Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, March 28, 2023


American Women
in Church Denominational History

Copyright ©1999 by Beverly Whitaker, MA

Website Author: Beverly Whitaker

Beverly is a professional genealogist and author with a background in both public education and religious education. She combines these qualifications to present a picture of the influences and religious contributions of women in America with regard to Christian denominational history.

What subjects will be covered in this website?

In doing the research for this topic, I followed my own interests, seeking answers to these questions:

  • How did women act as Christian leaders throughout American history?
  • Who were these women?
  • What family circumstances precipitated the actions of these women?
  • Were their contributions significant?
  • Reflecting upon the personalities and activities of these women, what might one learn from their examples?

While this web site can only point out a handful of the women who have contributed to American Christianity, and only briefly at that, it is my hope that readers will seek out additional information about persons to whom I can only provide an introduction.

Early in the 21st Century, society will add the names of numerous Christian women leaders from the closing decades of the 20th Century. One ponders what the nature of women's contributions to Christian society should be in the century just now lying before us.

Can the content of this website be copied?

This is copyrighted material. If you include portions of the information contained here in your own compiled genealogy, history sketches or school papers, you should cite as your reference: Beverly Whitaker. "American Women in Christian Denominational History." Kansas City, Missouri: Genealogy Tutor, 1999, as summarized on Internet web page: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~gentutor/women.html

Using this script as an oral presentation requires written permission.. Send your request to Beverly Whitaker by e-mail: gentutor@yahoo.com Or mail your request to Beverly Whitaker, 4318 N. Baltimore, Kansas City, MO, enclosing a self-addressed stamped envelope for response. State the GROUP and CITY for whom the presentation is to be made, along with the date.

You have permission to place a link to this web site on your own web page.

Where can I obtain additional information?

I am not your source for answers to specific questions, either about specific women or concerning denominational history.

I don't have the time to do the considerable research necessary to provide responses to such questions.

A general bibliography of references is included at the end of this commentary.

Table of Contents












Until recent times, women's history was largely ignored and sometimes deliberately suppressed. So we have been robbed of the full inheritance of our foremothers. Our knowledge of their achievements has been limited. Our acquaintance with American churchwomen is likewise scanty, but research leads to a knowledge of some remarkable women of faith.

What caused women to become involved with religious and social causes in America? From the earliest days to the present, women have looked around and have seen much needing action. Often they wished the churches would take more initiative; frequently they chose not to wait for the church to take the lead and instead took on responsibility as individuals to address the needs they identified. History may tell us that as these women plunged themselves into Christian causes, they began also to establish their rights and roles in the church.

To catch a glimpse of some of these remarkable women is inspiring.

Let's look first at the early colonial period.

Anne Marbury Hutchinson was the first person to strongly challenge the rigidity of the Puritan religion of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Banished for her independence, she stands as a symbol of religious freedom and personal courage. Anne was the daughter of an Anglican priest back in England. During her years as a young wife and mother of 12 children, she became a disciple of the Anglican minister John Cotton. When he was forced out of England for his reinterpretation of the Puritan doctrine, Anne and her family followed him to Boston (1634). There, she established weekly meetings of women to discuss the sermon and to expound upon her own opinions. But in 1637 when her chief opponent John Winthrop was elected governor of the colony, she was brought to trial for her views. They banished her from Massachusetts. She went first to Rhode Island, and then, after she was widowed, she went to New York. In 1643, she and all her children but one were massacred by Indians.

Mary Dyer, a bold Quaker, was banished on three occasions from the Puritan colony of Massachusetts. Because she kept returning, the townspeople finally silenced her by hanging at Boston Common in 1660. But before her death, she stood before the authorities of Massachuseets Bay and demanded religious tolerance, saying, "I am a living testimony for (the Quakers) and the Lord, that he hath blest them and sent them unto you; therefore be not fighting against God, but let my council and request be accepted with you to repeal all such laws that the Truth and Servants of the Lord may have free passage among you." Mary Dyer held the Quaker belief that the inner light of godly wisdom resided in both men and women; yet, rather than challenging the legitimacy of male leadership, she closed her protest with the words, "In Love and in the Spirit of Meekness."

Another English Quaker woman, Mary Fisher, responded differently to Puritan persecution. When the Puritan authorities sent her back to England, she made no effort to return to America. Instead, she embarked on a missionary visit to Turkey, walking partway through 600 miles of its rough country. The Sultan received her as an ambassador, and she was able to preach her Quaker word there as she had been unable to do in the New World.

Discontented women caused considerable trouble in the American colonies, and they were not all of the stature of Hutchinson and Dyer. Protests of women in this period underscored the sexual contradictions of colonial society. In the first half-century of the history of the town of Salem, Massachusetts, five of the nine religious dissenters were females. They included women like Mary Oliver, an Anabaptist, petty thief and runaway wife. Her retort to her male superiors was recited in far less elegant tones than those of Anne Hutchinson. Of the Salem judge, Mary Oliver said, "I hope to live and tear his flesh to pieces."

One of the few women ever to found a town was Elizabeth Haddon. For many years after her arrival in this country in about 1700, she lived alone among the Indians and offered a haven to traveling Friends -- that's friends with a capital F, the term Quakers used in reference to themselves. Her settlement eventually became Haddonfield, New Jersey.

In Salem, Massachusetts, in the late 17th century, 11 young women held the entire town in its power for several frantic months. They received a degree of attention that children and women were seldom accorded. First to point accusing fingers in the Salem trials, their testimony sent members of their own sex to the gallows, including Ann Hibbens of Boston, Anne Cole of Hartford, and Elizabeth Knight of Groton, Massachusetts.


Moving into the middle 1700s, we meet Barbara Heck and Ann Lee.

Barbara Heck is credited with starting the first Methodist group in America. Before coming to America, Barbara and her husband a lay-minister cousin, Philip Embury, had heard John Wesley preach in Ireland. In New York, they met some other immigrant Methodists, but no services were held and at that time their interest in religion was little in evidence. Except that one day Barbara came into the room where they were all playing cards and suddenly swooped up the cards, threw them in the fire, and is reported to have said, "Brother Embury, you must preach to us or we shall all go to hell, and God will require our blood at your hands." She recruited their fellow Methodists and a few other friends to meet in her house, with Embury preaching. And that was the beginning of Methodism in America.

Ann Lee founded the Shaker tradition in the early days of the new American nation. Back in England, she had married a blacksmith, but the marriage was unhappy and her four children all died in infancy. She was at that time a Shaking Quaker. Convinced that she was responsible for the deaths of her children, she went without food and sleep. In her weakened condition, she had a religious vision which convinced her that celibacy was the route to salvation. She was jailed for her beliefs, and while in jail, she had a second vision which revealed to her that the Shakers would fare better in the New World. So she resettled in New York, along with 7 of her followers. She proselytized throughout New England and her charismatic personality won her many converts. In addition to their belief in celibacy, the Shakers also opposed slavery and advocated equal rights and responsibilities for both sexes. The group believed they could perpetuate their numbers despite their ban on "cohabitation of the sexes" by winning converts and adopting orphans. But by the early 1970s, the sect had dwindled to 20 aged members.


The 1800s in America was a time of religious awakening.
New religious bodies were founded, and among the founders were several women.

A prominent figure in early Mormonism was Emma Hale Smith, "first wife of prophet Joseph Smith." Still today, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints accords her immense prestige. Her accomplishments included the editing of a hymnbook, work among the sick as a nurse and herb doctor, and in 1842, the presidency of the Female Relief Society, the leading women's organization of the Mormon Church.

Sisters Katherine and Margaretta Fox lived in the middle to late 1800s. They seem to have been responsible for the popularization of spiritualism in the United States in about 1848. The Fox sisters were daughters of a nominal Methodist couple with little education.

In 1863, the Seventh Day Adventist Church was founded by Ellen Gould Harmon White and her husband James. When Ellen and her twin sister were about 13, their Methodist parents began to attend Adventist meetings led by a Baptist layman. Ellen married James White at the age of 19; they had four sons. The health of her family got her interested in foods, and her first speaking was on health through food and temperance. Then she and her husband started a small publishing business to give their ideas wider circulation. She began to preach when she was in her forties because she wanted to testify to the miraculous in her own life. When she died in 1915, the Seventh Day Adventists claimed 140,000 members, 2500 clergy, 80 medical centers, and missions on every continent. Their 40 publishing houses had printed 70 books; 25 more were published soon after her death.

Mary Baker Eddy founded the Christian Science religion, in 1879. According to the official church history, she had a fall on the ice in the village of Lynn, Massachusetts. She went to bed and turned to the Scriptures for healing. On the third day, she rose with the pain gone, and began spreading the doctrine that pain could be healed through mental processes. Observers described her as a driven woman who could electrify a classroom or a convocation with her faith. So dynamic was her evangelism--in books, lectures, and informal personal appearances--that by the end of the 19th century, she had more than 22,000 members in 420 churches and an estate of more than two million dollars.

Still another founder during this period was Myrtle Filmore, a co-founder with her husband of the Unity School of Christianity. They conceived of their work as a school, not a church. Charles and Myrtle Filmore had both studied with Mary Baker Eddy. Through their concept of Silent Unity and their constantly expanding publications program, their organization claimed in 1954 that they were reaching a million homes a month with 8 magazines and hundreds of low-priced publications.


The 19th Century was marked by quite an array of women reformers engaged as abolitionists, and participants in temperance societies, and in the women's rights movement. Many of these women formed their ideas about what was right for society out of their own religious upbringing.

The early Women's Rights Movement had a religious fervor to it. The issues were:

1. Legal and political rights.

2. Social and industrial rights.

3. Moral and religious discrimination.

It has been said that as the women's movement gained momentum, it was Susan Anthony who was the organizer, Lucy Stone who was the eloquent voice, Elizabeth Stanton who supplied the philosophical background and Lucretia Mott who always remained the moral force of the movement.

Susan B. Anthony was known in some circles as "Napoleon in Petticoats." She was born into a family of Quakers, the one religion which did not discriminate against women. In 1848 she began to attend the Unitarian church when strong opposition to the antislavery position developed in the Friends' meeting; even so, she retained her Quaker affiliation. Her efforts towards the abolition of slavery and her work with temperance societies was overshadowed by her influence in the women's rights movement which was her main challenge.

In 1833, the Congregational-oriented Oberlin College had opened its doors to all without regard to race, color, or sex. This was the first real breakthrough in women's education. Among the first registrants were Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown. Lucy's ambition was to "prepare herself as a public speaker on behalf of the oppressed." By the time she graduated in 1841, she was already in the middle of the women's rights movement, giving lecture series on abolition of Saturdays and Sundays and on women's rights the other days.

Lucy Stone and her companion at Oberlin, Antoinette Brown, married brothers. Antoinette was the first American woman to be ordained a minister. She married and had 6 daughters, wrote 10 books, served the Unitarian Church for 15 years, and continued to preach until she was 90. Although she had completed her program in 1850, she wasn't allowed to graduate, but in 1908, Oberlin conferred upon her an honorary doctorate degree. While in her 70s, she traveled to the Holy Land to get water from the Jordan to baptize her grandchildren. Later, she went on a missionary trip to Alaska. She died in 1921 at the age of 96. A contemporary account estimated that at the time of her death in 1921, there were 3000 female ministers in the United States.

Lucy Stone's husband was Henry Blackwell, an ardent advocate of women's rights. His sister, Elizabeth Blackwell, devoted her energies to hammering down the doors that kept women from entering the field of medicine. She was finally accepted as a medical student at Syracuse. It was the 29th medical school to which she had applied for training.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the eloquent suffragist, was Presbyterian. At the first women's rights convention which she helped to organize at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848, she wrote a Declaration of Sentiments calling for the reform of discriminatory practices that perpetuated sexual inequality.

Dorothea Dix, noted for prison and hospital reform, got her start when asked to teach a Sunday School class in a Massachusetts jail in 1841. She worked in several countries in Europe as well as here in America, giving particular attention to humanizing the care of the insane. Her investigations and reports brought many needed legislative reforms.

Lucretia Mott was a Quaker reformer, a feminist, and an anti-slavery reformer. As a child, she was so talkative that her mother nicknamed her "Long Tongue." Such assertiveness came naturally to girls in Nantucket where the whaling men's long absences at sea left practical affairs largely in female hands. At the age of 28, Lucretia was ordained a Quaker minister and for nearly 60 years, her eloquent tongue found service in 3 great causes:

--emancipation of the mind from narrow religious beliefs

--abolition of slavery

--freedom for women

In her homemade Quaker shawl and cap, she stood foremost among the stormy ranks of reformers, widely beloved for her forceful yet gentle persuasion. In 1848, she helped launch the women's movement at the Seneca Falls Convention.

Frances Willard founded the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Over a period of 20 years, she built the WCTU into an army of 200,000 members dedicated not only to prohibition but also to wider social concerns, including woman's suffrage. There were departments in the WCTU for every phase of life that touched the American home, from kindergartens to prisons, from physical culture to prostituion. Many of the churches which before had been unable to embrace the cause of women't rights with any enthusiasm could nevertheless give unqualified support to the WCTU, as a crusade against drunkenness. Frances Willard had wanted to become an ordained Methodist minister but said that she felt driven from the altars of the church and instead turned to social reform. She did work for a time with evangelist Dwight L. Moody. She also was instrumental in organizing the Prohibition Party and authored several books, including Woman in the Pulpit.

Carry Nation shared some of the same motivation as did Frances Willard in fighting the evils of liquor, but Carry put her faith into direct action and consequently elicited far less male admiration. The saloonkeepers both disapproved of her and dreaded her methods such as coming in and smashing their stock. She was actually arrested over 30 times for wrecking saloons. She often posed for pictures with a Bible in one hand and a hatchet in the other, saying that both were divinely inspired. Then she sold souvenir hatchets to get funds to establish a home for the wives of drunkards.

The Grimke family in Charleston, South Carolina, were slave-owning Presbyterians who became Quakers. Daughters, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, were among the first women to speak out against slavery and for women's rights. They also were among the earliest Americans to dispute St. Paul's teachings on the inequality of women. The Grimke sisters became the first women to speak to mixed audiences of men and women, and the strong objections to these appearances was what catapaulted them into women's rights. In 1838, Sarah wrote, "The idea is inconceivable to me that Christian women can be engaged in doing God's work and yet cannot ask His blessing on their efforts except through the lips of a man."

Prudence Crandall was a Quaker abolitionist. In 1831, she battled the citizens of her hometown of Canterbury, Connecticut, by insisting that a black girl had the right to be educated in the all- white Canterbury Female Boarding School which she operated. Eventually she was arrested and jailed. Her bravery is credited with converting John Quincy Adams to the abolitionist cause, and he in turn influenced Congress, finally managing to defeat the rule that automatically tabled any discussion of slavery in Congress. Prudence married an abolitionist and moved to Illinois where she worked for women's rights; she then went on to Elk Falls, Kansas. She told an interivewer in 1886: "My whole life has been one of opposition. I never could find anyone near me to agree with me....(Even my husband) would not let me read the books that he himself read, but I did read them. I read all sides and and searched for the truth."

Another Quaker reformer, Laura Haviland, was known as the "President of the Underground" for her work in the cause of escaping slaves. A Michigan native, she and her husband founded the Raisin Institute in 1837, probably the second school in the USA, after Oberlin, to have both black and white students.

Perhaps the most famous abolitionist was Harriet Beecher Stowe, the epic author of the antislavery cause. She was the daughter of one preacher and the sister of seven more, and the wife of a professor of Biblical Literature. She was the mother of five children. She found a focus for her own Christian idealism in the antislavery cause. Her book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, sharpened the moral issues that led to civil war. In 1862, she was in Washington urging Abraham Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. The legend is that Lincoln shook her hand and said, "So this is the little lady who made this big war."

Harriett Tubman was an escaped slave connected to the success of the Underground Railroad through which she brought 300 men, women and children. There was a price of $40,000 on her head, but she said that when you were a Negro and a woman, surely you had nothing to lose. Harriett took a leading part in the growth of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in upstate New York. She was a deeply religious person who never doubted that her actions were guided, according to her own statement, by "divine commands conveyed through omens, dreams, and warnings."


A number of women made contributions to religious & social reform through writing & editing.

Margaret Fuller was a leading spirit in the transcendentalist group and was co-editor with Ralph Waldo Emerson of "The Dial."

Mrs. Sarah Hale was editor of "Godey's Lady's Book;" she used its pages to campaign for one cause after another.

Margaret Sangster, of the Dutch Reformed Presbyterian church in Brooklyn Heights, was a magazine editor and author. After her husband's death in 1870, she turned seriously to writing. She spent the rest of her life as a Christian leader of women. Believing that she had a "mission to girlhood," she answered questions with letters and short essays addressed to American girls in popular magazines of the 19th century. Until shortly before her death, she opposed the cause of woman's suffrage, believing it to be a threat to the welfare of the family. Her views changed, partly because of the courage shown by English suffragists and partly because she had come to recognize, according to her own words: "...the helplessness of woman as a competitor in the labor market when she has no voice in the making of the laws affecting her."


America also had several early women missionaries. Women preachers and evangelists were something of a novelty among Protestants in the l9th century and early 20th century. Women theologians were a rarity.

American Baptist Ann Judson went to Burma. Mabel Cort, a Presbyterian, went to Thailand. Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Harmon Spalding were the first white women to cross the Rockies via the Overland Route, in 1836. As missionaries to the American Indians, both were ordained ministers of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which was Congregational and Presbyterian.

Maggie Van Cott was a Methodist evangelist from New York. She conducted her first revival meetings in 1868, after the death of her husband. Despite her lack of theological training, she overcame the opposition of many Methodists, both lay and clerical, who disapproved of a "lady preacher." Some welcomed this handsome woman revivalist as a means of offsetting the lure of actresses and the heretical female lecturers of the era. But her career was not the result of any specific policy along these lines by the Methodist Episcopal Church, and it took a very long time for them to license women for preaching.

Mary Lucinda Bonney and Amelia S. Quinton first worked in the Women's Christian Temperance Union. These two Philadelphia Baptists in 1879 organized the first of a series of mammoth petitions to protest the alienation of tribal lands in Oklahoma and elsewhere, calling for allotment to individual Indians. Then they formed the first national organization for Indian reform, later called the Women's National Indian Association; eventually it set up 50 missions to Christianize and civilize the Indians.

Anna Snowden was the first female theologican in America. Theoretically, Boston University had always welcomed women to both its student body and its faculty. The first woman to enroll in the School of Theology did so with little fanfare under the name of Anna Oliver, not her real name, to save her family embarrassment, especially her brother, an Episcopalian rector. She had first enrolled in Oberlin, but found that, in spite of its faculty policy of welcoming all educationally qualified students, there was still much discrimination against women in their theological department. So she transferred to Boston and graduated in 1876. Problems relating to her ordination kept the Methodist General Conference busy for quite some time. At a church in Passaic, New Jersey, she brought in Amanda Smith as an assistant. Amanda was an outstanding Negro evangelist, born a slave, who in adulthood traveled as a missionary and evangelist to India and also to Scotland, Italy, England, Egypt, and various African countries.

Evangeline Booth was the daughter of the founders of the Salvation Army. It was founded in England in 1865 by General William Booth and his wife Catherine, and was introduced into America 15 years later. The sons and daughters of this prolific family and the people they married, entered vigorously into the Army's evangelistic pattern, and the movement spread rapidly around the world. Evangeline was a commander, both in the U.S. and in the International Salvation Army. It's interesting to learn that she was named after Little Eva of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

A most colorful evangelist was Aimee Semple McPherson, founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Born in Canada, she arrived in Los Angeles in 1918 with nothing but $10 and a tambourine. Five years later she was preaching to crowds of 5000 inside her $1,500,000 Angelus Temple, headquarters of the International Church of the Four-Square Gospel, a name which came to her in, according to her own words, "a moment of divine inspiration." She was known as the "Barnum of religion." She helped herself to the contents of the collection plate; she drove about in a "gospel auto," and she made stopovers in Parisian nightclubs on the way to the Holy Land. This dyed blond, thrice-married evangelist usually appeared in a white celestial robe and a blue cape to preach her gospel and practice her "miracle" faith healing. It didn't matter that once she punched her business manager, who also happened to be her mother. Nor did it matter that her flock discovered she'd been off on a tryst when she claimed she'd been kidnapped. Wealthy, frolicking Sister Aimee was able in her 53 years to set up no fewer than 400 churches and 200 missions, a Bible College, and a radio station.

In more recent times, a much more respected but less sensational woman evangelist, from the state of Georgia, was Ruth Carter Stapleton, the sister of President Jimmy Carter.

A Missouri-born evangelist and faith healer, Kathryn Kuhlman, was an ordained minister of the Evangelical Church Alliance. She had her first religious experience when she was 13 and started preaching the next year. After another religious experience in 1946, she began to talk more and more about the Holy Spirit. During one of her sermons, a woman in the congregation claimed to have been cured of a tumor. Following that experience, Kuhlman began to preach about the Holy Spirit's power to cure. In addition to her preaching and healing, she was president of the Kathryn Kuhlman Foundation, a charitable organization devoted to missionary churches, drug rehabilitation, and the education of blind children.

Such respected professors as Dr. Mary Lyman of Union Seminary in New York City and Dr. Georgia Harkness of Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, did much to raise the popular respect for women theologians.

A number of Catholic women could be mentioned. Of particular note are Elizabeth Seton, Frances Xavier Cabrini, Catherine Mary Drexel, Dorothy Day, and Sonia Quitsland.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, born in 1774, was named 200 years later as the first American- born saint in the Roman Catholic religion. She was a fragile socialite with luminous dark eyes, and intensely religious, but an Episcopalian. She became a widow at 29 when her husband, a wealthy New York merchant, died during their trip abroad. Elizabeth stayed in the home of an Italian family who made efforts to convert her to Catholicism, and she wrote home that she "laughed with God" at their efforts. Nevertheless, within a year after her return to the United States, Elizabeth converted to the Catholic faith. She moved with her 5 children to Maryland where she became a nun. As Mother Seton, she founded the American branch of the Sisters of Charity as well as a free paraochial school, the first in the United States. Mother Seton's many good works, her reputation for saintliness, and the miracles later attributed to her finally led, in 1975, to her canonization as America's first native-born saint.

Frances Xavier Cabrini, born in 1850 in Italy, was the first American citizen to achieve sainthood. She came to America at the age of 38. During her lifetime, she established 65 orphanages in Italy, the United States, Central America, and South America. She also established numerous hospitals in the United States.

Katharine Drexel, born Catherine Mary Drexel in 1858, was a Philadelphia heiress who devoted her life and her multimillion-dollar fortune to educating and seeking justice for Indians and African-Americans. Over the course of 60 years—up to her death in 1955 at age 96—Mother Katharine spent about $20 million in support of her work, building schools and churches and paying the salaries of teachers in rural schools for blacks and Indians. On October 1, 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized Blessed Katharine in St. Peter’s Square, making her only the second American-born saint.

Dorothy Day, born in 1897, converted to Catholicism at the age of 30; she had been a socialist reformer. She co-founded a monthly newspaper, the "Catholic Worker," dedicated to social reconstruction. During World War II, it was an organ for pacifism and the support of Catholic conscientious objectors. The newspaper has taken radical positions on a good many issues.

Sonia Quitsland, a professor of religion at George Washington University, also headed an organization called "Christian Feminists" during the 1970s. The purpose of this organization was to expand the role and status of women in the Catholic church.


It should be noted that many accomplishments among both women clergy and women lay persons have been widely ecumenical, helping to break down barriers among various sorts of religious people. It may well be that women's work in religion is more fluid and responsive to people's differences because--for so long--women had to work in quiet, behind-the-scenes ways.

We have observed that many women in religion demonstrated a remarkable capacity for being and doing more than one thing at a time. Often they were writers and ministers, administrators and teachers, theologians and mothers. Many of these women achieved remarkable things within the boundaries of their orders and denominations. Others were dispossessed by the structure and were forced to forge new forms, meeting whatever came, both realistically and creatively. This is part of the heritage of today's women. We owe a great debt to the women of faith who have gone before us.


Bibliography: American Church Records
Compiled by Beverly Whitaker, MA

  • Gaustad, Edwin S. Historical Atlas of Religions in America. New York: Harper and Row, 1976. Its 72 maps and 62 charts and graphs make it an indispensable reference source for a study of any religious group in America.
  • Jacquet, Constant H. ed. Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, annual. It lists all major current denominations in the United States and Canada with the names and addresses of current officers. It provides a capsule history of each denomination, its distinctive doctrinal position, main depositories of church historical material, and church-related colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.
  • Mead, Frank S. Revised by Samuel S. Hill. Handbook of Denominations in the United States, 10th edition. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995. Most libraries will have a copy of this or an earlier edition on their reference shelves. This book is widely recognized as an objective and reliable source of information about religious bodies in the United States, with more than 200 groups discussed. It outlines historical background, doctrines, and governmental organization. This volume contains an up-to-date list of addresses for denominational headquarters, bibliographies, and a glossary of terms.
  • Noll, Mark A. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992. The author provides an excellent historical overview of the evolution of Christianity in the United States and Canada from the early seventeenth century to the present. It includes five statistical tables which graphically show the denominational shares of religious adherents for various periods.
  • Whitaker, Beverly D. "Churches in Early America" Reference Cards. Kansas City, MO: Genealogy Tutor, 1998. Individual reference cards are presented for 16 of the denominations which dominated American religious life in the colonial period and on through the18th century. Themes: Chronology, Records and Resources, Bibliography.


Session 1. Empty Altars: Visionaries & Prophets
Streamed live on Feb 27, 2023

58:12 - Mother Ann Lee
1:14:58 - Fannie Lou Hamer

This is session one for "Empty Altars: American Saints in a Cynical Age" with Diana Butler Bass & Tripp Fuller. To join the open online Lenten class head over to www.EmptyAltars.com

Shakerism: The First Two Hundred Years
Apr 24, 2021

Almost 50 years ago, when portable video technology was in its infancy, Terese Kreuzer and Eugene Marlow set out to make a documentary about the United Society of Believers, commonly known as the Shakers. A celibate religious order, they had been founded by an illiterate English woman named Mother Ann Lee who, in 1774, crossed the Atlantic Ocean with a handful of followers. The Shakers lived in communes where men and women were equal in terms of authority and responsibility, owning all property in common and caring for each other and serving each other. They believed as Mother Ann did that anyone could embody the spirit of Christ who lived a pure, simple and loving life. "Put your hands to work and your hearts to God," Mother Ann taught.

At one time, there were 18 active Shaker communities in the United States but by the time Kreuzer and Marlow met the Shakers, there were only two left. The one in Sabbathday Lake, Maine had eight covenanted members. The one in Canterbury, New Hampshire was even smaller. In 1992, when the last of the Canterbury sisters died, that Shaker community became a museum. But the Sabbathday Lake Shaker community is still active, though diminished in numbers, a testament to Mother Ann's belief that "No one can build a spiritual heaven without first creating a heaven on earth."

* * * * * * *

Enfield Shaker Museum

Biography of Ann Lee, Founder of the Shakers

Mother Ann Lee led the Shakers from England to the United States

by Lisa Jo Rudy | Updated on July 30, 2019

Ann Lee (February 29, 1736–September 8, 1784) was the charismatic leader of the Shakers, officially known as the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. The illiterate daughter of a blacksmith in Manchester, England, Lee endured a difficult childhood and troubled marriage before leading a group of "shaking Quakers" to upstate New York. The Shakers became an active evangelical group with communities throughout eight states in the Northeast.

Shakers were known for their pacifism, celibacy, egalitarianism between the sexes, unique form of worship, and impressive achievements in the fields of agriculture, design, and music. By the end of the 20th century, Shakerism was essentially extinct, but its legacy continues.

Early Life

Ann Lee was born on February 29, 1736, in Toad Lane, a poor neighborhood of Manchester, England. Ann was the second of eight children born to a blacksmith, John Lee, whose income barely fed his large family. Ann was baptized in 1742 but received no schooling; as a young girl, she went to work in the textile mills to help support her family.

A sensitive young woman, Ann was able to leave the mills to find employment in the local infirmary but was nevertheless overwhelmed by the filth and poverty of Manchester. She spoke out against alcohol and developed a strong aversion to sex. Her distaste for sex was such that she actually lectured her mother against engaging in sex, even with her own husband.

The Wardley Society of Shaking Quakers

In 1758, Ann discovered the Wardley Society, a group of "shaking Quakers," a religious society led by Jane and James Wardley. The Wardleys, like the Quakers, believed in the "inner light" as the source of revelation and spiritual truth, and, like the Quakers, they started their meetings with silence, waiting for the spirit to move members to speak. Unlike the Quakers, however, the Wardleys were influenced by the Camisards (French prophets) who believed that the Second Coming of Christ was near. They also believed that, while Christ's first coming was in male form, the second coming would be in female form. "Shaking Quaker" worship quickly moved from silent meditation to dramatic confession of sins, singing in tongues, shaking, and prophesying. Ann Lee found a home with the Wardley Society, and they were equally impressed by Ann.

Marriage and Pregnancies

Four years after she joined the Wardley Society, Ann's father pressed her to marry his apprentice, Abraham Standerin. Despite Ann's reluctance to engage in sex, she became pregnant and gave birth four times. Each of her children died either in infancy or young childhood. These experiences were devastating for Ann, who saw the deaths of her children as a judgment on her for her sins and determined to remain celibate.

This period of depression and introspection lasted for nine years, during which time Ann refused to share her bed with her husband. Standerin, despite his frustrations with his wife, remained loyal to her for a period of time. A few years later, he traveled to America with her.

Jail, Visions, and a Journey

Members of the Wardley Society were often jailed for reasons ranging from blasphemy to disrupting the peace. In some cases, conflicts with the authorities were a result of the Wardley Society members disrupting other congregations and accusing married members of "whoredom."

It was in 1770, during a period of incarceration, that Ann Lee received a vision. In this vision, according to several sources, Lee saw that sex between Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was the cause of humanity's separation from God. It was further revealed that she was the incarnation of the second coming of Christ, as foretold in Genesis and the Book of Revelation. She left jail as Mother Ann, or Ann the Word, a mystic and leader of a sect dedicated to celibacy and confession of sins.

Quite a few members of the Shaking Quakers, including some of Ann's family, accepted her vision as spiritual truth and followed her teachings as the “first spiritual Mother in Christ.” They continued to follow her when, in 1774, a vision led her to form a perfect church in America which would become the model for the Millenium. With the help of a wealthy follower, Ann and a group of followers sailed to America.

Mother Ann Lee tombstone
Mother Ann Lee tombstone.  Doug Coldwell / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Mother Ann in America

In 1774, Mother Ann and her followers arrived in New York City where Ann's husband, Abraham, finally left her forever. A member of the group leased land in upstate New York, and, in 1776, the Shakers founded their first model farming community in a Niskayuna (now called Watervliet) New York. The community was completely celibate; women and men shared leadership and worked side by side as equals.

Even in their new surroundings, the Shakers found life difficult. As pacifists, they were unwilling to pledge their support to the American revolutionaries, and several Shakers (including Mother Ann) were jailed for being disloyal. Ann continued to preach, even through the windows of her prison cell;. Following her release she set out on a four-year missionary tour throughout the northeastern part of the new United States.

Though the new nation was undergoing a religious revival, the Shakers' unique theology and principles made it difficult to build a following. Nevertheless, Mother Ann, her brother William, and Shaker leader James Whittaker were successful in laying the groundwork for communities in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Many new Shaker converts had been members of non-mainstream groups which, like the Shakers, had been persecuted.


Mother Ann's missionary tour was exhausting and involved a variety of hardships including physical assault. By the time she returned to Watervliet, she was ill; within a year both she and her brother had died. She died on September 8, 1784, at the age of 48, leaving James Whittaker, Joseph Meacham, Lucy Wright, and several other disciples to carry on the creation of multiple Shaker communities across eight states. Ann Lee was buried in the Shaker Cemetery in Watervliet, New York.


Title of a very first book about Ann Lee Testimonies of the Life, Character, Revelations and Doctrines of Our Ever Blessed, and the Elders with Her published by Shakers in 1816. Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Ann Lee's personal story was documented by her followers in books which narrated her words, revelations, and actions (Testimonies of the LifeRevelations, and Doctrine of Our Ever Blessed Mother Ann Lee). These books, along with Mother Ann's personal influence, helped to shape the growth of the Shaker movement throughout the 1800s and into the 1900s.

Shakers were and still are well known for their egalitarian and pacifist beliefs, their celibacy, and their industry. Just as importantly, they are remembered for their significant contributions to American agriculture, design, and music.


* * * * * * *

'Shakers near Lebanon', c1870. Members of the Mount Lebanon Shaker Community, Lebanon Springs, New York State, 'dancing' at their meeting. Artist: Currier and Ives.  Print Collector / Getty Images

Ann Lee, A Woman of Great Faith
article link

by Boris Boyko   |   January/February 2014

The meeting of Shakers started with silent meditation. Ann Lee, a young woman of medium height and serious manner, told them about her vision. She claimed that just as the male and female are seen throughout the animal and vegetable kingdoms, so had God appeared in both forms. “It is not I that speak,” she said. “It is Christ who dwells in me.”

Soon the whole group was taken with a mighty shaking, singing, dancing, and shouting. The Shakers believed that the second coming of Christ was near. They thought that He would appear in the form of a woman. When they heard of Ann’s vision, she was no longer considered by them to be human, but divine. Ann was the one for whom they were waiting!

In 1770 she became their leader, their spiritual mother. They called her Mother Ann or Ann the Word. Ann herself never claimed that honor, nor did she think herself worthy of it. Throughout her life she was persecuted, but her faith carried her on to establish the first Shaker colony in the United States.

Ann was born in Manchester, England, on February 29, 1736, the second of eight children. Her father, John Lee, was a blacksmith from a very poor neighborhood called Toad Lane; no record exists of her mother’s name.

Manchester became known as a textile center during the Industrial Revolution. New machines sped up the clothmaking. People from the countryside poured into Toad Lane, doubling the population to 20,000 between 1719 and 1739. Whole families worked for low pay from dawn till dark. They were crowded into filthy little rooms. There was much disease, and the infant death rate was high.

Ann had no schooling. During her childhood she lived amid the mud, noise, and odors of Toad Lane. Before she reached her teens, she worked in a textile factory, first as a cutter of velvet and then as a helper in preparing cotton for the looms. Later she became a cutter of hatters’ fur. She was also a cook in an infirmary in Manchester. A serious-minded girl, Ann was always faithful and neat about her work.

When she observed the sin and despair in Toad Lane, Ann felt there must be a higher purpose to life. She looked for hope in religion. Cathedral square was nearby, but she thought the official church too sedate. She longed for something stronger.

At the age of 22 Ann met a tailor and his wife, James and Jane Wardley. The Wardleys had been Quakers, but couldn’t find the inner peace they wanted. They also searched for a religious answer to the suffering around them.

While in London the Wardleys had joined a group called the French Prophets, also known as the Shaking Quakers, or Shakers. The French Prophets came from the mountains of southern France, where they were called Camisards. They were exiled from their homes because of their radical ideas and manner of worship.

Why did they shake and dance during worship? the Shakers were asked. The answer was that their form of worship was based on the customs of the Old Testament. When the Israelites escaped from the Egyptians at the Sea of Reeds, Miriam “took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances” (Exodus 15:20). In another passage David was seen “leaping and dancing before the Lord” (2 Samuel 6:16). The words of the psalmist said: “Let them praise his name in the dance” (Psalm 149:3).

In London the Shakers were ridiculed. They attracted only a few followers. Most of them left to go to other countries, but the Wardleys decided to start a group in Manchester. In 1758 Ann joined the Wardleys, which consisted of about a dozen members.

At first the young woman with fair complexion, blue eyes, and chestnut-brown hair did not stand out in the meetings. She was so mild-mannered and pleasant that many wondered why she had not married. Later she attracted attention when she shouted out against sin.

Ann believed that all fleshly relations between men and women were a sin. She never condemned marriage, but thought it less perfect than celibacy. She thought that after children were produced, the life of sex must be replaced by the life of the soul.

But on January 5, 1762, Ann did marry (at her father’s insistence). At that time she was still a member of the Church of England, for the banns were signed, by mark, by Ann and Abraham Standerin, or Stanley. (The cathedral records were unclear about the last name.)

Abraham was described as a kindly man who was employed as a blacksmith in Ann’s father’s shop. The couple made their home with her parents. In the next four years four babies were born, but each lived only a few months. In 1766, after the death of her last child, Ann became very ill. She thought that her marriage was sinful and that God was punishing her. After a time of great remorse, she had the vision that caused her to become Mother Ann.

When Mother Ann began to direct the Shakers’ activities, the persecution began. In the summer of 1773 she and four others were arrested and each fined £20. Because they were unable to pay, they were thrown into jail.

Once, when she suffered from a stoning, Ann said, “I felt myself surrounded by the presence of God, and my soul was filled with joy. I knew they could not kill me, for my work was not done; therefore I felt joyful and comfortable, while my enemies felt confusion and distress.”

Another time a mob dragged Ann out of a meeting. She was confined for two weeks in the “Dungeons” for breach of the Sabbath. Her cell was so small that she couldn’t stand upright. It was accessible to the street, however, so James Whittaker, one of her followers, fed her wine and milk through a pipe stem he stuck in the keyhole.

One Saturday evening James reported seeing a vision. He claimed he saw a large tree in America, where every leaf seemed like a burning torch. The meaning of the vision was clear to Mother Ann. She believed that the second Shakers church would be established in America.

Immediately she sent John Hocknell, another follower, to the seaport of Liverpool to secure passage to America for a small party of Shakers. When he returned, John warned Mother Ann: “People are saying the ship, the Mariah, will sink.”

Ann answered, “God will not condemn it when we are in it.”

John Hocknell had saved enough money from his shop to pay expenses for the whole group. On May 10, 1774, the party of nine Shakers, consisting of Ann; her husband, Abraham; her brother William Lee; her niece Nancy Lee; Mary Partington; James Whittaker; James Shepherd; and John Hocknell and his son Richard sailed aboard the Mariah, bound for New York.

Soon after setting sail, the Shakers began to praise God by singing and dancing on deck. When the captain threatened to throw them overboard, Mother Ann told her followers it was better to listen to God than to man. While they continued to worship, a sudden storm blew up, and a loosened board caused the ship to spring a leak. The water started gaining on them, for it couldn’t be pumped out quickly enough.

Ann told them to trust in God, for an angel had appeared before her with the promise of their safety. Suddenly a great wave came and closed the displaced board. Soon the pumps were stopped. After that the captain allowed the Shakers to worship freely.

On August 6, 1774, 11 weeks after leaving England, the Mariah and its passengers arrived safely in New York. The Shakers walked up Broadway until Ann led them into a side street. It was a warm Sunday afternoon, and a few people were sitting on the front steps of their house when Ann confronted them. “I am commissioned of God to preach the everlasting Gospel to America . . . , and an Angel commanded me to come to this house, and to make a home for me and my people,” she said.

The Shakers were given temporary refuge until they obtained jobs. Ann stayed on to work as a housemaid, while the others scattered. Abraham took to drinking and deserted his wife. Alone in an unheated room, she became ill and unable to work.

What Mother Ann wanted most was to spread the message and to worship with her followers. One day she learned from some Quakers that it was possible to obtain cheap land about 100 miles north of the city. John Hocknell, James Whittaker, and William Lee traveled up the Hudson River to investigate.

The Shaker men took a long-term lease on some land, a low, swampy wilderness cut off from civilization, about seven miles northwest of Albany. It took them a year to clear a portion of the land and build a simple log shelter. They built a room at ground level for the “sisters” and attic space for the “brethren.” Finally, in the late 1770s, Ann and her group moved to their land to start the first Shaker settlement in America.

The Indians had called the territory Niskayuna, which meant “maize land.” Later it was renamed Watervliet. Mother Ann said, “Put your hands to work and your hearts to God.” Slowly the Shaker settlers tamed the wilderness. They cleared trees and dug ditches to drain the fields. Some practiced their own trades, such as blacksmithing, in Albany in the winter. In a few years the colony at Niskayuna built simple but comfortable homes and barns. They raised good crops and began working on arts and crafts.

In 1779 a religious revival took place in Lebanon Valley, New York, about 30 miles from the colony. Some of the leaders visited the Shakers and joined them. They came from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. Some went home and formed Shaker colonies of their own.

Violent persecutions followed when Mother Ann and others embarked on missionary tours. In Petersham, Massachusetts, a crowd dragged her from her horse, threw her into a sleigh, and tore her clothes. She and some of the elders were accused of being British spies and were savagely abused. They were put into prison in Albany. Then Ann was separated from her followers and sent to Poughkeepsie, New York.

From her cell she could call out to passersby. Word was spread that a poor woman was being held because of her religion. She was then taken to a private home, where she conducted worship services. Some of the townspeople protested. They dressed like Indians and threw little bags of gunpowder through the windows and down the chimney into the fireplace.

After that, things quieted down. Five months later Mother Ann was released from prison by Governor George Clinton. She arrived, in a state of exhaustion, back at Watervliet two years and three months after having left. Eight Shaker communities had resulted from her mission in New England.

All that Mother Ann had undergone probably hastened her death, which took place on September 8, 1784, at the age of 48. Her brother William had died on July 21 of the same year. Ten years in America had taken its toll, but Ann’s mission had been accomplished. Shakerism was well established in the East and later spread to Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio.

The Shaker influence peaked before the Civil War, and then their numbers lessened. There are now very few Shakers, but Ann Lee, a woman of great faith, left her mark on the religious history of the United States.

* * * * * * *

Ann Lee

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ann Lee
Born29 February 1736
Died8 September 1784 (aged 48)
Burial placeWatervliet Shaker VillageColonie, New York
42.73909°N 73.81637°W
Other namesAnn Elizabeth Lees
Ann Standerin
Occupation(s)Founder of the Shakers
Years active1758–1784
SpouseAbraham Standerin (separated c. 1775)
Children4 (all died in infancy)
ParentJohn Lees
RelativesWilliam Lee (brother)
Nancy Lee (niece)
Ann Lee sign.gif

Ann Lee (29 February 1736 – 8 September 1784), commonly known as Mother Ann Lee, was the founding leader of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, or the Shakers.

After nearly two decades of participation in a religious movement that became the Shakers, in 1774 Ann Lee and a small group of her followers emigrated from England to New York. After several years, they gathered at Niskayuna, renting land from the Manor of RensselaerswyckAlbany County, New York (the area now called Colonie). They worshiped by ecstatic dancing or "shaking", which resulted in them being dubbed the Shakers. Ann Lee preached to the public and led the Shaker church at a time when few women were religious leaders.[1]

Early history

Panorama of Manchester in 1746
Manchester at Ann Lee's time (1746) panorama

Ann Lee was born in Manchester, England, and was baptized privately at Manchester Collegiate Church (now Manchester Cathedral) on 1 June 1742,[2] at the age of 6. Her parents were members of a distinct branch of the Society of Friends and too poor to afford their children even the rudiments of education.[3] Ann Lee's father, John Lees, was a blacksmith during the day and a tailor at night. It is probable that Ann Lee's original surname was Lees, but somewhere through time it changed to Lee. Little is known about her mother other than that she was a very religious woman. As often happened in those days, the mother's name was not even recorded.[4] When Ann was young, she worked in a cotton factory, then as a cutter of hatter's fur, and later as a cook in a Manchester infirmary.

In 1758, she joined an English sect founded by Jane Wardley and her husband, preacher James Wardley; this was the precursor to the Shaker sect.[5] She believed and taught her followers that it is possible to attain perfect holiness by giving up sexual relations. Like her predecessors, the Wardleys, she taught that the shaking and trembling were caused by sin being purged from the body by the power of the Holy Spirit, purifying the worshiper.

Beginning during her youth, Ann Lee was uncomfortable with sexuality, especially her own. This repulsion towards sexual activity continued and manifested itself in her repeated attempts to avoid marriage. Eventually her father forced her to marry Abraham Stanley (or Abraham Standarin[6]). They were married on 5 January 1761 at Manchester Collegiate Church.[7] She became pregnant four times, but all of her children died during infancy. Her difficult pregnancies and the loss of four children were traumatic experiences that contributed to Ann Lee's dislike of sexual relations.[8] Lee developed radical religious convictions that advocated celibacy and the abandonment of marriage, as well as the importance of pursuing perfection in every facet of life. She differed from the Quakers, who, though they supported gender equality, did not believe in forbidding sexuality within marriage.

Rise to prominence

In England, Ann Lee rose to prominence by urging other believers to preach more publicly concerning the imminent second coming, and to attack sin more boldly and unconventionally. She spoke of visions and messages from God, claiming that she had received in a vision from God the message that celibacy and confession of sin are the only true road to salvation and the only way in which the Kingdom of God could be established on the earth. She was frequently imprisoned for breaking the Sabbath by dancing and shouting, and for blasphemy.[9]

She claimed to have had many miraculous escapes from death. She told of being examined by four clergymen of the Established Church, claiming that she spoke to them for four hours in 72 tongues.[10]

While in prison in Manchester for 14 days, she said she had a revelation that "a complete cross against the lusts of generation, added to a full and explicit confession, before witnesses, of all the sins committed under its influence, was the only possible remedy and means of salvation." After this, probably in 1770, she was chosen by the Society as "Mother in spiritual things" and called herself "Ann, the Word" and also "Mother Ann." After being released from prison a second time, witnesses say Mother Ann performed a number of miracles, including healing the sick.[11]

Lee eventually decided to leave England for America in order to escape the persecution (i.e., multiple arrests and stays in prison) she experienced in Great Britain.[9]

Move to America

A group of Shakers, published in 1875

In 1774 a revelation led her to take a select band to America. She was accompanied by her husband, who soon afterwards deserted her. Also following her to America were her brother, William Lee (1740–1784); Nancy Lee, her niece; James Whittaker (1751–1787), who had been brought up by Mother Ann and was probably related to her; John Hocknell (1723–1799), who provided the funds for the trip; his son, Richard; James Shepherd; and Mary Partington. Mother Ann and her converts arrived on 6 August 1774 in New York City, where they stayed for nearly five years. In 1779 Hocknell leased land at Niskayuna in the township of Watervliet, near Albany. The Shakers settled there, and a unique community life began to develop and thrive.[9]

During the American Revolution, Lee and her followers maintained a stance of neutrality. Maintaining the position that they were pacifists, Ann Lee and her followers did not side with either the British or the colonists.

Ann Lee opened her testimony to the world's people on the famous Dark Day in May 1780, when the sun disappeared and it was so dark that candles had to be lighted to see indoors at noon.[12] She soon recruited a number of followers who had joined the New Light revival at New Lebanon, New York, in 1779, including Lucy Wright.

Benjamin Osborn's house at Mount Washington.

Beginning in the spring of 1781, Mother Ann and some of her followers went on an extensive missionary journey to find converts in Massachusetts and Connecticut. They often stayed in the homes of local sympathizers, such as the Benjamin Osborn House near the New York-Massachusetts line. There were also songs attributed to her which were sung without words.[13][14]

The followers of Mother Ann came to believe that she embodied all the perfections of God in female form[15] and was revealed as the "second coming" of Christ.[16] The fact that Ann Lee was considered to be Christ's female counterpart was unique. She preached that sinfulness could be avoided not only by treating men and women equally but also by keeping them separated so as to prevent any sort of temptation leading to impure acts. Celibacy and confession of sin were essential for salvation.[15]

Ann Lee's mission throughout New England was especially successful in converting groups who were already outside the mainstream of New England Protestantism, including followers of Shadrack Ireland. To the mainstream, however, she was too radical for comfort.[17] Ann Lee herself recognized how revolutionary her ideas were when she said, "We [the Shakers] are the people who turned the world upside down."[dubious ]

The Shakers were sometimes met by violent mobs, such as in Shirley, Massachusetts, and Ann Lee suffered violence at their hands more than once. Because of these hardships Mother Ann became quite frail; she died on 8 September 1784 at the age of 48.[9]

Mother Ann Lee tombstone

She died at Watervliet and is buried in the Shaker cemetery located in the Watervliet Shaker Historic District.[18]

It is claimed that Shakers in New Lebanon, New York, experienced a 10-year period of revelations in 1837 called the Era of Manifestations. It was also referred to as Mother Ann's Work.[19]

Cultural legacy

Ann Lee is memorialized in:

See also


  1. ^ In addition to Ann Lee, only nine women preachers have been identified before 1800. Catherine A. Brekus, Strangers and Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740–1845 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 343–46.
  2. ^ MS 12/1, Manchester Cathedral Archive
  3. ^ Ripley, George; Dana, Charles A., eds. (1879). "Lee, Ann" The American Cyclopædia.
  4. ^ Campion, Nardi (1990). Mother Anne Lee: Morning star of the shakers. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England. pp. 2ISBN 0874515270.
  5. ^ Campion, Nardi Reeder (1976), Ann the Word: The Life of Mother Ann Lee, Founder of the Shakers, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, ISBN 978-0-316-12767-7
  6. ^ "Lee, Ann (1736-1784)"Shaker Museum. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  7. ^ MS 13/3, Manchester Cathedral Archive
  8. ^ Kern, Louis J. (1981). An Ordered Love: Sex Roles and Sexuality in Victorian Utopias: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida community. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-1443-7.
  9. Jump up to:a b c d Richard Francis, Ann the Word: The Story of Ann Lee, Female Messiah, Mother of the Shakers, The Woman Clothed with the Sun (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2000).
  10. ^ Foner, Eric; Garraty, John A., eds. (1991). "Ann Lee"American History Companion: The Reader's Companion to American History. Houghton Mifflin. p. 646ISBN 978-0-395-51372-9.
  11. ^ Answers.com Mother Ann Lee (section Britannica Concise Encyclopedia: Ann Lee)
  12. ^ Francis, Ann the Word, 130–31
  13. ^ "Shaker Music". PineTree Productions.
  14. ^ Roger L. Hall (1999). A guide to Shaker music: with music supplement. Pinetree.
  15. Jump up to:a b c Rufus Bishop and Seth Youngs Wells, comps., Testimonies of the Life, Character, Revelations and Doctrines of our Ever Blessed Mother Ann Lee (Hancock, Mass.: J. Talcott and J. Deming, Junrs., 1816); Seth Youngs Wells, comp., Testimonies Concerning the Character and Ministry of Mother Ann Lee (Albany, N.Y.: Packard and Van Benthuysen, 1827).
  16. Jump up to:a b Frederick William Evans. Shakers: Compendium of the Origin, History, Principles, Rules and Regulations, Government, and Doctrines of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing : with Biographies of Ann Lee, William Lee, Jas. Whittaker, J. Hocknell, J. Meacham, and Lucy Wright. Appleton; 1859. p. 26.
  17. ^ Brekus, Strangers and Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740–1845, 343–46.
  18. ^ Landmarks of American women's history, Chapter: Watervliet Shaker Historic District, Page Putnam Miller, Oxford University Press US, 2003, pp. 36 ff.
  19. ^ Aune, Michael Bjerknes; DeMarinis, Valerie M. (1996). Religious and Social Ritual: Interdisciplinary Explorations. SUNY Press. p. 105. ISBN 0-7914-2825-7.
  20. ^ "Ann Lee"The Dinner Party: Heritage FloorBrooklyn Museum. Retrieved 4 June 2012.

Further reading