In the years leading up to the Civil War, southern evangelical
denominations moved from the fringes to the mainstream of the
American South. Scott Stephan argues that female Baptists,
Methodists, and Presbyterians played a crucial role in this
transformation. While other scholars have pursued studies of
southern evangelicalism in the context of churches, meetinghouses,
and revivals, Stephan looks at the domestic rituals over which
southern women had increasing authority-from consecrating newborns
to God's care to ushering dying kin through life's final stages.
Laymen and clergymen alike celebrated the contributions of these
pious women to the experience and expansion of evangelicalism
across the South.
This acknowledged domestic authority allowed some women to take
on more public roles in the conversion and education of southern
youth within churches and academies, although always in the name of
family and always cloaked in the language of Christian
self-abnegation. At the same time, however, women's work in the
name of domestic devotion often put them at odds with slaves,
children, or husbands in their households who failed to meet their
religious expectations and thereby jeopardized evangelical hopes of
heavenly reunification of the family.
Stephan uses the journals and correspondence of evangelical
women from across the South to understand the interconnectedness of
women's personal, family, and public piety. Rather than seeing
evangelical women as entirely oppressed or resigned to the limits
of their position in a patriarchal slave society, Stephan seeks to
capture a sense of what agency was available to women through their
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