antoinette lb blackwell

Antoinette Brown Blackwell

Antoinette Louisa Brown, later Antoinette Brown Blackwell (May 20, 1825November 5, 1921), was the first woman to be ordained as a minister in the United States. She was a well-versed public speaker on the paramount issues of her time, and distinguished herself from her contemporaries with her use of religious faith in her efforts to expand women's rights.


Early life

Brown was born in Henrietta, New York, the daughter of Joseph Brown and Abby Morse. After daring to inject a prayer into her family's religious observance, she was accepted into her family's branch of the Congregational Church at age nine. She spoke in church in her youth. She studied at the Monroe County Academy and taught for a few years, but soon decided that God meant for her to become a minister.


Brown attended Oberlin College, which was a Christian school and the first coeducational college in the country. As a woman she was not permitted to learn public speaking or rhetoric, nor was she allowed to speak publicly in her coeducational courses. She graduated from Oberlin in 1847 and studied at the Oberlin Seminary until 1850, when she was refused a degree and ordination due to her gender.

Early career

Without a preaching license following graduation, Brown decided to pause her ministerial ambitions to write for Frederick Douglass' abolitionist paper, The North Star. She soon spoke at a women's rights convention, giving a speech that was well-received and served as the beginning of a speaking tour in which she would address issues such as abolition, temperance, and women's rights.


The Congregational Church of South Butler, New York ordained Brown as minister on September 15, 1853, making her the first woman ordained minister to a regular Protestant denomination in the United States. Not long after, she also became the first woman to officiate at a wedding. She later left the Church due to illness coupled with discontent with some Congregational ideologies.

Women's rights

Following her separation from the ministry, she focused increasingly on women's rights issues. While many women's rights activists opposed religion on the basis that it served to oppress women, Blackwell was steadfast in her belief that women's active participation in religion could serve to further their status in society. Unlike many of her peers, she cared more about improving women's status in society than for suffrage. She believed that the inherent differences between men and women limited men's effectiveness in representing women in politics; thus suffrage, would have little positive impact for women, unless it was coupled with tangible leadership opportunities. Brown also diverged in opinion from other reformers with her opposition to divorce as a means of easing women's marital restrictions.

With regard to her own prospect of marriage, Brown believed that it was best to remain single, because single women experienced greater levels of independence than married women. Upon meeting Samuel Blackwell, her opinions began to waver in favor marriage. The two married in 1856, and had seven children, but two died in infancy.

Brown continued her career until domestic responsibilities combined with her disagreement with many aspects of the women's rights movement and caused her to discontinue lecturing. Writing became her new outlet for initiation positive change for women; in her works she encouraged women to seek out masculine professions, and asked men to share in household duties, yet she retained the belief that women's primary role is care of the home and family. Brown was the author of several books in the fields of theology and philosophy. She also combined science and philosophy, writing The Sexes Throughout Nature in 1875, in which she argued that evolution resulted in two sexes that were different but equal. She also wrote a novel, The Island Neighbors, in 1871, and a collection of poetry, Sea Drift, in 1902.

In 1869, Brown and Lucy Stone separated from other preeminent women's rights activists to form the American Woman Suffrage Association in support of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. In 1873, she founded the Association for the Advancement of Women in an attempt to address women's issues that similar organizations ignored. She was elected president of the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association in 1891, and helped found the American Purity Association. She also lectured on behalf of the poor of New York City.

Later years

Oberlin College awarded her honorary Master's and Doctoral degrees in 1878 and 1908, respectively. In 1920, at age 95, she was the only participant of the 1850 Women's Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts, to see the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote. She voted for Warren G. Harding in the 1920 presidential election.

Antoinette Brown Blackwell died at the age of 96 in Elizabeth, New Jersey.


1. Blackwell, Antoinette Louisa Brown. Vol. 29, in The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 129. New York: James T. White & Co., 1941.

2. Brown Blackwell, Antoinette. Vol. 3, in Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopaedia, edited by Anne Commire, 126-131. Waterford, Connecticut: Yorkin Publications, 1999.

3. Burckel, Nicholas C. "Oberlin College." In Handbook of American Women's History, edited by Angela M. Howard and Frances M. Kavenik, 407. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2000.

4. Kerr, Andrea Moore. "Blackwell, Antoinette (Brown) (1825-1921)." In Handbook of American Women's History, edited by Angela M. Howard and Frances M. Kavenik, 72. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2000.

5. Lasser, Carol. Blackwell, Antoinette Louisa Brown. Vol. 2, in American National Biography, edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, 890-892. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

6. Women's Rights. Vol. 6, in Encyclopaedia of American History: The Development of the Industrial United States, edited by Gary B. Nash, 316-318. New York: Facts on File, 2003.

7. "The Women's Rights Movement." In Political and Historical Encyclopaedia of Women, edited by Christine Faure, 292-294. New York: Routledge, 2003.

8. Cazden, Elizabeth. Antoinette Brown Blackwell: A Biography. Old Westbury, NY: Feminist Press, 1983.

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