Overthrowing the ‘Monopoly of the Pulpit’: Race and the Rights of Churchwomen in Nineteenth Century America.
NO PERMANENT WAVES: RECASTING HISTORIES OF U.S. FEMINISM, Nancy Hewitt, ed., Rutgers University Press, 2010
Posted: 7 Nov 2010
Date Written: November 6, 2010
This essay explores the dynamics of church, women’s rights, and race that animated Tanner’s commentary by focusing on two key chapters in the history of women’s rights in the nineteenth century. The first is the end of the 1840s, a moment frequently associated with the inaugural women’s conventions held in Seneca Falls and Rochester, New York. This essay reframes those conventions by examining a contemporaneous campaign for church women’s rights being waged in black Methodist churches. The second is the 1870s, a period often understood as shaped by disagreements over the terms of the Fifteenth Amendment and a resulting rupture of an antebellum woman’s rights–abolitionist coalition. Here, this moment is recast through consideration of how African American church women injected the question of women’s rights into debates over black Methodist law and polity in the wake of the Amendment’s ratification. In both cases, black and white women generally worked apart from one another, with lines of denomination and of race dividing their movements. They did share, however, a critical vantage point that centered on churches as contested terrain and church women as among the activists in a women’s movement. There is little question that these activist women were mindful of one another, even as social distance led to diluted or distorted understandings. All these women were covered in the spray of women’s rights. Standing at separate places along the seashore, they waded into confrontations that gave their discrete campaigns broad-reaching significance. Whether all women who called for the rights of church women were part of one wave is difficult to say until we recall that any wave is the by-product of many cross-currents.
Keywords: African American Women, Church, Female Preachers, Women's Rights
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