Honoring Martha by Dan White

Dan WhiteIt took a long time–213 years to be exact. But in February 2006, one of Columbia County’s leading women was finally honored for her outstanding achievements.

Baptist Women in Ministry honored Martha Stearns Marshall by naming February 2006 and every February after that as Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching to recognize women called to preach and to encourage all churches to enlist a woman to preach.

Martha Stearns Marshall (1732–1793) blazed the trail for women preachers and pastors in spite of scorn, persecution, and rejection by the colonial religious establishment of the eighteenth century. She was the most famous of many Separatist Baptist women preachers, deacons, and elders from that era.

Martha was a Holy Ghost-anointed Baptist preacher. According to her contemporaries, she was of singular piety, zeal, and surprising elocution. Her exhortations brought her audience to tears. She preached in church buildings, barns, town squares, and open fields. It was not unusual for thousands to gather to hear her proclaim the gospel message.

In 1747, Martha married Daniel Marshall, a Presbyterian “New Light” from Connecticut, and convinced him to become a Separate Baptist. Both of them had come under the spell of British Evangelist George Whitfield’s powerful preaching (Whitfield is credited with being the catalyst for the First Great Awakening). Soon after their marriage, the Marshalls sold everything they had and departed for the mission field in New York’s Susquehanna Valley to bring the gospel to the Mohawk Indians.

After the French and Indian War broke out, the Marshalls had to leave, and they joined Martha’s brother, Shubal Stearns, at Sandy Creek Baptist Church in Guilford County, North Carolina. A tremendous revival broke out that church and spread north, south, east, and across the Appalachian Mountains. Dozens of Separate Baptist churches were established. Ministers were ordained. Multitudes were converted to Christ and joined the newly formed Baptist churches.

Shubal recognized his sister’s divine gift, and along with her husband, he encouraged Martha to preach, and preach she did! She even was arrested and jailed in Virginia for refusing to stop preaching the gospel even though she was three months pregnant at the time.

Eventually, Martha and Daniel migrated even further southward, down the Piedmont into South Carolina and Georgia. They both continued to preach despite colonial authorities ordering them to stop. In defiance of the authorities and the laws that prohibited religious expression by unlicensed groups such as the Baptists, the Marshalls settled in 1771 in Georgia on the Kiokee Creek near Appling in Columbia County.

Daniel Marshall was a wanted man and was soon arrested in Augusta for preaching the gospel without government licensure. He was convicted, which made Martha furious. She let loose with scriptures that she had memorized, using them to support her case for religious liberty, challenging the arresting constable and the magistrate, and proclaiming that she and her husband would obey God rather than the laws of men.The British constable, Samuel Cartledge, was so moved by her passionate oratory that he converted and became a noted Baptist church planter and preacher. From their base of operations, Martha continued to preach and Daniel and his son, Abraham, established the first Baptist Church in Georgia, Kiokee Baptist Church, in 1772 and numerous other Baptist churches in Georgia and South Carolina.

I am especially proud of Martha, for my wife, Joyce, and my mother-in-law, Ramona Baston Smith, are direct descendants of this magnificent trailblazing woman preacher from the banks of Kiokee Creek. The Marshalls’ home site and the Old Kiokee church building are not far from our home–on Tubman Road, off Washington Road in Columbia County. The home site has interpretive markers and is well worth a visit.

Dan White is the pastor of North Columbia Church in Appling, Georiga.

This blog first appeared as a column in the Augusta Chronicle on February 7, 2014.

Lottie Moon: A Southern Baptist Missionary in History and Legend by Regina D. Sullivan

“It is a small thing to be judged of a man’s judgement.  It is good to know that we are judged by God.”

As I began my graduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I stumbled across the quotation above and, when I did, it gave me pause.  The open defiance of authority expressed was notable in the writing of a female missionary, certainly.  But this was not any missionary.  This was Lottie Moon, the Southern Baptist icon and namesake of the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, promoted vigorously each year to supply funds for the denomination’s mission efforts.  The woman I remembered from a childhood spent in Southern Baptist churches seemed at odds with this intriguing quotation so I began to focus my research on Moon.  Who was this woman who supposedly starved herself to death out of devotion to the Chinese and mission cause?  As I delved into the sources I discovered that the one-dimensional character I was familiar with from my youth deserved a more complex and comprehensive treatment of her life and work than had been created by denominational publications.

In my recently published study of Moon, I have stripped away the layers of misinformation that had built up since her death in 1912.  As I looked closely at the primary sources, I found a woman whose life and work offers a view of nineteenth-century womanhood that corrects an understanding of them as passive and resigned to a domestic fate.  Moon’s decision to go abroad as a pioneering single woman missionary was notable, to be sure.  But her decision to advocate for the formation of the Woman’s Missionary Union and to argue for equal treatment of male and female missionaries moves her into the realm of activist and advocate.  Only by removing the artifice of legend was I able to reveal the story of Moon’s unusual upbringing in Albemarle County, Virginia, her willingness to challenge gender norms and to support female organization.

Yet to consider Moon’s biography alone would provide only part of her powerful story.  The legend of Moon’s death from starvation on the mission field has played a central role in how she has been remembered, especially since the myth of her Christ-like sacrifice is essential to Southern Baptist mission fundraising.  Through painstaking research I was able to locate the origins of this mythology and explain how it formed and bloomed into legend.  Moon did not starve herself to death nor did she give all of her money away to famine relief, as has been popularized in denominational publications since the early twentieth century.  It is, indeed, ironic that Moon’s active life, her call for female equality and her support for female organization have been overlooked in favor of the starvation myth.  Instead of being remembered for her forceful public call for female equality in mission work, Moon is made a self-sacrificing martyr each Christmas as the story of her death is retold to publicize the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.  I invite you to a new consideration of the missionary in Lottie Moon: A Southern Baptist Missionary in History and Legend.

Regina D. Sullivan holds advanced degrees in religion and history from Yale Divinity School and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  She teaches U.S. and global history in New York City. Lottie Moon: A Southern Baptist Missionary in History and Legend is 264 pages and is available from Louisiana State University Press.

A Song We Can Still Sing by Lanta Cooper

Every time I read the proclamation from Jesus in Nazareth in Luke 4: 18, I am struck at his precision in articulating his life purpose as the Messiah. When he arrives in his home town, he unrolls the scroll and emphatically recites the words from the servant song in Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In Luke, this event takes place at the beginning of the gospel to set the tone of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus clearly shares his messianic role, letting us know that he is a servant of God who will fulfill the desires of the poor and oppressed.Jesus’ whole life was lived according to the theme of bringing freedom to the marginalized of society. His first public words after reading the scroll begin with today: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled.”Jesus announced the inauguration of the mission of God in the world, and he sang the servant song until his death.

When I hear the songs of our Baptist forefathers and foremothers who truly joined alongside the mission of God, none ring louder than Lottie Moon. I grew up hearing Lottie Moon’s name frequently in church, especially on Wednesday nights during Girls in Action. I can recall two key takeaways about Lottie Moon that I learned as a child: 1) she was an important Baptist woman missionary, and 2) there is a Lottie Moon Christmas offering. I have only recently, however, understood the depth of her contributions to missions in Baptist life. When I look at her life as a missionary in China, I believe that she sang the same servant song that Christ did that day in Nazareth.

From the start of her ministry, Lottie Moon was clear about her call to be a servant of God. She was committed to doing kingdom work, believing that God’s kingdom was present in the world. She was persistent, dedicated, and loyal to her service in China, remaining there for thirty-nine years; yes, you heard me correctly: thirty-nine years! She managed a girls’ school, built relationships with the people in local villages, taught classes and preached. Words cannot appropriately describe the song of love that she shared with others in China through her teaching, preaching, and striking hospitality. Though she was often ridiculed and referred to as a “foreign devil,” she knew she had a message to bear.

Lottie Moon stuck to her guns and even challenged Southern Baptists back in the United States to become more missions-minded. She saw today as an opportunity to live out the mission of God. When famine hit in China, she knew that many of her friends in the community were not able to eat. She refused to live under better conditions than her neighbors, and she died while making a humble sacrifice to live in equality with those she loved. Like Jesus, she spent a lifetime living alongside others in community, serving their needs and spreading the hopeful news of God’s kingdom on earth.

Christ carried the tune of love in his sacrificial ministry, Lottie Moon marched to the tune of servanthood in China, and we can sing the same servant song today. Each of us have a song to sing and a message to bear; each of us have a call to be the presence of the kingdom of God. As we try to be lifelong servants of Christ, may we look to those who have come before us. Like Lottie Moon, we can follow the example of Christ’s ministry in our world today, participating in the already-present kingdom of God.

Lanta Cooper is a student at McAfee School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia.

This Is What a Preacher Looks Like by Jason Ranke

“Treasure hunter.” Those two words might best describe what I do at the American Baptist Historical Society. More technically, I process collections. But that doesn’t sound nearly as fun as “treasure hunter.”

Many of the collections that arrive on our doorstep are a mess. Aside from knowing to whom the collection originally belonged, we don’t know much more about what we may or may not find. And so it’s my job to sort through the collection, organize it, preserve it, and create a finding guide for future researchers. The fun of the job comes from uncovering the unexpected, hidden treasures tucked away.

I like to believe if I were the archivist processing the collections of Martha Stearns Marshall and Lottie Moon that I might discover that these women were “fashion forward” for their time period. I’m not talking about Dolce and Gabbanna or Abercrombie and Fitch. These two women would probably sport the bright, teal blue colored and bold, white lettered “This Is What a Preacher Looks Like” t-shirt.

Martha Stearns Marshall began her service as a missionary to Native Americans in the New England area. With the start of the French and Indian War, Martha, her husband, and her brother all moved southward and settled in Virginia. Along the way, they became Baptists, received believer’s baptism, and soon started attending a local Particular Baptist church. And then the controversy began. A Baptist church isn’t complete without some good controversy, and Martha brought plenty with her. Church folks didn’t take too kindly to her and her leadership simply because she was a woman. She prayed, preached, and led worship with zeal and gifts that surpassed men. Scandalous! Her preaching has been described as enhancing her husband’s ministry. When Daniel Marshall later sought ordination, some ministers refused to participate because his wife was a preacher. This is what a preacher looks like.

Lottie Moon felt called to missions. She hopped aboard a boat and set sail for China. Lottie “operated a girls’ school, evangelized in villages, and cared for destitute women in her home.” And then the controversy began. She preached. And she agonized over her call to preach. The time period and culture in which she lived said to her and other gifted, called women that they couldn’t preach simply because of their gender. In one of her missionary letters, Lottie wrote, “‘It is not the custom of the Ancient church that women preach to men.’ I could not, however, hinder their calling upon me to lead in prayer. Need I say that, as I tried to lead their devotions, it was hard to keep back the tears of pity for those sheep not having a shepherd.” This is what a preacher looks like.

In these examples, God calls a person to partner with God in God’s extraordinary mission of redemption in the world. God calls. There is some obstacle or problem or roadblock. God doesn’t take “no” for an answer. God is persistent and provides a way. We find a similar story in Luke’s gospel.

It was life as usual—another ordinary day of work. Simon, James, and John had just come in from fishing. They were cleaning their nets. Does any of this sound familiar? We have our set routines and schedules just like these fishermen. Get up. Go to work. Time for home. Bed. Repeat. We know what to expect and when to expect it. There are no surprises. With God, however, we should expect the unexpected. And the unexpected happened with the disciples. Jesus showed up. He asked if Simon would cast the boat out from shore and to let down the nets. The nets were lowered and filled with fish to the point of breaking.

Simon then realized that he was in the presence of the Lord. How often do we go about our daily living and not even realize we are in the presence of the Lord, that Jesus is with us? We are so busy or everything is so mundane that we fail to notice Jesus in our presence. Simon responded: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8b NRSV). We think we can’t serve God simply because of who we are or who society says we are. But God has knitted us together in the womb, and God knows who we are even before our birth. When we choose to follow Jesus, we become part of the body of Christ. We soon discover, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV).

When we choose to follow Jesus, we are also responding to his call to us to ministry. We are God’s instruments. In describing ministry to the Christ-followers in Corinth, Paul wrote that “we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (II Corinthians 4:7 NRSV). Paul said that the ordinary, common, fragile clay jars contained and ferried the treasure. We are the clay jars, and Jesus Christ is the treasure. We carry within each of us the image of God and life of Jesus Christ. We are the vessel God uses to share God’s love with the world. We are the instrument.

Jesus gave the disciples a new purpose and job. They were to fish for people now. The disciples left all they had and followed Jesus. The call to ministry changed their lives and the lives of other people. Jesus is calling us, too, to proclaim the Good News. How will we respond? Jesus can change our life and the lives of others, too, if only we will let him.

Jason Ranke is a student at McAfee School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia.

A Great Company of Women Preachers by Curtis W. Freeman

The Lord gives the command; great is the company of women who bore the tidings. Psalm 68:11 (NRSV)

Earlier this spring I was sitting with a congregation in Durham, North Carolina listening to a “call sermon” by a student. She began by telling the story of the woman at the well from the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel. The woman was just there to get a little water, the preacher explained, but then she met Jesus who gave her living water. The preacher shifted to her story of growing up in a Baptist church in the Deep South, her doctoral education and a teaching career, and her eventual matriculation in divinity school to explore and learn. She confessed to having no intention of becoming a preacher. Like the woman at the well, she was “just there to get a little water.” But Jesus interrupted her plans and told her to go and tell a thirsty world about living water.

Listening to her sermon I was reminded of another young woman named Sarah Wight, who in the spring of 1647 began a fast that lasted seventy-six days. Her family and members of their Baptist congregation gathered around her bedside as she lay weakened to the point of death, blind, and deaf. As she moved in and out of consciousness, she received a series of revelations that offered signs of grace. After calling for a drink of water, she sat up in her bed and began to prophesy. As she recounted her dreams and visions, her sick bed was transformed into a pulpit, and the friends and family at her beside became the gathered community with whom Christ promised to be present. She had no intention of becoming a preacher either. She was just there to get a little water. But preach she did.

The Psalmist envisions a great company of women preachers. In truth its witnesses stretch from the present through voices like Sarah Wight reaching all the way back to the Hebrew prophetesses Miriam (Ex 15:20-21) and Deborah (Judges 4:4, 5:1-31). Yet the historical narrative has some noticeable gaps, especially when it comes to telling the story of preaching women among the Baptists. We know all too well the lives and writings of our Baptist forefathers from John Smyth to John Bunyan, but what about our foremothers? Were there women preachers among the early Baptists? Who were they? Did they leave behind any record of their thoughts in their own words?

A Company of Women Preachers focuses on the writings (1640-1690) of seven Baptist women: Katherine Chidley, Sarah Wight, Elizabeth Poole, Anna Trapnel, Jane Turner, Katherine Sutton, and Anne Wentworth. They were known by their seventeenth century contemporaries as “prophetesses.” Yet the distinction between “preaching,” in which only men could engage, and “prophesying,” which permitted women to exercise their gifts, was difficult to maintain. Preaching and prophesying often came to much the same thing. These women believed their prophetic activity was the fulfillment of God’s promise for a great outpouring of the Spirit and a great overturning of the social order in which women as well as men would proclaim the gospel. It was a subversive hermeneutical vision in a social world where biblical warrants were used to reinforce the subjugation of women. As Sarah Wight put it, “This is but a taste now of what shall be.”

Baptist prophetesses have been understudied by feminist scholarship, in part because they have been perceived to be less radical than the Quakers and some other Dissenters. But what could be more radical than Katherine Chidley, who conceived of herself as Jael the wife of Heber (Judges 4:21), stealthily assaulting the unsuspecting Presbyterian heresy hunter, Thomas Edwards, with the devastating blows of her theological hammer? Or Elizabeth Poole, whose reputation for mixing prophecy and politics earned her an invitation to address the council of the army as they deliberated on the fate of King Charles I? Or Anna Trapnel, whose millenarian visions and prophetic poetry made her a public enemy of Oliver Cromwell and the Protectorate? Or Anne Wentworth, whose spiritual marriage to Jesus and apocalyptic revelations drew the attention of royalty, politicians, and the Baptists?

These women are, to be sure, of more than just historical importance. There is much that they can teach us today about faith, the Spirit, and the church. Anyone seeking spiritual growth and guidance will greatly benefit from reading Jane Turner’s autobiographical account of “an experienced Christian.” Those exploring the depths of praise, worship, and hymn-singing stand to learn from the story of Katherine Sutton’s gift of spiritual singing. A Company of Women Preachers retrieves thirteen texts by seven early Baptist women as they were originally printed so that their voices long silenced may again be heard. Then perhaps of this great company of women it may be said, as it was of the great cloud of witnesses, that they “being dead yet speak” (Hebrews 11:4).

Curtis W. Freeman is research professor of theology and Baptist studies and Director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke Divinity School. He is a member of the board of directors of Baptist Women in Ministry of North Carolina. A Company of Women Preachers: Baptist Prophetesses in Seventeenth-Century England is 824 pages and is available in hardback edition from Baylor University Press.

Baylor University Press has offered a 30% discount on the book from April 18 to May 15 to Baptist Women in Ministry readers. To get the discount, visit their website at www.baylorpress.com (and insert the code BCWP in the shopping cart) or call the Hopkins Fulfillment Service customer service team at 1-800-537-5487 (and mention the BCWP code).

Things Could Have Been Different by Ircel Harrison

One of the legendary practitioners of Celtic Christianity I have encountered in my class with the Oates Institute is St. Brigid of Kildare. An early leader of the church in Ireland, much of her history is based on hagiography (writing that testifies to the saintly lives and actions of its subjects) and her accomplishments have been embellished by bringing into some of the attributes of the pagan goddess with that name.  Beneath all of that, however, is the story of a strong and intelligent woman who ranks beside St. Patrick as a symbol of Irish culture and faithfulness (and, unlike Patrick, she was born there).  She was an abbess in the fifth century C.E. who performed some of the functions of a bishop, the founder of several abbeys in Ireland, a patron of the arts, and a person of common sense and wisdom.

As the influence of the Roman church became preeminent in Ireland over the following centuries, the role of women in such leadership roles was no longer tolerated.  Women took on subservient or, at least, background roles.  At the same time, the Irish clung to the stories and traditions of Brigid, and she is highly regarded even today.

Reading about Brigid caused me to think about the role of women in the church.  What would have happened to the Christian faith if women had not been excluded from positions that shaped the faith—clergy, theologian, teachers?

Where women have been allowed to serve, they have made significant contributions.  They have been at the vanguard of care for the sick, the poor, and the orphaned.  Women have been willing to undertake the caring tasks that men often rejected.  They have taught the youth, prepared the meals, and cleaned up after the infirm.  Often, women took on other roles in remote areas where men were not available as leaders (think about Baptist “saint” Lottie Moon).  From time to time, the contributions of women to spirituality and worship practices were recognized, but these were the exceptions to their accepted roles.

If women had been ecclesiastical leaders, would monarchs have been less inclined to use force to convert people to the faith?  If women had been trained and encouraged as theologians, would we have a richer heritage in areas such as creation theology, the theology of children, and the theology of the Spirit?  Would more resources have been put into the service of the poor and needy rather than ecclesiastical monuments?

There are no answers to these hypothetical questions.  We do know where we are today, however.  In our contemporary context, are we providing adequate opportunities for women to lead, to think, and to teach?  Women make up much more that half of our congregational membership.  The women in our churches are trained as educators, caring professionals, artists, and administrators.  Our seminaries are forming gifted, intelligent women for ministry.  Called and skilled women are ready to assume more responsibility in the life of the church.  If we do not encourage and provide places for women in leadership roles, we will be a poorer church with a limited mission.  This would be a tragic continuation of our historical error.

Ircel Harrison is director of the Central Baptist Theological Seminary center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates. “Things Could Have Been Different” first appeared on his blog, Barnabas File.

Baptist Women Ministers: A Bit of History for an Ordination Service by Pam Durso

We gather today to recognize the working of God among us and to celebrate God’s working in the life of Libby Grammar Garrett. And on this special day, Libby, those of us gathered here affirm your call to ministry, we acknowledge that God has gifted and graced you for ministry, and we offer our gratitude to God for you and for your calling.

And today, you as a congregation, First Baptist Church, participate in a long-honored Baptist tradition. You as a church family today follow in the footsteps of Baptists around the world—who have for the four hundred years gathered to set apart—to bless—to ordain—one who has been called and gifted for ministry.

As Baptists, ordination is one of our traditions. It is part of our history—part of our Baptist way of doing and being church. And thus, today’s service is not a unique occurrence but rather is in keeping with our Baptist principles and practices.

As Baptists, we have long held to ideal of the autonomy of local congregations—that is, that each Baptist church is free and responsible to follow God’s leading, to hear God’s voice, to seek to understand the workings of the Spirit. And for you as a congregation that autonomy means that you together, as led by the Spirit, may decide how your church will be governed, how you will worship, and who you will have as leaders.

Today, your Baptist freedom as a church means you, as led by the Spirit, may set apart and ordain this one in whom you have seen gifts, this one whom you have prayed for and loved and nurtured. Today, your church walks in that Baptist tradition—of being faithful as the body of Christ to hear and follow God.

What you might think is out of the ordinary or unique about this service is that you as a church are ordaining a woman. You might think that we Baptists are not in the habit of ordaining women . . . that recognizing and affirming a woman’s gifts for ministry through ordination is outside the norm, is not part of our historic record, or is frowned upon by the good majority of Baptists. And so you might be thinking that your church is alone today – alone in hearing and following God’s Spirit in your decision to ordain a woman.

But this afternoon I want you to know that your church is not alone. Throughout our history as Baptists there have been thousands of other Baptist churches who have walked this same road—who have sought to listen to God’s voice and to be faithful in affirming and ordaining those whom God has called and gifted—without consideration of gender.

Truth be told—in the four hundred years that Baptists have been around women have been church leaders, workers, tithers, teachers, mission leaders, and yes, ministers. Yet, the reality is that during most of those four hundred years, women have not held formal leadership positions in Baptist churches, that is, they have not been given official titles or paid salaries. They have not been licensed or ordained.

And yes, ordination was slow in coming for Baptist women, but perhaps it came earlier than what you might think.


The earliest known ordination of a Baptist woman was that of M. A. Brennan, who in 1876 was ordained as a minister by the Bellevernon Freewill Baptist Church in Pennsylvania. The first ordination of a woman associated with what is now the American Baptist Churches, USA, took place in 1882. That year May Jones was ordained at a meeting of the Baptist Association of Puget Sound in Washington. Within Southern Baptists circles, the first woman to be ordained was Addie Davis, who was ordained on August 9, 1964 by Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina.

So among Baptists, we have a 134-year history of ordaining women. Your church is not alone. History tells us that you are not alone.

I can’t tell you exactly how many Baptist churches have ordained women. Offering an accurate estimate is challenging if not impossible, because Baptists are notoriously bad at record keeping and reporting.

But as a researcher, I do know that just for Baptists in the South since 1964—there have been about 2,500 ordinations. That is my best educated estimate.

Those Baptist women have served and are serving in all capacities of ministry—on church staff as pastors, children’s ministers, worship leaders . . . as chaplains in our hospitals, prisons, and military . . . some work with non-profit agencies, some serve as missionaries, some are in our seminary classrooms and are professors. Some serve in denominational roles.

Libby today joins a whole host of Baptist women ministers—called and blessed by God, affirmed by their Baptist churches, serving God’s people. And today we celebrate—celebrate Libby’s giftedness, her intellectual and ministerial abilities, and her willingness to follow, but we also celebrate the faithfulness of this church—and its openness to hear and to obey God’s vision. May God bless you as a congregation as you continue on this journey in faithfulness.

Libby Grammar Garrett was ordained on December 12, 2010, by First Baptist Church, Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry.

Great Women of History: Julia Ward Howe by Elizabeth Mangham Lott

Julia Ward Howe lived from 1819-1910. The mother of six children, she was also an author, poet, preacher, teacher, and activist. If you do not know Julia by name, you likely know her by song. First published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1862, she wrote the lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” after visiting Union soldiers in Northern Virginia during the Civil War. She reclaimed the tune to a song they had commonly sung at the battlefield.

In addition to raising six children, keeping a nineteenth-century home (and tending to a nineteenth-century husband), advocating for women’s suffrage, opposing slavery, and pushing for education and prison reform, Julia “was instrumental in creating Mother’s Day, which she envisioned as a day of solemn council where women from all over the world could meet to discuss the means whereby to achieve world peace. They would also convene as mothers, keeping in mind the duty of protecting their children.”

In response to the continuous bloodshed of the Civil War, Julia penned her Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870. With it she “called for an international Mother’s Day celebrating peace and motherhood” to “protest what she saw as the futility of their Sons killing the Sons of other Mothers.”

Her letter declared:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears!


As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war,

Let women now leave all that may be left of home

For a great and earnest day of counsel.


Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means

Whereby the great human family can live in peace,

Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,

But of God.


In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask

That a general congress of women without limit of nationality

May be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient

And at the earliest period consistent with its objects

To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,

The amicable settlement of international questions.

The great and general interests of peace.

In the United States, a declaration of peace birthed Mother’s Day. Women gathered because they believed each human being bore “the sacred impress” of God—each man, woman, and child was made in the image of God. Julia’s vision was a day for mothers, literal and metaphorical, to use their mothering voices for the needs of the world. For those who have a voice, remember Julia’s vision by uniting those voices to speak for the voiceless. For Julia, the natural way to live out the truths of who God is and how God loves was to mother the world. Male or female, children or no children, all are called to this type of motherhood. Truly, it is a motherhood for all.

For full quotes and more information on Julia Ward Howe, visit www.juliawardhowe.org.

Elizabeth Mangham Lott is a preacher, writer, teacher, mother, wife, and aspiring activist living in Richmond, Virginia.

Great Women of History: Ann Hasseltine Judson by Pam Durso

One of my favorite women from history is Ann Hasseltine Judson. She was an extraordinary woman, one who was called by God to serve, and she lived out that calling faithfully and sacrificially.

In 1811, twenty-one-year-old Ann Hasseltine attended a dinner party given in her parents’ home. The Hasseltines were Congregationalists with a strong interest in missions. At the party was a young man who felt called to be a missionary: Adoniram Judson. Adoniram was greatly impressed by Ann (I am guessing she was a beauty, but I know for certain that she was very bright and opinionated).

Over the next few months, Adoniram returned frequently to the Hasseltine home, pleading with Ann to marry him. Ann wrote about her struggle to make this decision in her journal:

I am a creature of God, and he has an undoubted right to do with me, as seems good in his sight. I rejoice, that I am in his hands—that he is everywhere present, and can protect me in one place as well as in another. He has my heart in his hands, and when I am called to face danger, to pass through scenes of terror and distress, he can inspire me with fortitude, and enable me to trust in him. . . . But whether I spend my days in India or America, I desire to spend them in the service of God.


Ann’s father, however, did not want his daughter to marry Adoniram and declared that he would tie her to a bedpost before letting her live in a foreign country. Apparently, he gave up on this idea for eventually he relented and gave his blessing to the marriage.

On February 5, 1812, the couple married, and two weeks, yes, just two weeks, after their wedding, they set sail for India. While on board the ship, they studied the New Testament and contemplated the Baptist understanding of baptism. Ann wrote to a friend of the struggles concerning their understanding of baptism, “The more Adoniram examined scripture, the more his doubts increased; and unwilling as he was to admit it, he was afraid the Baptists were right and he wrong.”

Initially, Ann told her husband that if he became a Baptist, she would not. But after the two young missionaries read, studied, and prayed, Ann wrote that “we were constrained to acknowledge that the truth appeared to lie on the Baptists’ side. It was extremely trying to reflect on the consequences of our becoming Baptists.” But become Baptists they did. They reached India and were baptized by immersion on September 6, 1812.

Ten months later, the Judsons finally reached their final destination of Burma. Ann wrote of the country: “It presents a very extensive field for usefulness, sustaining seventeen million inhabitants:—and the Scriptures have never been translated into their language.” The Judsons slowly learned the language and then began making progress in conversing with the people and in bringing them to Christ. In 1819, after six years of serving in Burma, Adoniram baptized their first convert. Three years later, eighteen Burmese had converted to Christianity.

In Burma, Ann experienced the heartbreak of losing a child. In 1815, Ann gave birth to a son, which they named Roger Williams Judson. Roger lived only eight months, and after his death, Ann wrote, “Our hearts were bound up with this child; we felt he was our earthly all.”

In March 1824, a war began between Burma and Great Britain, one that for two years kept the American missionaries in a state of terrible suspense. The Burmese leaders insisted that all white-skinned foreigners were spies, and Adoniram was soon arrested and taken to prison. The authorities kept him in a horribly crowded, filthy building with no ventilation. He was chained to other prisoners and subjected to various types of torture.

During his imprisonment, Ann prayed constantly for her husband’s safety. She worked diligently to obtain his release and supplied him with food each day, for the prison did not provide provisions for prisoners. She also smuggled his translation of the New Testament into the prison.

In December 1825, after nineteen total months in captivity, officials allowed Adoniram to leave, and upon his arrival at home, he discovered that Ann had been ill for a month with cerebral spinal meningitis. She never completely recovered, and in July 1826 Ann contracted another fever and died three weeks later.

For further reading:

James D. Knowles, Memoir of Mrs. Ann H. Judson, Late Missionary to Burma, 6th  ed. (Boston: Gould, Kendall & Lincoln, 1835).

Francis Wayland, A Memoir of the Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, D.D. (London, 1853)

Great Women of History: Lucie Campbell-Williams by Courtney Lyons

This week’s BWIM blog posts will celebrate some of the great women of our history, starting with an introduction to Lucie Campbell-Williams by Courtney Lyons. Courtney is a Ph.D. student in religion at Baylor University.

Lucie Eddie Campbell-Williams (1885-1963), of Duck Hill, Mississippi, was the youngest of nine children to former slaves, Burrell and Isabella Campbell. Her father died in a train accident on his way to see his newly born Lucie, after which her mother moved their family to Memphis for more opportunities and a fresh start. Lucie graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and started teaching in public schools at age fourteen. She earned her undergraduate degree from Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi (1921), and her master’s from Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University (1951).

Lucie believed in racial equality and often refused to move from the “whites only” section of buses. She served as president of the Negro Education Association, through which she pressed the government to equalize wages and benefits for black teachers.

Lucie’s music affinity began as a young girl eavesdropping on her sister Lora’s piano lessons. In 1904, Lucie organized a Music Club that eventually became a one-thousand-voice choir. Known as “Miss Lucie,” she was elected the music director of the National Baptist Sunday School and Baptist Training Union Congress in Memphis in 1915. In this role, she composed songs and musical plays for the organization as well as Bible study materials, which convention delegates took back to their churches. She also used her platform to debut rising talent, including Marian Anderson, Thomas A. Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson, J. Robert Bradley, and Sam Cooke. Lucie served as a spiritual leader of the National Baptist Convention through her music, which played a tremendous role in reunifying the recently-split convention, and was known to speak “with the thunder of sermons.” Many churches forbade her from speaking because of her gender. She was, however, an often-sought speaker for Women’s Days and commencements.

During the early days of gospel music, Lucie published her first song, “Something Within,” in 1919, after which she published more than one hundred songs including “Something Within” (1919), “The Lord is My Shepherd” (1921), “Heavenly Sunshine” (1928), “He’ll Understand and Say Well Done” (1933), “In the Upper Room” and “My Lord and I” (1947), and “Footprints of Jesus” (1949).

Lucie was the first woman composer of gospel music and is known as “The Mother of Gospel Music.” She combined the slow rhythm of Baptist hymns with European classical music to produce the “gospel waltz.” Her foundation helped Thomas Dorsey combine sacred music with secular music to form gospel blues. Her songs were recorded by top-selling gospel artists like Mahalia Jackson and the Davis Sisters and were also included in many songbooks published by the Sunday School Publishing Board of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.. She composed songs for over forty years, from 1919 to 1962. Her music transcended race, denomination, and generation.

In 1960 at the age of seventy-six, Lucie married her lifelong friend and associate, Rev. C. R. Williams. At the ceremony, she dedicated her song “They That Wait Upon the Lord” to her husband. Two years later, she became suddenly ill while travel to a ceremony of the National Baptist Convention, during which June 20, 1962 was declared as Lucie Campbell Appreciation Day. Lucie died six months later on January 3, 1963. She is buried in Memphis.


Further Reading:

Judith Weisenfeld and Richard Newman, This Far By Faith: Readings in African-American Women’s Religious Biography (New York: Routledge, 1996): 56-72.

Luvenia A. George and Ada Gilkey, “Lucie E. Campbell: Baptist Composer and Educator,” The Black Perspective in Music 15:1 (1987): 25-49.