Portraits of American Women Writers That Appeared in Print Before 1861 - Header and Menu


Julia Griffiths, ed. Autographs for Freedom (Auburn, N.Y., 1854), plate opposite p. 41.


Antoinette Blackwell became a member of the Congregational Church at the extremely young age of nine. At twenty-one, she commenced studies at Oberlin College, where she pursued a degree in theology. She met with great opposition in this endeavor, and the degree was withheld until many years later. Nevertheless she began preaching, and in 1853 became the first American woman to be ordained to a major denomination, the Congregational Church, and continued preaching until 1915. In 1856, she married Samuel Charles Blackwell; together they had six daughters. An abolitionist and important early feminist, Mrs. Blackwell wrote several books on women’s rights and equality. In her The Sexes throughout Nature (New York, 1875), she provides a feminist analysis of Darwin’s theory of evolution. In 1920, though blind and in declining health, she cast her vote in the first presidential election after women’s suffrage.

Mrs. Blackwell and Lucy Stone, another prominent early feminist, became very close friends at Oberlin, and Stone later married Mr. Blackwell’s brother Henry. They stayed in close contact through letters from their time at Oberlin until Lucy Stone’s death in 1893. In a letter dated August 1849, Stone, who defied convention and retained her maiden name following her marriage, councils Mrs. Blackwell about her theological studies at Oberlin:

“Your heart, it cannot spoil I know, for God has made his own impress there so indelibly that it cannot be effaced. Your heart will ever feel after the heart of its fellows – to drop healing where sorrow’s wounds are made, – to purify, where Crime’s viper brood nestle – to cheer where adversity lowers – and to banish Hate by its Love – You have honesty & candor now, more than most others. I dread to see these noble qualities trimmed, and your generous soul belittled to the defence of an outgrown creed – O Nette it is intolerable and I can think of it with allowance only when I think that the loss of what is invaluable in you will purchase apparatus to batter down that wall of bible, brimstone, church and corruption, which has hitherto hemmed women into nothingness – The fact that you have entered a field forbidden to women, will be a good to the sex, but I half fear it will be purchased at too dear a rate.” (Carol Lasser and Marlene Deahl Merrill, eds. Friends and Sisters: Letters between Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown Blackwell, 1846-93. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1987, p. 54.)



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