Deaconesses, Sisters of the People, and the revival of female itinerancy
in Women and the shaping of British Methodism
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This chapter describes a parallel home development to the opening of foreign missions to women in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. The evolution of the deaconess movement and the emergence of the Sisters of the People—the latter as a response to middle-class concern for inner-city poverty, crime and disease—provided opportunities for women evangelists. All larger Methodist Connexions supported deaconess or Sisters' houses, allowing educated middle-class women to devote themselves to charitable and evangelistic work in formal and respectable organizations. The male leadership usually described this work as female-centred, even if it involved working with men, and many of the women themselves embraced an ideal based on gender difference. Nonetheless, their presence and their professionalism worked to undermine gender norms. Some women became deaconess-evangelists, effective and sought-after preachers who, while arousing some disquiet, were seen as sufficiently unthreatening to enable them to continue their evangelical work into the twentieth century. In a few cases deaconess organizations and sisterhoods provided Protestant women with opportunities for leadership unprecedented outside the Salvation Army.

Women and the shaping of British Methodism

Persistent preachers, 1807–1907

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