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All Bound Up TogetherThe Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830-1900$

Martha S. Jones

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780807831526

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: July 2014

DOI: 10.5149/9780807888902_jones

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Make Us a Power

Make Us a Power

Churchwomen's Politics and the Campaign for Women's Rights

(p.151) 5 Make Us a Power
All Bound Up Together

Martha S. Jones

University of North Carolina Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter follows the emergence of black churchwomen's political culture from the early 1870s through the late 1880s, a period during which a sustained campaign for the rights of female church members transformed the relationship of gender to power for millions of African American religious activists. Rights most often associated with the realm of party- and state-sponsored politics—electing representatives and holding office—were at the core of what churchwomen sought in their communities' most powerful institutions. Churchwomen began their campaign with a call for gender-neutral church law; they sought the removal of any barrier to their voting for local church officials. Soon, however, the same arguments, borrowed from the period's political contests, were being used to buttress claims for the creation of female offices, the founding of female missionary societies, and the seating of women as delegates in decision-making bodies.

Keywords:   black churchwomen, political culture, female church members, African American, religious activists

In 1876, African American women won the right to vote. Through a broad campaign that began before the Civil War, black women secured the right to choose leaders, serve as representatives, and decide on legislation. Their campaign was waged by a multigenerational cadre of women; some gained their political acumen in the antebellum abolitionist movement, and others came of age in the tumult of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Male allies who advocated the extension of public authority to women offered essential support to the campaign. This victory was not entirely revolutionary, however; the advent of female suffrage did not automatically produce equality of representation in practice. At the close of the nineteenth century, although many more black women voted, few had been elected to high office.

Black women voting and holding office in the 1870s? At first, this scene may read like Octavia Butler meets The History of Woman Suffrage, a science fiction version of the nineteenth-century women's rights saga.1 Or perhaps it is a parable authored by legal scholar Derrick Bell, returning to the “Geneva” chronicles and deploying the fantastical to make a point about race, law, and power in America.2 The explanation lies, however, not in the realm of fiction but in the annals of African American women's history. In 1876, female members of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AME Zion) Church won the right to vote and to hold office within their denomination.3

The timing of this important moment of enfranchisement suggests how the periodization of political history does not always map well onto the histoiy of women's politics. This chapter follows the emergence of black churchwomen's political culture from the early 1870s through the late 1880s, a period during which a sustained campaign for the rights of female church members transformed the relationship of gender to power for millions of (p.152) African American religious activists. Rights most often associated with the realm of party and state-sponsored politics—electing representatives and holding office—were at the core of what churchwomen sought in their communities' most powerful institutions.

Lhurchwomen began their campaign with a call lor gender-neutral church law; they sought the removal of any barrier to their voting for local church officials. But the rhetoric that undergirded this seemingly modest objective had a greater force than many anticipated. Soon the same arguments, borrowed from the period's political contests, were being used to buttress claims for the creation of female offices, the founding of female missionary societies, and the seating of women as delegates in decision-making bodies. Churchwomen's rights claims also radiated outward, influencing debates among white religious activists, paralleling claims made by secular women's suffrage advocates, buttressing black men's claims to public influence, and reshaping allied organizations, including fraternal orders. If black women had largely ceded the reigns of party politics to their male counterparts, they simultaneously took up a new campaign grounded in the politics of race, as well as sex, to redefine their public standing.

Recentering the Debate, from Politics to Church

Ideas about women in politics continued to circulate in black activist circles, though they did not give rise to a distinct movement for women's political rights. An outspoken minority called for women's full political empowerment. Frederick Douglass advised black women to continue developing their political acumen in anticipation of the passage of “a sixteenth amendment,” which would remove “their disability” and grant them the vote.4 “Mater Familias,” adopting a witty moniker that in itself inverted the gendered order by putting a woman at the head of a household, expressed regret that so few women took an active interest in politics: “While I do not object to a lively interest in the bustle subject [that is, to debates about fashion], I think a woman's mind is wide enough to accommodate other and more profitable subjects for reflection.” She sought to encourage women's political activism: “While most people disapprove of women taking an active part in politics, few will deny that it is better for them to have the widest intelligence in regard to the vital questions before the country, than to be ignorant of them.”5

Opponents could be equally vocal. An editorial commenting on Mater Familias's letter retorted: “One of [our] most intelligent and educated ladies (p.153) gives us elsewhere her ideas about her sex taking an active interest in political matters, and reading political speeches. We agree … with the writer in the general idea that a lady's mind ought to grasp in its range of thought, political subjects. Her field, however, is the domestic circle, not the public stage.”6 Some women endorsed a conservative vision, insisting that politics were the province of men. In an essay titled “Woman's Power” published in the Planet, Georgetown, South Carolina's weekly newspaper, Alice King noted that the issue of women's suffrage had made “many women's pens and … tongues red hot.”7 Still, King argued that “it seems to us very likely that woman if she reaches her object will lose much more than she will gain.” Women's influence was most effective when exerted through “indirectness” as they “spoke a word or two, which appeared to be dropped carelessly,” a tactic that never failed to influence the votes of husbands and sons alike, in King's assessment. Women also stood to wield great influence through the pen, a vehicle that held more far-reaching promise than “so comparatively small a privilege as the suffrage.” King warned against woman “lowering her dignity, crying out so widely for a thing which, after all, cool, common sense seems to point out to be more man's business.” Rosetta Coakley echoed King's perspective in “Our Stumbling Blocks,” a presentation to Washington, D.C.'s Bethel Literary Society. Coakley argued that women “can do more good by properly attending to their domestic duties, training up their children to be men and women of worth, than they can by troubling their brains with women's rights, so called.” Her sentiments were seconded by the editor of the People's Advocate, who endorsed Coakley's essay as “replete with sound logic and good suggestions.”8 Forthright calls for women's political empowerment were met in part by invocations of the ideal of domesticity.

Coakley's resoluteness was misleading. A closer examination of her public life suggests that her ideas were far more complex than her remarks allowed for. Born a slave in Virginia, Coakley was educated in Washington, D.C.'s schools and became a teacher and administrator, duties that were arguably consistent with the ideal of female domesticity she espoused. However, Coakley then went on to serve as a national organizer for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and was among those who called for the first meeting of the National League of Colored Women in 1895. If Coakley eschewed “women's rights, so called,” her definition of domesticity was such that it permitted women to travel, lecture, and perform as leaders with national standing.9 This formulation was something other than the restricted notion of female influence that had animated thinking during the antebellum decades.

There was no clear sacred-secular divide in black public culture. While (p.154) operating pursuant to distinct structures, rules of governance, and, in some cases, leaders, the distance between political conventions and church conferences was a short one during the postwar decades. The agendas within these settings often reflected the overlapping interests of activists, many of whom moved nimbly between the sacred and the secular. Black churches rivaled political organizations as the most important sites of African American public culture. In his 1903 study of black churches, W. E. B. Du Bois reported that 2.7 million of the nation's 12 million African Americans were active church members—that is, nearly one out of every four to five people. Of these, 95 percent lived in the South, a statistic that illustrated the transformation of the black church from a northern-to a southern-based institution during Reconstruction.10 Black Methodists numbered 1.2 million in 1903; by the turn of the twentieth centuiy, one out of eveiy ten African Americans belonged to a black Methodist denomination, a tenfold increase over the immediate postwar decades.11

Spiritual community was one identity among many for black churches. These public venues sponsored civil rights campaigns and lyceums, as well as mutual aid associations and widows' funds. They financed educational institutions, from elementary schools to theological seminaries and normal training institutes. Their sanctuaries, often the largest local gathering place, hosted political conventions, fraternal order celebrations, temperance rallies, and schools. Ministers often served as political leaders, emboldened by the moral and financial support of their denominations that somewhat insulated them from the retributions of whites. By one estimate, of the nearly 2,000 black male officeholders during the Reconstruction era, 276, or nearly 14 percent, were ministers. Such men exercised tremendous authority within black Methodism. In the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, Bishop Richard Cain served as congressman from South Carolina for two years, and Bishop Theophilus Steward was a Republican Party activist in Georgia. In AME Zion, Bishop James Hood served as president of the North Carolina Colored Convention of 1865 and later as the state's assistant superintendent of education.12 Consequently, during the proceedings of church conferences, spiritual matters and institutional business shared the agenda with party politics, civil rights, temperance, and education. These were vibrant and well-attended occasions, and their influence was extended by way of church publications. For many church leaders, politics and religion were compatible, even interdependent, and these men met little resistance as they moved between conferences and conventions.

Views about the rights of churchwomen were shaped through the intersection (p.155) of religion and politics. Some saw a close connection between the movement for women's right to the vote and the power of spiritual forces. Benjamin Tanner, editor of the AME Church's weekly, the Christian Recorder, lauded the election of Methodist Episcopal Church (North) bishop Gilbert Haven as president of Boston's American Female Suffrage Association. Tanner remarked that a “good” movement appeared on its way toward seeking “success on the basis of a religion that honors God and Christ.”13 Tanner endorsed women's suffrage as among the century's “good” movements, an assessment more typically bestowed upon antislavery and temperance campaigns. Tanner went further, attributing the movement's likelihood of success to its reliance on religious leadership. This endorsement of the activism of Bishop Haven, a white Methodist, exemplified how African American leaders saw political interests as compatible with, and even enhanced by, their engagement with the church. Such confluences reinforced an incorporation of political tenets into church-based deliberations, especially those about the rights of churchwomen.

Black Methodist churches sat at Reconstruction's crossroads. Established institutions grew and were transformed by their extension into the South. The AME and AME Zion Churches, both of which originated in northern cities during the 1790s, expanded their memberships tenfold and moved their centers of operation to the South. New institutions were born. The Colored Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church was created when the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, excluded those former slaves who worshipped in its sanctuaries. These institutions struggled for legitimacy in relation to their white counterparts, asking whether black churches would best distinguish themselves through conformity or innovation. The tensions associated with the coming together of formerly enslaved and formerly free people were evident in debates about the desirability of an educated ministry, the role of lay leaders, and styles of worship. Alongside these issues emerged questions about women's formal authority.

Law and the Remaking of Women's Rights

In churches, as in political culture, law was a touchstone. Changes in religious law, in turn, led to lasting transformations in practice. Prior to the 1870s, while black Methodist churchwomen had consistently performed essential fund-raising and benevolent work, they were not formally recognized in church law. After the Civil War, women gained formal authority within Methodist bodies. By the early 1880s, they voted and held office in decision-making (p.156) bodies, served as officers of home and foreign missionary societies, oversaw local church governance as stewardesses, and spread the gospel as duly licensed preachers. These innovations resulted from shifting views about women's rights in the church, and in practice they transformed women's relationships to the rituals, deliberations, and administration of religious bodies. Women were granted authority and autonomy in religious institutions long before they secured these rights in politics writ large.

The Doctrines and Discipline were the first target of churchwomen's campaign for rights. The result was that during the 1870s, both the AME and the AME Zion Churches amended their governing texts to delete formal distinctions between men and women. The issue first came before the AME General Conference in 1872, when Rev. Thomas Henderson, a member of the Missouri delegation, proposed that the law be amended such that “the word ‘male’ wherever it occurs as a qualification of electors be struck from the Discipline.”14 Henderson had been educated at Oberlin College, where he likely encountered debates about the rights of women. He was active in Republican Party politics while living in Kansas and likely followed the debate surrounding the language of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.15 Henderson's proposal was extended by a subsequent motion that declared all church members over the age of twenty-one, regardless of sex, be permitted to vote for local trustees. Four years later, gender qualifications were struck from all provisions related to Sunday school personnel.16 In the AME Zion Church, similar revisions were taken up in 1876 when the General Conference voted to “strike out the word male in the Discipline.”17 Apparently, this directive was not fully implemented, and in 1880 a group of Boston churchwomen successfully petitioned “to strike out the words ‘man’ and ‘men’ in the Discipline,” specifying those sections of the church law that had not already been so amended.18

There was remarkably little debate. Churchwomen gained the right to vote without a hint of opposition. Perhaps some did not anticipate how gates of power were opening to women. But the political rhetoric in which these changes in church law were couched at least invited questions. As religious activists criticized the appearance of the words “male” and “men” in church law, their positions echoed those women's rights advocates had uttered during debates surrounding the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. There was an interpretive link between campaigns to change church law and claims for women's rights in politics. As one Boston-based group of AME Zion Church petitioners put it, they sought to give “women the same rights in the church as men.” This was no discrete campaign to give local women modest (p.157) decision-making power. Proponents of gender-neutral church laws had more sweeping, though perhaps not fully articulated, objectives in mind.19

There was an explicit link between churchwomen s activism and campaigns being waged by women in the professions. In law, American women confronted bans upon their admission to the bar. The example of Charlotte Ray, a black woman who was one of the first American women to be licensed to practice law, illustrates how professional women's struggles, particularly the excision of restrictions such as “male” or “men” from the relevant rules, resonated with those of women in churches. Ray entered the Howard University Law School class of 1869. While her admission to law school was remarkable, Ray's future was uncertain; American courts, including those of the District of Columbia, had yet to admit women to practice. Teaching during the day at Howard's Normal and Preparatory Department, Ray studied commercial law in the evening and graduated in 1872, the sole woman in a class of fifteen.20 By the time Ray completed law school, her professional prospects had changed. The District of Columbia's chiefjudge, David Cartter, had overseen an amendment to the laws related to the admission of attorneys in the district, such as to “strike out the word ‘male.’”21 A door once closed was opened, and in April 1872, Ray was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia.22 She went on to have a brief though remarkable stint as a practitioner, but finally returned to teaching.23

Changes in law opened doors to authority and leadership. This was true in sacred and secular circles. Intriguing connections suggest that it was significant that both in the church and in law, female activists had important links to antebellum public culture. In black Methodist churches, women such as Eliza Gardner drew upon their experiences in prewar antislavery politics. Charlotte Ray, while born in 1850, had the experience of her parents, Charles and H. Cordelia, by which to frame her aspirations. In both settings, women strategically drew upon male allies to further their interests. Churchwomen had long used sympathetic men to get their petitions before all-male governing bodies. Ray turned to one of her law professors, Alfred Riddle, to move her admission to the bar. Riddle was a likely ally; he had been an antislavery activist, Republican congressman, and women's rights advocate since the 1850s.24 Finally, as churches served as public sites for rethinking of the woman question, Howard Law School appears to have served a similar purpose. In the late 1860s and early 1870s, the faculty, which included Albert Riddle, was led by John Mercer Langston, the 1849 Oberlin College graduate who had taken part in the early antebellum black political conventions that admitted women. Among Ray's classmates were Maiy Ann (p.158) Shadd Cary, who would work alongside Ray as a National Woman Suffrage Association activist, and D. Augustus Straker, who, like Dean John Mercer Langston, would by the early 1870s become an outspoken advocate of women's suffrage.25

The Rights of Churchwomen

Debates surrounding the office of the stewardess exposed that gender neutrality did not prevail in Methodist churches. In 1872, at the same General Conference that granted women the right to vote for trustees, AME Church leaders created the office of the stewardess, authorizing local congregations to designate between three and nine women to sit as a board.26 In 1876, the AME Zion Church followed suit, though in that denomination the stewardesses were to be appointed by the quarterly, or regional, conference.27 In the GME Church, the first time the office was proposed in 1882 it was reported to have “produced laughter,” which was punctuated by the tabling of the matter.28 Three General Conferences over the course of eight years deliberated the issue before the proposal was finally approved.29

Ambivalence about women's religious authority shaped the final terms by which stewardesses were recognized. While the title might suggest that the office was equivalent to the long-standing office of steward, the authority extended to women was hardly equivalent to that of their male counterparts. Stewards were, by church law, aids to local ministers, while stewardesses were assigned to work “in assisting the preacher's steward in providing the necessary comfort for the minister.”30 They were envisioned as assistants to the minister's assistants or a sort of ladies' auxiliary to the stewards.31 In some cases, their appointments could not be made locally, requiring confirmation by a quarterly conference; in others, women were made accountable to the stewards, who could “confirm or reject the nomination of the stewardesses; and hold them responsible for a faithful performance of their duty.”32 Such strictures delimited women's authority within the church. Still, the establishment of the office of the stewardess gave women formal recognition for the work they had long performed in local congregations. It enhanced their visibility, increased their authority, and, for some, raised questions about where these changes in women's roles might lead.

Despite the careful crafting of church law, some commentators feared unintended change. For example, the AME Church's Christian Recorder published a commentary asking whether offices such as that of stewardess would ultimately lead to a political end—woman suffrage—or to women “taking (p.159) hold” and “speaking” in religious gatherings.33 When attempting to appoint a board of stewardesses in a local congregation, the Reverend Henry McNeal Turner recognized the ambivalences expressed both in the wording of the new law and in the commentary that surrounded it. The stewards in his congregation refused to approve his female nominees until he threatened the men with removal. For the women, Turner had nothing but praise. They were “worth more than all the male officers put together,” he offered, a remark that hinted at the feared consequences of such an innovation.34 While men might retain the authority to pass on the selection of stewardesses, once appointed, women might prove themselves to be equally effective, or even superior, leaders.

Female missionary societies faced similar challenges. At the fore of this change was the AME Church, which created the Women's Parent Mite Missionary Society in 1874.35 The AME Zion Church founded the Ladies' Home and Foreign Missionary Society in 1880,36 and the CME Church authorized its Women's Missionary Society in 1890.37 Like the stewardesses, female missionary leaders remained subject to male oversight. In some cases, members were elected from among those women who were perceived to be most loyal to the male leadership, the “wives and daughters of our bishops and elders, and other influential ladies of our churches.” Other churches deprived women of a final say over missionary affairs. Governing boards, comprised of male ministers, oversaw women's work, or bylaws required the election of men to governing boards.38

Missionary societies were a double-edged sword for women seeking religious authority. The terms by which the societies were founded recognized the work women had long performed while extending women's control over fund-raising and outreach work. This expansion of the church's hierarchy was a tribute to women's church contributions and offered them an unprecedented opportunity to exercise leadership and independence. One AME Church commentator termed such societies the “woman movement” of the church, conveying the political sensibilities that were embodied in church practices.39 Flowever, the terms under which missionary societies were constituted also reflected ambivalence about the claims women were making on church authority. Women could for the first time serve as officers, speak from the podium, and preside over the proceedings at church conferences. They could conduct fund-raising and relief work pursuant to a constitution and bylaws, rather than at the discretion of male leaders. Yet the very constitutions and bylaws that guaranteed their authority also ensured the work of female missionary societies would remain subject to male supervision.

(p.160) Not all divisions were between men and women in such matters. Women clashed with one another, revealing history's fault lines that were drawn between North and South. It was not the woman question itself that divided women but rather tensions that grew out of divisions between those from the North and those from the South. In the AME Church, for example, women initially operated under the auspices of the Women's Parent Mite Missionaiy Society. Northern women dominated the work of this organization and increasingly directed its work toward foreign, nonU.S. missions. By the early 1890s, the South's female church activists sought to counter this foreign mission agenda and to renew the church's effort to address the needs of African Americans in their region. They had the assistance of a male ally, Henry McNeal Turner, who paved the way for the founding of the Women's Home and Foreign Missionaiy Society. The women in Turner's family, all southerners, emerged as leaders in this competing missionary society and successfully established branches throughout the denomination in the coming years.40

It is unlikely that many churchwomen were surprised to encounter resistance as they began to vote, hold office, and take part in deliberative bodies. Little was new about that given the opposition they had encountered historically. There was something new, however. Women now operated pursuant to law and claimed their new roles as part of their rights as religious activists. They did not yet possess “the same rights in the church as men.” Still, churchwomen used the new laws to insert themselves into the deliberations of decision-making bodies and withstand assaults on their authority.

Challenges multiplied going into the 1880s. No longer mere subjects of proceedings, being thanked for serving a meal or raising funds, churchwomen were regularly serving as conference delegates. For example, Amanda Beatty served as a secretary of the AME Zion West Tennessee and Mississippi Conference in 1884.41 Beatty's service in her local conference led to her election as a “fraternal delegate” to the church's regional meeting held in Memphis the following year. While the conference minutes reported that it was a male ally, “Brother W. L. Carr,” who nominated Beatty to her new post, among those present during her election were female allies: Nannie Riddick, who had earlier in the year been elected conference clerk, and the officers of the Ladies' Home and Foreign Missionary Society.42

The combination of law and well-placed male allies mattered. For example, controversy ensued when, during an 1885 meeting of the AME Zion Church Baltimore District Conference, Presiding Elder William Howard Day appointed Selena Bungay of Washington, D.C., to the committee that (p.161) would determine the presiding elder's salary. Bungay's opponents insisted that, as a mere Sabbath school delegate, she should be “rejected from being appointed on any business of the conference.” Day defended Bungay's right to sit on the committee, reasoning that his action was fully in accordance with church law, though when he finally prevailed, it was by way of a sarcastically worded resolution: “We bow with humble submission to the decision of the Presiding Elder and beg him to appoint sister Selena Bungay.”43 Changes in church law enabled duly appointed female officers and their allies to resist challenges to women's leadership.

Missionary society leadership opened the door to seats as conference officers. As early as 1880, officers of the AME Church's Mite Missionary Society appeared as conference officers delivering reports on their endeavors.44 Female missionaiy society leaders soon returned to the conferences that had authorized their endeavors pleading for ministerial support. The women reported meeting with deeply held indifference, and even some outright hostility from ministers, much of which was attributable to lingering hostility to the women's new authority. Their assessment was confirmed by male leaders, such as AME Zion's Bishop Singleton Jones, who told his General Conference that female missionary societies “were greatly hindered last year in consequence of a want of cooperation on the part of the brethren … that is, to come down to plain English, they did not encourage their sisters in their praiseworthy effort.”45 Jones's alliance with the female activists likely stemmed, in part, from his marriage to Mary Jane Talbert Jones, the society's first president.46 Women's reliance upon male allies was a well-proven strategy. Yet the newfound power of women's standing as conference officers gave them access to the podium, where they made their own case for the value of female missionary work.

Some women adopted a deferential posture. Such was the case with Catherine Thompson, who was born in the 1840s in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, and married to the Reverend Joseph Thompson. As treasurer of the AME Zion Ladies' Home and Foreign Missionary Society, Thompson beseeched the ministers: “Help us! Help us! dear brethren, by your cooperation, and we will tiy, under God, to do what we can to make the missionary work of our church a grand success.”47 Others, like AME Zion vice president Jane Hamer, offered reassurances to those who might misunderstand the women's assertions as somehow disloyal to the church. “I am for Zion,” she pledged.48 Still others lay the blame for the limited success of missionary work at the feet of uncooperative male ministers. In the AME Church, Mrs. S. C. Watson of the Newjersey Conference offered her analysis of the situation: “I do not blame (p.162) the ladies for this. The fault is with the ministers. They do not like to have the society organized in their charges. … I hope brethren you will get out of the ladies' way and let them work.”49 Watson's solution was to ask the bishops to “make it binding on every minister to be compelled to see to it that this society is organized in this charge.”50

It was ill-advised to leave the fate of missionary societies in the hands of men in the view of Eliza Gardner. Cloaked in discouragement, Gardner stepped to the podium at her church's 1884 General Conference to champion women's missionaiy endeavors. Earlier in the session, she had witnessed an effort to limit the rights of churchwomen. Two ministerial delegates had put forth a proposal that read: “Resolved, That females have all the rights and immunities of males, except the rights of orders and of the pastorate. They may be licensed as evangelists.”51 Though this measure failed, it prompted Gardner to craft a response that was neither deferential nor reassuring. Gardner made explicit the political underpinnings of women's quests for religious authority: “I do not think I felt quite so Christian-like as my dear sisters. I come from old Massachusetts, where we have declared that all, not only men, but women, too, are created free and equal, with certain inalienable rights which men are bound to respect.” The rights of churchwomen were bound up with equality and freedom, as provided for in the constitution of her home state, and they were an extension of the “inalienable rights” provided for in the Declaration of Independence. In a twist on Supreme Court justice Roger Taney's notorious pronouncement in Dred Scott v. Sanford, Gardner claimed for churchwomen rights that “men were bound to respect.”52

Female missionary societies were but one chapter in the great histoiy of African Americans and their churches, Gardner urged. The struggle for women's rights had been born alongside “other good movements” dear to black Methodists, including “temperance reform and the antislavery cause.” Here she cast churchwomen's struggles as part and parcel of the “good” cause of women's rights. A wrong outcome would put the church's standing in broader circles at risk, she explained: “If I would go back to Boston and tell the people that some of the members of this conference were against the women, it might have a tendency to prejudice our interests in that city with those upon whom we can rely for assistance.” She concluded by proposing a bargain in which women would promote the good standing of the church in return for the support and respect of male leaders: “If you will try to do by us the best you can … you will strengthen our efforts and make us a power; but if you commence to talk about the superiority of men, if you persist in telling us that after the fall of man we were put under your feet and that we are (p.163) intended to be subject to your will, we cannot help you in New England one bit.”53 Gardner cast these disputes not in terms of influence or rights but in terms of power. By the mid-i88os, churchwomen like Gardner understood their struggles to be part of black women's broader claims for public power and authority. The tenor of the woman question debate was shifting, with conciliation and ambivalence often replaced by confrontation and acrimony.

Gardner's threat was not an idle one. Black Methodist leaders knew well the case of Amanda Berry Smith, an itinerant preacher, who in the mid-1870s had left the ranks of the AME Church to work in support of white Christian endeavors. Smith was criticized for depriving black Americans, “those who need it most,” of her skills and of her tremendous capacity to raise funds for AME missionary endeavors.54 Gardner and other black female activists in New England were also organizing secular women's clubs.55 As they met with resistance in religious institutions, black churchwomen helped construct alternative sites for their public ambitions. In turn, they used the confidence and collective sensibilities that grew out of secular organizations to assert their standing as religious leaders.

Black Baptist activists were confronting analogous changes. By the late 1870s, that denomination's female activists had emerged as visible participants in the formal proceedings of black Baptist associations. The Baptists' decentralized structure differed from more centralized and hierarchical Methodist bodies. Yet, at their core, the gendered struggles among African American Baptists in the 1870s and 1880s were the same as those of their Methodist counterparts: What would the relationship of women be to the denomination's sites of power and authority? In the immediate post—Civil War period, black Baptist leaders initiated a succession of statewide gatherings that grew into a discernible convention movement by the 1880s. Initially, women were shadowy figures in the records of these proceedings. They were objects of concern, as male leaders established widow's funds to support the wives and children of deceased ministers. By the late 1870s, black Baptist women were participating in conventions as missionary fund-raisers and public speakers. By the mid-1880s, female Sunday school teachers and missionary agents served as convention delegates, members of governing committees, and speakers.56

Two developments were key as Baptist women moved into previously all male spaces. The first, as historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham explains, was the development of a “female talented tenth.” Women who were educated in the South's new institutions of higher learning, notably Spelman Seminary (later Spelman College) in Atlanta, operated mother's training (p.164) schools and social service programs, taught Sunday school, raised funds, and in the process constructed women's networks among local congregations. At the same time, as historian Anthea Butler describes, poor and working women entered public culture through their associations with Baptistsponsored Bible Bands. Begun by missionary activists, black and white, to bring literacy and Christianity to formerly enslaved women, the Bible Bands were vehicles for literacy, empowerment, and autonomy.57 The women who appeared at state and regional conventions traced the roots of their activism to education, whether through higher learning or Bible study.

The form that their campaigns for rights took differed between Baptist and Methodist women. These distinctions reflected the denominations' contrasting institutional structures. Baptist women never appear to have made claims for formal office, such as licensed preacher, stewardess, or ordained minister. Perhaps they did not find it necessary to do so. Among Baptists, most authority, including that of electing pastors, resided with local congregations where women had long exerted significant influence. Among Methodists, power was situated in centralized and hierarchal bodies, and officeholding was often a prerequisite to power. Also, the tradition of preaching women, although unsanctioned, was much stronger among Methodist women than it was among Baptists. As Baptist women enjoyed a significant measure of power without asserting claims to formal office, Methodist women had reason to seek formal recognition.

In both denominations, women seeking to expand their roles within the church called upon influential male allies. William J. Simmons stands out among Baptists. A former slave, Reconstruction-era politician, author, and educator, Simmons encouraged and worked alongside the church's most visible female activists. Support of male leaders remained important when men who were uncomfortable with or felt threatened by women's new roles impugned their womanhood.58

Black churchwomen's identities as Baptists or Methodists meant that white churchwomen's activism was often a touchstone. They were religions activists, a view that linked them to their white counterparts. Debates about Methodist and Baptist polity and practice crossed racial lines, and in some cases these transracial denominational identities brought black and white activist women into contact. Historians have variously characterized these relations as cooperative, adversarial, and mutually dependent, and there is evidence enough to sustain each of these interpretations. However, as we explore the elements that shaped black women's ideas about their rightful place in the church, the fact rather than the quality of crossracial contact is (p.165) key. Black Baptist women encountered white Baptist women when the latter came to the South as missionaries.59 Women of the CME Church knew their counterparts in the white Methodist Episcopal Church, South, through their shared home mission work.60 Black and white women learned about one another's activities through the church-sponsored press. Black Methodist women may well have heard how two women designated to serve as associational delegates had been excluded from a Methodist Episcopal Church meeting in Arkansas.61

Churchwomen's Many Publics

The woman question debate cut dramatically across lines of race and religiosity. Black churchwomen did not need to look far to find echoes of their own struggles among white women in both church and politics. There was the debate within the white-led Methodist Episcopal Church (North) over the licensing of female preachers and the ordination of women, which culminated in the denial of women's right to sit as delegates in the General Conference in 1888. Most noted in this struggle by black Methodist activists was Maggie Newton Van Cott. The AME Church's Christian Recorder followed Van Cott's tribulations in the Methodist Church with an attention to detail that evidenced how black Methodists understood themselves to be, in part, Methodists across racial lines. The intersection of race and gender in Van Cott's case simultaneously transcended and reified the racial divide among Methodists. The Recorder noted, for example, that African Americans had been restricted to the sanctuary's galleries when Van Cott spoke at a New Orleans Methodist Church.62 AME activists praised Van Cott—Bishop A. W. Wayman dubbed her “the great female evangelist.”63 Even as they were standing at the threshold of their own protracted contest over the same issue, AME activists expressed regret when the Methodist Episcopal Church (North) denied Van Cott's eligibility for the deaconate.64 Black Baptist women likely saw threads of their own contests over gender and power as they observed Free Will Baptist women being ordained in the 1870s.65 In all, African American churchwomen knew that their own struggles over the parameters of religious authority paralleled those being waged by their white counterparts.

Black churchwomen's demands sat uneasily alongside the demands of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) led by Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton. During its January 1874 convention, the NWSA adopted a set of resolutions, the terms of which were a perverted take on the rights being sought by black churchwomen. The intersection of race and gender (p.166) was complex. While urging the adoption of Charles Sumner's civil rights bill in Congress, the NWSA penned its own civil rights agenda, this one for women. Women's rights were awkwardly set up alongside the rights of African American men, and the convention called upon Congress to adopt “a civil rights bill for [women's] protection … that shall secure to them equally with colored men all the advantages and opportunities of life.” This resolution may have struck a dissonant cord with black women, who likely heard the rights of black men being set up against the rights of women. However, the terms of the convention's fifth resolution likely elicited sympathy from black churchwomen. It demanded that women be “admitted to all theological seminaries on equal terms with colored men; to be recognized in all religious organizations as bishops, elders, priests, deacons; to officiate at the altar and preach in the pulpits of all churches, orthodox or heterodox; and that all religious sects shall be compelled to bring their creeds and biblical interpretations into line with the divine idea of the absolute equality of women with the colored men of the nation.”66 Here were expressly political white women, in a sense, signing on to much the same agenda as black female church activists. The rights of churchwomen were understood to be central to women's rights generally in this period, even among women such as Stanton and Anthony, for whom political enfranchisement was their first priority.

The reactions of male church leaders combined praise, lament, and denial. They were called upon to make sense of churchwomen's newfound authority as they represented their institutions in broader circles of church and state. Among such men was AME Church activist Benjamin Arnett, who eloquently grappled with his ambivalences. Arnett had spent his early years in Ohio, working as a teacher and itinerant minister. After the Civil War, his activism blossomed, encompassing a breadth of interests that few rivaled. Arnett rose to the station of bishop within the AME Church while extending his efforts far beyond religious institutions. Arnett took up politics, serving black state and national equal rights leagues and colored conventions, as well as the Republican Party. He was an ambitious organizer, helping to establish numerous benevolent, temperance, and fraternal societies, along with Sunday schools. By the mid-i88os, the woman question was frequently among his topics as he addressed a broad range of organizations.67

Arnett was a minister first, always cloaked as such by his garb or his honorific, Reverend. This performance of his standing and respectability enhanced the power and persuasiveness of his ideas. Arnett carried the (p.167) church with him into a broad array of public venues. In doing so, he contributed to the cross-fertilization that shaped debates about the woman question. Through the 1870s and 1880s, Arnett attended the conferences at which black Methodists negotiated new roles for churchwomen, and, as a regular editor of conference minutes, he followed the related exchanges. As Arnett stepped to the podium in secular settings, the church debates in which he was involved echoed through his remarks.

Arnett always tailored his commentary to the character of his audience. For example, when speaking before a conference of white Methodist Episcopal Church (North) leaders in Baltimore, Arnett boasted about the innovations within his African American sect. His purpose that day was to encourage support for institutions of higher education for black women, and he used the new authority that churchwomen enjoyed in the AME Church to make his case. Arnett explained how his church had met the challenges of Reconstruction: “When we have no men to be officers of the church, we put in women. We have made them stewards, class-leaders, exhorters and [Bible] band leaders. Whenever they could be used for the good of the cause we have used them.”68 Here, Arnett promoted the enhancements in churchwomen's standing as proof of his denomination's resourcefulness and freedom from counterproductive gender conventions. Of course, Arnett was mindful that the white Methodist Episcopal Church leaders in his audience had confronted the same claims by their churchwomen. He implied that the AMEChurch leadership had deftly handled the woman question—a claim that was more hopeful than accurate, since a few years later the church divided over ordaining women to the ministry.

He took a different approach in political circles. As the elected representative from Green County, Arnett addressed the Ohio House of Representatives in 1886. He took the floor to call for the repeal of that state's “black laws.”69 African Americans in Ohio faced degradations in many forms, including separate railcars and schools and exclusion from the “jury box and the ballot box.” In a speech that dramatically retold U.S. histoiy as a long progression toward racial justice, Arnett urged the state's Republican leadership to do away with these remaining marks of slavery. One qualification was necessary, however: Arnett made clear that he was not advocating the right of African American men to marry white women, deflecting those who might brand him a miscegenationist. Nor, he continued, was he opening the door to white men who might “tamper with the virtue of our daughters.” He “preferred” African American women, Arnett explained: “I have a pride for the women of my race.” Here, we get a glimpse of Arnett's thinking about the (p.168) churchwomen with whom he now shared leadership: they, like men, had endured all the degradations of enslavement. Arnett then shifted focus, directing his remarks to African American men: “My advice is to stand by our women, our sisters, our mothers, our daughters and our wives.” Why? Because, he concluded, such devotions would produce “a generation of wise, intelligent, virtuous, industrious and loving women, who will be crowned jewels of the race, and models of womanhood in the commonwealth and Christianity.” In this setting, black churchwomen bolstered Arnett's claim that in seeking to have the “black laws” repealed, he was not acting out a desire for white women; black women were women enough for Arnett. Churchwomen were a source of race pride, demonstrating through their purity and virtue how far African Americans had already traveled from the degradations of slavery. Finally, Arnett set a course for the future. Through the production of “wise, intelligent, virtuous and loving women” the interests of the “race,” the “commonwealth,” and “Christianity” would be served. Essential to Arnett's claim were women such as those of the AME Church; their public activism powerfully evidenced the qualities he most celebrated.70

Arnett had a third point of view to offer fraternal order leaders. When Arnett addressed Cincinnati's Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in 1884, he offered an analysis of a public culture in which authority was shared between the sexes. Only respectable women who conformed to his notion of “true womanhood” could expect to share in this collective enterprise, however. Arnett lauded the Odd Fellows for creating a female auxiliary, the Household of Ruth, in 1857, pronouncing this “modern invention” a “decided improvement.” “We welcome the celestial intervention of women” who had proven themselves to be a “durable element of strength and success” and “an important adjunct to our order.” (Arnett did not remark that it had taken his church two decades to avail itself of this source of “strength and success.”) Arnett was deeply invested in female respectability and admonished the women present to follow the “illustrious examples” of biblical women such as Rebekah, Manoah, Sisera, Hannah, Naomi, Miriam, and Dorcas—modest, graceful, pious, devoted, zealous, courageous, self-sacrificing, noble, high-minded, generous, brave, and loving. These were, in Arnett's analysis, both “domestic and public virtues.”71 His tone suggested that the Odd Fellows' accommodation to women's public aspirations had been an easy and natural development, although we know that fraternal associations long excluded women from their ranks. In crafting an idealized fraternal past, Arnett sought to legitimate an ideal and impose it on the future. Respectability might enable black women to occupy visible positions (p.169) in public culture, as officers of women's fraternal or religious auxiliaries, but he also hoped that respectability would minimize whatever tensions authority shared between men and women produced.

Fraternal orders had not escaped the woman question, Arnett's remarks demonstrate. Black Americans in secret societies were rethinking the relationship of gender to power. The Masons created a formal role for women with the founding of the Order of the Eastern Star in 1874. We know little about the circumstances under which these women's auxiliaries were established. What little we know about the 1874 founding of the Mason's Order of the Eastern Star has been gleaned from early institutional histories. Thornton A. Jackson established the first chapter of the order, the Queen Esther Chapter No. 1, in Washington, D.C., in August 1874. A barber, Howard University Medical College student, and lifelong Masonic activist, Jackson supported the proposal originated by Martha Welch and Georgiana Thomas, in whose home the first meeting was held. By 1890, statewide Grand Chapters of the Order of the Eastern Star had been established in North Carolina, Tennessee, California, Kansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Texas, Illinois, and Missouri. Many of the women associated with the order had religious affiliations, so innovations taking place in the church were connected to this development. White Masons and Odd Fellows had already founded female auxiliaries; white Odd Fellows founded the Daughters of Rebekah in 1851, and white Masons established the Order of the Eastern Star in 1868. Yet, as Theda Skocpol andjennifer Oser suggest, the subsequent emergence of black women's auxiliaries was not imitative of white fraternal practices but demonstrated the distinct and “extraordinarily strong role” that women played in black fraternal groups.72

Were the forces that led to changes for black women in fraternal orders the same as those that had changed their standing in churches? It is difficult to say. There had long been anxiety in fraternal orders about the place of women. And religious activists certainly moved between churches and fraternal orders. Black women who supported the Masonic order had challenged the gendered conventions of fraternal orders by speaking at their gatherings and questioning their marginal standing even before the Civil War. As early as 1845, they had organized themselves into the Heroines ofjericho, a local women's auxiliary that operated in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago.73 With the Civil War, this brand of female activism, like women's benevolent work, teaching, and public speaking, had become more visible. Henrietta Gilmour spoke “eloquently” at a Sharp Street Church gathering to honor a local Masonic lodge in 1866.74 The Heroines of jericho processed among the (p.170) “various religious and moral associations” that marched in Pittsburgh's 1865 celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation, and were seated prominently “in front of the speaker's stand” while such luminaries as Lewis Woodson, Benjamin Tanner, and George Vashon expounded on the significance of the occasion.75 In Chicago, Masonic women led public ceremonies at an 1865 gathering that “seemed to be entirely conducted by ladies.” Women sold and collected the tickets, called the house to order, elected a woman, “Mrs. Blanks,” president of the occasion, and produced a “beautiful silk flag” for the male members of the North Star Lodge. “Mrs. Sterrett” delivered the presentation speech. “Ruth,” who reported on the occasion, noted with no hint of irony that the women “all seemed to understand themselves perfectly.” Lest she leave the impression that the women were inattentive to more domestic concerns, Ruth concluded by noting that the evening closed with “sharp appetites … satisfied with the good things that had been bountifully provided by the ladies.”76

The life of “Mrs. Blanks,” who presided over the Chicago gathering, illustrates the multifaceted character of female activism in the post—Civil War years. Martha A. Blanks, who was often called Mrs. James Blanks, was born in Virginia around 1815. By 1850 she was living in Chicago with her husband, James, who was also from Virginia. As a free woman, Blanks operated a boardinghouse while her husband worked first as a laborer and by i860 as a janitor. The Blanks were AME Church activists, making contributions to support the Christian Recorder and Wilberforce College while opening their home to visiting church dignitaries, leading one commentator to dub it “the minister's asylum.”77 Martha Blanks served as vice president of the Colored Ladies' Freedmen's Aid Society of Chicago and an officer of the Independent Order of Good Templars.78 Women such as Martha Blanks, like the Reverend Benjamin Arnett, moved freely back and forth between religious and fraternal organizations.

Ambivalence continued to characterize the public face of male Masons on the woman question. The questioning was gentle. For example, an editorial in the Christian Recorder reported that Masons in the nation of Italy had welcomed women into the society's “memberships, its offices, and its honors” through “several Orders of Sister Masons, Venerables, and Great Mistresses.” The brief item concluded with a curious query: “What will become of the ‘secrets’ of the system” if such reports were true? The comment suggested that women's admission to the order would undermine Masonry. Would female gossips fail to keep its secrets? Or were the secret rites so gendered that female members would necessarily destroy their coherence? (p.171) The prospect of new roles for women provoked the woman question in fraternal orders. Through their ambitions and through the openings that the Civil War offered, women like Martha Blanks modeled a version of female public activism that touched the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of black activists in the post–Civil War era.79

Locating the Woman's Era

The 1890s have long been termed the “woman's era.” The phrase was coined by African American women who promoted the idea within their own communities and eventually extended it to the nation as a characterization of their pubic lives. Among the first to publicly invoke this idea was Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, when commenting in 1893 upon the exclusion of African Americans from the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Change was in the air, she informed her audience, and they should envision themselves as “on the threshold of woman's era.”80

A great deal was new in the 1890s. When African American women in Boston joined together to form a club for the purpose of “uplifting” the race in 1893, they named their enterprise “The New Era Club.” What was new about the era was manifest when the club began publishing its nationally circulated newspaper, the Woman's Era. The same spirit was evidenced by churchwomen who promoted this notion; for example, black Baptist women titled their magazine the Baptist Woman's Era.

To invoke the woman's era was also to speak of aspirations. For Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and her peers, it was a call for what might be. These women were, in a sense, visionaries. Scores of local women's clubs successfully joined together to form the National Association of Colored Women in 1896. Black Methodists sanctioned the ordination of women to the ministry in 1898. Black Baptist women founded their own national convention in 1900.

But all that was new and all that was yet to be had its start in the 1870s and 1880s. Before they were club women, temperance organizers, antilynching crusaders, or suffragists, most female activists learned to navigate issues of gender and power in churches and fraternal orders. Their daughters had come of age watching women command public authority as teachers, organizers, public speakers, preachers, deaconesses, and Masonic mistresses. By the mid-i88os, the woman's era was well under way. (p.172)


(1) . The author of ten novels and numerous short stories, Butler is best known for examining topics in African American history through the genre of science fiction. For a general discussion of her works, see Rebecca O. Johnson, “African American Feminist Science Fiction,” Sojourner: The Women's Forum 19, no. 6 (February 1994): 12–14; Sandra Y. Govan, “Homage to Tradition: Octavia Butler Renovates the Historical Novel,” MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, 13, no. 1–2 (Spring–Summer 1986): 79–96; Dorothy Allison, “The Future of Females: Octavia Butler's Mother Lode,” in Reading Black, Reading Feminist: A Critical Anthology, ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. (New York: Meridian, 1990), 471–78; and Ruth Salvaggio, “Octavia Butler and the Black Science Fiction Heroine,” Black American Literature Forum 18, no. 2 (1984): 78–81. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Ida Husted Harper produced the sixvolume History of Woman Suffrage over the course of forty-one years (New York: Fowler & Wells, 1881–1922). Historians long relied upon this collection as the premiere primary source for nineteenth-century women's history.

(2) . Through his fictional character, the African American civil rights lawyer Geneva Crenshaw, Bell explores law, history, and race through allegory, parable, and time travel to analyze contemporary issues of race and justice in the U.S. See Derrick A. Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism (New York: Basic Books, 1992) and And We Are Not Saved: The Elusive Quest for Racial Justice (New York: Basic Books, 1987).

(3) . William J. Walls, The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church: Reality of the Black Church (Charlotte, N.C.: A.M.E. Zion Publishing House, 1974), 111.

(4) . Benjamin Quarles, “Frederick Douglass and the Woman's Rights Movement,” Journal of Negro History 25, no. 1 (January 1940): 35–44.

(5) . “A Woman's Idea of Politics,” Elizabeth (New Jersey) Daily Journal, John Mercer Langston Papers, box 60–1, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

(6) . Ibid.

(7) . Alice King, “Woman's Power,” Georgetown Planet, 31 May 1878. The Georgetown Planet Weekly began publication in 1873 with James A. Bowley and R. O. Bush as its editors.

(8) .C. D. Johnson, “Bethel Literary: An Essay and a Speech,” The People's Advocate, 14 October 1882, John Mercer Langston Papers, box 60–1, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

(9) . Elizabeth L. Davis, Lifting as They Climb: An Historical Record of the National Association of Colored Women (1933; New York: G. K. Hall and Co., 1996), 215–18; Lawson Scruggs, Women of Distinction: Remarkable in Works and Invincible in Character (Raleigh: L. A. Scruggs, 1893), 268–70.

(10) . W. E. B. DuBois, The Negro Church. Report of a Social Study Made Under the Direction of Atlanta University; Together with the Proceedings of the Eighth Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, Held at Atlanta University, May 26th, 1903 (Atlanta, Ga.: Atlanta University Press, 1903).

(11) . Ibid.

(12) .Eric Foner, Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1996), xxi, 35–36, 108, 203–4.

(13) . “Bishop Haven Has Been Elected,” Christian Recorder, 5 November 1874; “The Ballot for Women,” Christian Recorder, 23 December 1875.

(14) . The Fifteenth Quadrennial Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Place of Session, Nashville, Tennessee. May 6, 1872, New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, N.Y.

(15) .W[illiam] N[ewton] Hartshorn, An Era of Progress and Promise, 1860–1910 (Boston: Priscilla Publishing Company, 1910), 440.

(16) . The Sixteenth Session, and the Fifteenth Quadrennial Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Place of Session, Atlanta, Georgia, from May 1st to 18th, 1876, New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, N.Y.

(17) . Walls, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 111.

(18) . Rev. Mark M. Bell, Daily Journal of the Sixteenth Quadrennial Session of the General Conference of the AME Zion Church, of America, Held at Montgomery, Alabama, May, A.D., 1880 (New York: Book Concern of the AME Zion Church, 1880), 71.

(19) . Ibid.

(20) . Lois Baldwin Moreland, “Charlotte E. Ray,” American National Biography Online (p.258) 〈http://www.anb.org.proxy.lib.umich.edu/articles/11/11-00995.html〉 (accessed May 4, 2006); J. Clay Smith Jr., “Black Women Lawyers: 125 Years at the Bar; 100 Years in the Legal Academy,” Howard Law Journal 40 (Winter 1997): 365–97.

(21) . Belva A. Lockwood, “My E√orts to Become a Lawyer,” Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, February 1888, 223.

(22) . Jill Norgren, “Before It Was Merely Difficult: Belva Lockwood's Life in Law and Politics,” Journal of Supreme Court History 23, no. 1 (1999): 16–42. Norgren explains that while Belva Lockwood was the first woman to be admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1880, Ray's 1872 admission to the District of Columbia bar preceded that of Lockwood by five months. Ray's case appears to contrast with that of Mary Ann Shadd Cary, who is reported to have withdrawn from Howard University Law School because she was prohibited from admission to the bar by the laws of the District of Columbia. See Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850–1920 (Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 1998), 38.

(23) . J. Clay Smith Jr., “Charlotte E. Ray Pleads Before Court,” Howard Law Journal 43 (Winter 2000): 121–39.

(24) . In the pre–Civil War era, Riddle had helped repeal Ohio's black laws and defended Ohio abolitionists charged with forcible resistance to enforcement of the federal Fugitive Slave Act in the case of John Price, often termed the “Oberlin-Wellington rescue.” See Richard L. Aynes, “The Bill of Rights, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Seven Deadly Sins of Legal Scholarship,” William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal 8 (February 2000): 407–35 n. 14; and Steven Lubet, “Symposium: Of John Brown: Lawyers, the Law, and Civil Disobedience: Slavery on Trial: The Case of the Oberlin Rescue,” Alabama Law Review 54 (Spring 2003): 785–829, 798. In the postwar era, Riddle represented suffragists Victoria Woodhull, Susan Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in a petition to Congress for the right to the vote. See Reva B. Siegel, “She the People: The Nineteenth Amendment, Sex Equality, Federalism, and the Family,” Harvard Law Review 115, no. 4 (February 2002): 948–1046, 972. Riddle also moved Belva Lockwood's admission to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1879. See Mary L. Clark, “The Founding of the Washington College of Law: The First Law School Established by Women for Women,” American University Law Review 47 (February 1998): 613–76 n. 45.

(25) . Catalogue and Records of Colored Students, 1834–1972, Secretary's Office IV, Alumni Records, Minority Student Records, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio; “State Convention of the Colored Citizens of Ohio, Columbus, Ohio,” Foner and Walker, eds., New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, 227; Proceedings of a Convention of the Colored Men of Ohio, held in the City of Cincinnati, on the 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th days of November, 1858 (Cincinnati: Moore, Wilstach, Keys & Co., 1858); D. Augustus Straker, Christian Recorder, June 4, 1874; Terborg-Penn, African American Women, 50.

(26) . The Fifteenth Quadrennial Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Place of Session, Nashville, Tennessee. May 6, 1872.

(27) . Walls, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 111.

(28) . Othal H. Lakey, The History of the C.M.E. Church (Memphis, Tenn.: C.M.E. Publishing House, 1996), 272.

(29) . Ibid.

(30) . Minutes, Eleventh Session, South Carolina Annual Conference, 1876, cited in Walls, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 111; Cicero R. Harris, Zion's Historical Catechism (Charlotte, N.C.: A.M.E. Zion Publishing House, 1922), 22.

(31) . Lakey, History of the C.M.E. Church, 272.

(32) . The Fifteenth Quadrennial Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Place of Session, Nashville, Tennessee. May 6, 1872.

(33) . “Primitive Deaconate,” Christian Recorder, 8 July 1875 (reprint from the Christian Union).

(34) . H. M. T., “Communications. How the Stewardesses System Operates in the AME Church,” Christian Recorder, 15 May 1873.

(35) . Lawrence S. Little, Disciples of Liberty: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the Age of Imperialism, 1884–1916 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000), 10.

(36) . Walls, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 376, 388.

(37) . Lakey, History of the C.M.E. Church, 303.

(38) . Walls, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 376, 388; Little, Disciples of Liberty, 10.

(39) . “The Mite Missionary Society/Women's Missionary Society,” Christian Recorder, 28 May 1874.

(40) . Stephen Angell, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and African American Religion in the South (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992), 219.

(41) . “West Tennessee and Miss. Conference,” Star of Zion, 19 December 1884.

(42) . “Mississippi,” Star of Zion 8, 24 October 1884. “Mississippi: Synopsis of the Minutes of the Second District Meeting,” Star of Zion, 28 November 1874. Throughout the mid-1880s numerous women were reported as elected delegates, appointed agents, and speakers before black Methodist conferences at all levels.

(43) . “Baltimore District Conference,” Star of Zion, 3 July 1885.

(44) . Rev. Benjamin W. Arnett, B.D., Journal of the 17th Session and the 16th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States, Held at St. Louis, Missouri, May 3–25, 1880 (Xenia, Ohio: Torchlight Printing Company, 1882); Minutes of the Thirteenth Session of the Georgia Annual Conference of the AME Church Held in Campbell Chapel, Americus, Georgia, January 21, 1880, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Office of the Historiographer, Nashville, Tenn.

(45) . Quoted in Walls, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 391.

(46) . Ibid., 402–3.

(47) . Quoted in ibid., 391.

(48) . Quoted in ibid., 392.

(49) . Rev. Joseph H. Morgan, Morgan's History of the New Jersey Conference of the A.M.E. Church, from 1872 to 1887. And of the Several Churches, as Far as Possible from Date (p.260) of Organization, with Biographical Sketches of Members of the Conference (Camden, N.J.: S. Chew, Printers, 1887).

(50) . Ibid.

(51) . Rev. C. R. Harris, Daily Proceedings of the Seventeenth Quadrennial Session of the General Conference of the AME Zion Church in America, Held in New York City, May, 1884 (AME Zion Book Concern, 1884).

(52) . Walls, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 392–93; Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), 407. The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts provided in pertinent part: “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights” (Article I). Thank you to Anne Boylan for pointing out this reference.

(53) . Quoted in Walls, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 392–93.

(54) . Adrienne M. Israel, Amanda Berry Smith: From Washerwoman to Evangelist (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 1998), 60.

(55) . National Association of Colored Women (U.S.), A History of the Club Movement Among the Colored Women of the United States of America: As Contained in the Minutes of the Conventions, Held in Boston, July 29, 30, 31, 1895, and of the National Federation of Afro-American Women, Held in Washington, D.C., July 20, 21, 22, 1896 (1902), Records of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, 1895–1992 (Bethesda, Md.: University Publications of America, 1993–).

(56) . Evelyn B. Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–1920 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), 48–59, 68–70; Minutes of the Thirty-Ninth Annual Meeting of the Consolidated American Baptist Missionary Convention, Held in the Zion Baptist Church, Cincinnati, Ohio, from Thursday, October 16th, to Wednesday, October 22nd, A.D., 1879 (Lexington, Ky.: Wilson & Zimmerman, 1880); The Fifth Anniversary of the Baptist Educational, Missionary and Sunday School Convention of South Carolina, Held with the Pee Dee Union Baptist Church, Cheraw, May 4–8, 1881 (Columbia, S.C.: W. B. McDaniel, General Book and Job Printer, 1881); Minutes of the Seventeenth Annual Session of the Jackson Missionary Baptist Association, Held with First Colored White Oak Baptist Church, Copiah County, Miss. September 3d, 4th and 5th, A.D. 1885 (Jackson, Miss.: Charles Winkley, Book and Job Printer, 1885).

(57) . Anthea D. Butler, “‘Only a Woman Would Do’: Bible Reading and African American Women's Organizing Work,” in Women and Religion in the African Diaspora, ed. Barbara D. Savage and R. Marie Griffith (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006).

(58) . Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent, 68–71; Anthea Butler, “‘Only a Woman Would Do.’”

(59) . Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent.

(60) . Mary E. Frederickson, “‘Each One Is Dependent on the Other’: Southern Churchwomen, Racial Reform, and the Process of Transformation,” in Visible Women: New Essays in American Activism, ed. Nancy Hewitt and Suzanne Lebsock (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 296–324.

(61) . Gregory Vickers, “Modes of Womanhood in the Early Woman's Missionary Union,” Baptist History and Heritage 24 (1989): 41–53; Slayden Yarbrough, “The Southern Baptist Spirit, 1845–1995,” Baptist History and Heritage 30, no. 3 (1995): 25–34.

(62) . Christian Recorder, 28 May 1874.

(63) . “Our New York Letter,” Christian Recorder, 21 November 1878; Bishop A. W. Wayman, “Notes by the Way,” Christian Recorder, 30 November 1876.

(64) . Rev. John O. Foster, Life and Labors of Mrs. Maggie Newton Van Cott, the First Lady Licensed to Preach in the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States (Cincinnati: Hitchcock and Walder, for the author, 1872); William R. Phinney, Maggie Newton Van Cott: First Woman Licensed to Preach in the Methodist Episcopal Church (Rye, N.Y.: Commission on Archives and History, New York Annual Conference, United Methodist Church, 1969); Jacqueline Field-Bibb, Women Towards Priesthood: Ministerial Politics and Feminist Praxis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Carolyn DeSwarte Gifford, ed., The Debate in the Methodist Episcopal Church Over Laity Rights for Women (New York: Garland Publishing, 1987); Carolyn DeSwarte Gifford, ed., The Defense of Women's Rights to Ordination in the Methodist Episcopal Church (New York: Garland Publishing, 1988).

(65) . James R. Lynch, “Baptist Women in Ministry through 1920,” American Baptist Quarterly 13, no. 4 (1994): 304–18.

(66) . “Memorials Adopted by the National Woman Suffrage Association, [15 January 1874],” in Ann D. Gordon, ed., Against an Aristocracy of Sex, 1866–1873, vol. 2 of The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2000), 32–34.

(67) . Horace Talbert, The Sons of Allen: Together with a Sketch of the Rise and Progress of Wilberforce University, Wilberforce, Ohio (Xenia, Ohio: Aldine Press, 1906), 182–85.

(68) . Benjamin W. Arnett, Centennial Address on the Mission of Methodism to the Extremes of Society, Delivered by Rev. Benjamin W. Arnett, D.D., Dec. 16th, 1884, at the Centennial M.E. Church, Baltimore, MD, Daniel Murray Pamphlet Collection, American Memory Web site, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., 〈http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html〉.

(69) . Arnett served as a representative in the Ohio state legislature from 1885 to 1886.

(70) . B[enjamin] W. Arnett and J. A. Brown, The Black Laws: Speech of Hon. B. W. Arnett of Greene County, and Hon. J. A. Brown of Cuyahoga County, in the Ohio House of Representatives (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State Journal, 1886), American Memory Web site, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

(71) . Benjamin W. Arnett, Biennial Oration, Before the Second B.M.C. of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. Delivered by Rev. Benjamin W. Arnett, P. G. M., A Member of Messiah Lodge, No 1641, in Heuck's Opera House, Cincinnati, Ohio, October 10 1884 (Dayton, Ohio: Christian Publishing House, 1884), Daniel Murray Pamphlet Collection, American Memory Web site, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

(72) . Theda Skocpol and Jennifer Lynn Oser, “Organization Despite Adversity: The Origins and Development of African American Fraternal Associations,” Social Science History 28, no. 3 (Fall 2004): 367–438.

(73) . One commentator, “Hannibal,” reported to the readers of the Christian Recorder his attendance at the twentieth anniversary meeting of Pittsburgh's “Heroines of Jericho, of Naomi Court” in 1865. See “Letter from Hannibal,” Christian Recorder, 7 October 1865.

(74) . “Masonic,” Christian Recorder, 7 July 1866.

(75) . “Africana,” “Letter from Pittsburg [sic],” Christian Recorder, 4 February 1865.

(76) . “Ruth.” “Chicago Correspondence,” Christian Recorder, 20 May 1865.

(77) . J. W. Malone, “Communications. A Voice From the Far North-West,” Christian Recorder, 3 December 1870; Rev. E. Weaver, “Wayside Jottings. Our Visit to Chicago, Illinois,” Christian Recorder, 22 September 1866; J. A. Shorter, “Contributions to Wilberforce College,” Christian Recorder, 7 October 1865; “Acknowledgements,” Christian Recorder, 9 February 1867; “Acknowledgments,” Christian Recorder, 31 August 1861.

(78) . Frederic Myers. “Letter from Rev. Frederic Myers,” Christian Recorder, 24 February 1866; Jos. W. Moore. “The Independent Order of Good Templars, of Chicago, Ill.,” Christian Recorder, 9 February 1867.

(79) . Martha Blanks's life was not one of elite privilege, though in 1864 one commentator noted her husband as among black Chicago's “wealthier portion.” Blanks spent most of her adult life operating a boardinghouse in the home she shared with her husband, James. By age sixty-four, however, she appears in the census as a woman alone and without an occupation in a boardinghouse operated by a white woman. That household's other boarders were also African Americans. See “Editorial Correspondence. Wealth Among the Colored People of Chicago,” Christian Recorder, 2 September 1865.

(80) . May Wright Sewall, ed., World's Congress of Representative Women (New York: Rand McNally Company, 1894), 435. See also 〈http://columbus.gl.iit.edu/reed2.html#12𣈺 (accessed 24 April 2003).