A response to the prominent Methodist historian David Hempton's call to analyse women's experience within Methodism, this book deals with British Methodist women preachers over the entire nineteenth century, with special emphasis on the Primitive Methodists and Bible Christians. The book covers women preachers in Wesley's lifetime, the reason why some Methodist sects allowed women to preach and others did not, and the experience of Bible Christian and Primitive Methodist female evangelists before 1850. It also describes the many other ways in which women supported their chapel communities. The second half of the book includes the careers of mid-century women revivalists, the opportunities, home and foreign missions offered for female evangelism, the emergence of deaconess evangelists and Sisters of the People in late century, and the brief revival of female itinerancy among the Bible Christians.
This introductory chapter sets out the focus of the book, namely the history of the persistence of female preaching in nineteenth-century British Methodism. It suggests that by far the majority of Methodist women preachers were not seeking power or even equality, but rather they were following their call to speak. It provides answers to the reasons why the New Connexion—the first Methodist secessionist sect—despite its connection with radical politics and egalitarian ethos, failed to make use of women evangelists, when a few years later the Primitive Methodists embraced them. Among the smaller sects, it examines the differences between Arminian and Tent Methodism that led the former to welcome female evangelists and the latter to maintain an all-male cohort of preachers. These differences add complexity to the larger patterns in nineteenth-century women's ministry and illustrate the importance of the particular contexts of decision-making within Methodism. An overview of the subsequent chapters is also presented.
This chapter provides essential background for those unfamiliar with the histories of British Nonconformity and Wesleyan Methodism in the eighteenth century. It briefly describes female preaching in the seventeenth-century Civil War period, the Clarendon Code and the creation of Nonconformity in the Restoration, and the conditions favouring the emergence of Methodism. After outlining Methodism's early years and describing its organization, the chapter suggests its attractions for women and the unique opportunities Methodism offered for female religious leadership. Finally, the chapter deals with Wesley's eventual recognition of some women's exceptional call to preach, and how one of the female preachers, Mary Bosanquet, justified female evangelism.
This chapter argues that the political climate of the Napoleonic Wars and their aftermath was the prime reason for the timidity and conservatism of Methodist leadership after Wesley's death. In the first half of the nineteenth century Methodism fractured into a number of sects, some ephemeral, others lasting into the early twentieth century and beyond. The chapter analyzes how and why this fragmentation occurred, and describes and suggests reasons for the sects' varying attitudes toward female evangelism. In particular, it suggests reasons why the New Connexion, whose strength was in a region where female preaching was common, did not officially allow women to speak in public, while the Primitive Methodists and Bible Christians allowed them to do so throughout the sects' independent existence. It also shows the significant role of gender in the brief histories of two ephemeral sects, the Tent Methodists and the Arminian Methodists. The final section describes the conditions favouring female preaching in the Primitive Methodist and Bible Christian Connexions, and evaluates their leaders' arguments for the acceptance of female preaching.
This chapter covers the heyday of female evangelism in the Primitive Methodist and Bible Christian Connexions. It both builds on and challenges Deborah Valenze's pioneering and important Prophetic Sons and Daughters: Female Preaching and Popular Religion in Industrial England. Valenze argued that what she defined as a ‘cottage religion’ arose out of the social and economic changes of the first half of the nineteenth century, and that religious worship in domestic spaces emboldened some women to embark on careers as itinerant (travelling) preachers. The examination of the lives and working conditions of female itinerants in the 1820s and 1830s supports Valenze's claim that the decline of women's itinerancy by the mid-century is partially explained by the effects of industrialization, urbanization and migration. But this is also attributed to internal change in the two sects, resulting in the development of a more formal ministry that excluded women. The chapter also challenges Valenze's contention that female evangelism died out in the second half of the century. Female itinerancy lapsed, but women evangelists adapted to changing conditions.
This chapter addresses the essential contributions of women to their Methodist societies as ‘purveyors of hospitality, visitors, class members, and leaders’. It begins with some exceptional female evangelicals, not all Methodists, who stepped outside their domestic environments to engage in philanthropy, founding missions to working men, rescuing prostitutes, organizing mothers' meetings, campaigning for temperance, and recruiting and training Biblewomen. Most Methodist women did not engage in these activities, especially in rural areas, but did sick-visiting, distributed pamphlets, led classes, played the harmonium or sang in choirs. The chapter describes and evaluates the growing opportunity for women as Sunday school teachers, and show how women were important fund-raisers, as missionary fund collectors, bazaar organizers, and tea organizers. The last part of the chapter returns to female evangelism. Female preaching did not die in the 1840s; Primitive Methodists and Bible Christians relied on female local preachers to fill their plans, and female evangelists who preached outside their circuits at special services could be relied on to attract larger than usual congregations and swell the size of the collections. By the mid-century there were women who had developed careers as fund-raisers and revivalists within Methodist circuits.
Independent female evangelism thrived during the 1860s, a period of sustained evangelical activity promoting religious revival. This chapter traces the transatlantic roots of revivalism, the prominence of women within it, and the emergence of a group of female evangelists who developed professional careers outside the formal ministry. In particular, it describes the careers of the small number who achieved national prominence. Most were not Methodists but often spoke in Methodist chapels, and three of them—Catherine Booth, Isabella Armstrong, and Geraldine Hooper—published justifications for female preaching. While independent female evangelism waned by the end of the decade, the Salvation Army, co-founded by Catherine Booth, provided unprecedented opportunities for female religious leadership.
This chapter surveys Methodist missions throughout the century and the opportunities they provided for professional female evangelism. It adopts a broad definition of missionary work, including home missions, missions to emigrant communities, mainly in British colonies and foreign missions. All provided opportunities for women to preach, although these varied by time and place. Home missions to areas outside any Methodist organizational structure declined in importance in the mid-century, but became a major focus in the last two decades of the century when Methodists started to pay greater attention to working among the poor in cities. All home missions continued to provide opportunities for female evangelists, some of whom were hired as paid workers by their Connexions. Missions to emigrant communities were particularly important for the Primitive Methodists and Bible Christians, who lost substantial numbers of home members to emigration. In the last quarter-century overseas missionary societies began to recruit women, largely to work with indigenous women and children in Africa and Asia.
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.