for illegally voting. Sojourner Truth appears at a polling booth in Battle Creek, Michigan, demanding a ballot to vote she is turned away.
Abigail Scott Duniway convinces Oregon lawmakers to pass laws granting a married woman’s rights such as starting and operating her own business, controlling the money she earns, and the right to protect her property if her husband leaves.
The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) is founded by Annie Wittenmyer. With Frances Willard at its head (1876), the WCTU became an important proponent in the fight for woman suffrage. As a result, one of the strongest opponents to women's enfranchisement was the liquor lobby, which feared women might use their vote to prohibit the sale of liquor.
Susan B. Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage disrupt the official Centennial program at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, presenting a “Declaration of Rights for Women” to the Vice President.
A Woman Suffrage Amendment is proposed in the U.S. Congress. When the 19th Amendment passes forty-one years later, it is worded exactly the same as this 1878 Amendment.
The first vote on woman suffrage is taken in the Senate and is defeated.
The National Council of Women in the United States is established to promote the advancement of women in society.
NWSA and AWSA merge and the National American Woman Suffrage Association is formed. Stanton is the first president. The Movement focuses efforts on securing suffrage at the state level.
Wyoming is admitted to the Union with a state constitution granting woman suffrage.
The American Federation of Labor declares support for woman suffrage.
The South Dakota campaign for woman suffrage loses.
The Progressive Era begins. Women from all classes and backgrounds enter public life. Women's roles expand and result in an increasing politicization of women. Consequently the issue of woman suffrage becomes part of mainstream politics.
Olympia Brown founds the Federal Suffrage Association to campaign for woman’s suffrage.
Colorado adopts woman suffrage.
600,000 signatures are presented to the New York State Constitutional Convention in a failed effort to bring a woman suffrage amendment to the voters.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton publishes The Woman’s Bible. After its publication, NAWSA moves to distance itself from Stanton because many conservative suffragists considered her to be too radical and, thus, potentially damaging to the suffrage campaign.
Mary Church Terrell, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Frances E.W. Harper among others found the the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs.
Utah joins the Union with full suffrage for women.
Idaho adopts woman suffrage.
Mary Dreier, Rheta Childe Dorr, Leonora O'Reilly, and others form the Women's Trade Union League of New York, an organization of middle- and working-class women dedicated to unionization for working women and to woman suffrage.
Washington State adopts woman suffrage.
The Women’s Political Union organizes the first suffrage parade in New York City.
The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS) is organized. Led by Mrs. Arthur Dodge, its members included wealthy, influential women, some Catholic clergymen, distillers and brewers, urban political machines, Southern congressmen, and corporate capitalists.
The elaborate California suffrage campaign succeeds by a small margin.
Woman Suffrage is supported for the first time at the national level by a major political party -- Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party.
Twenty thousand suffrage supporters join a New York City suffrage parade.
Oregon, Kansas, and Arizona adopt woman suffrage.
In 1913, suffragists organized a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. The parade was the first major suffrage spectacle organized by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).
The two women then organized the Congressional Union, later known at the National Women’s Party (1916). They borrowed strategies from the radical Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in England.
Nevada and Montana adopt woman suffrage.
The National Federation of Women’s Clubs, which had over two million women members throughout the U.S., formally endorses the suffrage campaign.
Mabel Vernon and Sara Bard Field are involved in a transcontinental tour which gathers over a half-million signatures on petitions to Congress.
Forty thousand march in a NYC suffrage parade. Many women are dressed in white and carry placards with the names of the states they represent.
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts continue to reject woman suffrage.
Jeannette Rankin of Montana is the first woman elected to the House of Representatives. Woodrow Wilson states that the Democratic Party platform will support suffrage.
New York women gain suffrage.
Arkansas women are allowed to vote in primary elections.
National Woman’s Party picketers appear in front of the White House holding two banners, “Mr. President, What Will You Do For Woman Suffrage?” and “How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty?”
Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman elected to Congress, is formally seated in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Alice Paul, leader of the National Woman’s Party, was put in solitary confinement in the mental ward of the prison as a way to “break” her will and to undermine her credibility with the public.
In June, arrests of the National Woman’s party picketers begin on charges of obstructing sidewalk traffic. Subsequent picketers are sentenced to up to six months in jail. In November, the government unconditionally releases the picketers in response to public outcry and an inability to stop National Woman’s Party picketers’ hunger strike.
Representative Rankin opens debate on a suffrage amendment in the House. The amendment passes. The amendment fails to win the required two thirds majority in the Senate.
Michigan, South Dakota, and Oklahoma adopt woman suffrage.
President Woodrow Wilson states his support for a federal woman suffrage amendment.
President Wilson addresses the Senate about adopting woman suffrage at the end of World War I.
The Senate finally passes the Nineteenth Amendment and the ratification process begins.
August 26, 1920
Three quarters of the state legislatures ratify the Nineteenth Amendment.
American Women win full voting rights.