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Beyond the Pulpit

Beyond the Pulpit: Women’s Rhetorical Roles in the Antebellum Religious Press

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    Beyond the Pulpit
    Book Description:

    In the formative years of the Methodist Church in the United States, women played significant roles as proselytizers, organizers, lay ministers, and majority members. Although women's participation helped the church to become the nation's largest denomination by the mid-nineteenth century, their official roles diminished during that time. InBeyond the Pulpit,Lisa Shaver examines Methodist periodicals as a rhetorical space to which women turned to find, and make, self-meaning.In 1818,Methodist Magazinefirst published "memoirs" that eulogized women as powerful witnesses for their faith on their deathbeds. As Shaver observes, it was only in death that a woman could achieve the status of minister. Another Methodist publication, theChristian Advocate,was America's largest circulated weekly by the mid-1830s. It featured the "Ladies' Department," a column that reinforced the canon of women as dutiful wives, mothers, and household managers. Here, the church also affirmed women in the important rhetorical and evangelical role of domestic preacher. Outside the "Ladies Department," women increasingly appeared in "little narratives" in which they were portrayed as models of piety and charity, benefactors, organizers, Sunday school administrators and teachers, missionaries, and ministers' assistants. These texts cast women into nondomestic roles that were institutionally sanctioned and widely disseminated.By 1841, theLadies' Repository and Gatherings of the Westwas engaging women in discussions of religion, politics, education, science, and a variety of intellectual debates. As Shaver posits, by providing a forum for women writers and readers, the church gave them an official rhetorical space and the license to define their own roles and spheres of influence. As such, the periodicals of the Methodist church became an important public venue in which women's voices were heard and their identities explored.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7742-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. INTRODUCTION: Looking Beyond the Pulpit
    (pp. 1-17)

    A small group of Methodist women brought Ruth Short back to life. Long before she died, my grandmother disappeared behind the shroud of dementia, and I had somehow forgotten the lively woman she once was. Following her funeral, some women from the church prepared a bereavement dinner for our family. My grandmother had not attended that small, red brick church in Hartford, Arkansas, in several years, but the faces of the women who served the dinner were still familiar to me from all the Sundays we had accompanied Grandmother to church. One of the women sang a solo during the...

  2. CHAPTER ONE Dying Well
    (pp. 18-35)

    Harriet Neale led an exemplary life; however, she is memorialized more for the way she died than the way she lived. By dying well, Neale became a holy messenger and a model Christian demonstrating the strength and power of her faith. According to her memoir, when Neale became sick, she knew that her illness would prove fatal. Nonetheless, “she was entirely resigned to the will of Providence, and confidently believed that God would not let her die in doubts and fears.” Although she suffered indescribable pain over the course of four months, readers were told that she “never indulged in...

  3. CHAPTER TWO Women’s Deathbed Pulpits
    (pp. 36-52)

    Using both the ethos and pathos of her deathbed, Sarah Tomlinson stressed the “necessity of conversion” and warned her visitors “not to persecute religion as she had done.”¹ While her exhortations were directed at family and friends, who stood vigil by her bedside, through the publication of her memoir in the April 1818 issue ofMethodist Magazine(MM), the audience surrounding Sarah Tomlinson’s deathbed was expanded, and a woman customarily silenced in the antebellum Methodist church was granted an extensive institutional voice.

    Although memoirs were occasionally authored by family members (Sarah Tomlinson’s was written by her sister), the memoirs appearing...

  4. CHAPTER THREE Contained Inside the Ladies’ Department
    (pp. 53-69)

    In this epigraph, an excerpt from theChristian Advocate’s (CA) Ladies’ Department, the picture that emerges of a good wife is a tireless servant devoted to the happiness and well-being of her husband. Through advice such as this, likely written by a man and dispensed to women in its national newspaper, the Methodist church promoted women’s roles as wives and mothers as Christian endeavors. In doing so, the church helped turn the domestic sphere into both a sacred space and a confining space. Even as the church claimed that women were integral to the church and society, the Ladies’ Department...

  5. CHAPTER FOUR Stepping Outside the Ladies’ Department
    (pp. 70-104)

    The “History of Amelia Gale,” appearing on the front page of the June 20, 1828,Christian Advocate(CA), tells the story of a poor widow living in England who spent most of her life eking out an existence by carrying a gaming board to fairs and wakes. Late in life, Amelia was awakened by a minister’s preaching, and for the first time she considered life in the hereafter. Eventually, Amelia sought redemption and became a passionate believer in both word and deed. When a local missionary society was established in her church, she was moved by the sacrifices she saw...

  6. CHAPTER FIVE A Magazine of Their Own
    (pp. 105-126)

    In her essay titled “Female Training,” initially read before a college for teachers and later reprinted in the Methodist church’sLadies’ Repository(LR), Mrs. Dumont acknowledged the persistent bias against female education. She asserted that while the “day of woman’s proscriptive seclusion from the advantages of intellectual culture has but recently gone by … the prejudices existing against female erudition—I should rather say against a learned female—no longer anopinionindeed, but afeeling, is yet floating among us.”¹ Dumont argued against the pervasive sentiment that education detracts from women’s graces, instead claiming that women, like men, are...

  7. EPILOGUE: Ambiguous and Liminal Spaces
    (pp. 127-134)

    When the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote passed in the House of Representatives in 1918, the women standing in the gallery celebrated by singing the Doxology, a refrain ritually sung in many Protestant churches.¹ This image of ardent first-wave feminists praising God seems peculiar today because feminist activism and religion are seldom cast as complementary belief systems. However, the line of demarcation dividing feminism and religion is a modern construction that can obscure and obstruct our work as rhetorical scholars and teachers. The neat borders that often exist in theory rarely exist in reality. A close examination...