Preaching women of the Second Great Awakening

By the early 1800s the United States had thrown off British rule, written and passed a Constitution, and was undergoing enormous economic, territorial, and technological growth. Americans began to see themselves as individuals who could effect change through their own free will.

This was also true in religion. New, independent churches were founded with a focus on the individual’s relationship with Jesus Christ and the power of free will aided by God’s Grace. A person could choose salvation through commitment to leading a godly life and was not powerless before predestination as in the Calvinist and Puritan churches. 

The Second Great Awakening was underway.

Women were essential to the spread of the Awakening. They served  as Sunday school teachers, organizers of fundraising bake sales and sewing circles, organ players, preparers of feasts, and educators of children in morals and faith. Their societies helped fund the large revivals that drove the popularity of the Awakening.

In churches women had been powerful ‘exhorters’, standing in the church and calling people to righteousness in raw, emotional terms that deeply moved congregations.Though women had been prohibited from any form of official preaching, that changed in the emotionally intense atmosphere of the Second Great awakening.

Some one-hundred women dared to preach during those years. Among these were:

Harriett Livermore, a devout evangelist, convinced the Speaker of the House to allow her to preach to the Congress. In January, 1827, she appeared before the Congress clothed in a simple robe and bonnet. She opened her Bible, looked out over the packed chamber—listeners cramming the doorways—and began to preach. President John Quincy Adams, who had to stand on the steps leading up to her lectern because of the crowd, referred to her as a religious fanatic: “There is permanency in this woman’s monomania which seems accountable only from the impulse of vanity and love of fame.” Other male clerics derided her as someone who sought public glory instead of remembering her female ‘modesty’. Over the years, she authored sixteen books.

Jarena Lee, a free black woman in Philadelphia, had a vision of a pulpit with a Bible laying on it. She belonged to Philadelphia’s Bethel African Methodist Church. Her Bishop had told her that in Methodism “did not call for women preachers.” Though this bishop went on to found the country’s first ‘African-American’ denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, he did not support this ‘woman preaching’. So Jarena settled down, had two children, and forgot about preaching. But then, her husband died, and one day in church, she burst out preaching: “God made manifest his power in a manner sufficient to show the world that I was called to labour according to my ability.” Her stunned audience and even her Bishop this time supported her, acknowledging that she must have been called to preach. Her spiritual power was undeniable. She no longer accepted that any restrictions be placed on her. She began teaching in her home and then left to be an itinerant preacher to both black and white audiences.

To learn more about the preaching women of the Awakening, read "The Calling", out soon,

Click below to hear her account of her conversion in her words and to get a sense of the conviction of the searching women of the Second Great Awakening: