First Ordained Woman Minister. She was born in a log cabin in Henrietta, New York, the daughter of Joseph and Abby (Morse) Brown, and the seventh of ten children. She graduated from Oberlin College in 1847, and then decided that she wanted to pursue a theological degree at the same institution. The faculty at Oberlin (as well as her family) were against this. She was adamant and finally, as a compromise, the faculty allowed her to attend lectures and to accept invitations to preach. However, they did not give her a license to preach, and she was not allowed to graduate once she had completed the course in 1850. As a result, she became increasingly involved in the women's rights, temperance, and anti-slavery movements of the nineteenth century. In 1878, she was vindicated by Oberlin and they granted her an honorary Master of Arts (A.M.) degree. (In 1908, they awarded her an honorary Doctor of Divinity (D.D.) degree.) One of the first women to receive a college education in the United States, she was ordained a Congregational minister in 1853, thus becoming the first ordained woman minister in the country. (In spite of her groundbreaking ordination, her affiliation with the church there in South Butler was short-lived, apparently the result of theological disagreements. She voluntarily left less than a year later, on July 20, 1854, and would eventually join the more liberal Unitarian Church.) On January 24, 1856, she married Samuel Charles Blackwell of Cincinnati, Ohio. He shared his wife's beliefs in reform, including women's rights. After they were married, they moved to New York City and later to New Jersey. They had seven children, two of whom died in infancy. While raising her children, she gave up public speaking, but continued to study privately. As her children got older, wrote and published many books on science and philosophy, including Studies in General Science (1869), a novel, "The Island Neighbors" (1871), "The Sexes Throughout Nature" (1875), "The Physical Basis of Immortality" (1876), and "The Philosophy of Individuality" (1893), a book of poetry entitled "Sea Drift; or Tribute to the Ocean" (1902), and "The Making of the Universe" (1914). She was present at the first women's rights convention since the Civil War, also in New York City, in May of 1866. She founded the New Jersey Women's Suffrage Association in 1867, and supported the leadership of her sister-in-law, Lucy Stone, in meetings of the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), founded in 1869. She contributed articles to the Woman's Journal, and delivered a paper at the first congress of the Association for the Advancement of Women in 1873. She also served as the association's vice-president. In the late 1870s, she took public speaking engagements, traveling throughout the country. She attended conventions of the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), and later those of the National American Woman's Suffrage Association (NAWSA) until she was well into her eighties. She was also elected as a delegate to a hearing of the International Council of Women held in Washington, D.C. in 1888, and was present at annual meetings of the New England Woman Suffrage Association. She retained her leading role in religion throughout her life. In addition to preaching, she was instrumental in establishing the All Souls Unitarian Church in Elizabeth, New Jersey. There, she served as pastor emeritus from 1908 until she died. On November 2, 1920, she was ninety-five years old when she was one of the very few women pioneer suffragists who were finally able to vote for the very first time.
Woman of the Century/Antoinette Brown Blackwell: BLACKWELL, Mrs. Antoinette Brown, author and minister, born in Henrietta, Monroe county, N. Y., 20th May, 1825. She is a daughter of Joseph Brown, of Thompson, Conn., and Abby Morse, of Dudley, Mass. Her parents were descendants of early English colonists and Revolutionary soldiers, many of whom were prominent in the early days of New England. Miss Brown joined the Congregational Church when she was only nine years old, and sometimes spoke and prayed in meetings. She taught school when sixteen years old, and later taught several branches in a seminary in order to pay the expenses of a collegiate course. Even her vacations were devoted to extra study, so ambitious was she and so untiring in the pursuit of knowledge. She was graduated from Oberlin College, where she completed the literary course in 1847 and the theological course in 1850. She bears the degree of M.A. Her attention was engaged early in theological questions. In 1848 she published her first important essay, an exegesis of St. Paul on women, in the "Oberlin Quarterly Review." At the completion of the theological course she could not obtain a license, as was customary with students, but was told she must preach or be silent on her own responsibility. That she was not afraid to assume, since ability and responsibility belong together. Without regard to sect, she preached whenever and wherever a place offered, but not always did she do this under favorable circumstances. Obstacles melted away under the powerful personality of such a speaker as Antoinette Brown, and, in spite of the objections to women preachers as a class, she finally became the ordained pastor, in 1852, of a Congregational church in South Butler, Wayne county, N. Y. In 1853 she was ordained by the council called by the church. After preaching for the society awhile she began to have distressing doubts concerning certain theological doctrines, and on that account she resigned her charge in 1854. She was married to Samuel C. Blackwell, a brother of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, 24th January, 1856. She began the study of some of the great questions concerning vice and crime and published the result under the title of "Shadows of Our Social System." Her life as a preacher, lecturer and writer has been a very useful one. In the latter direction she has done work that reflects great credit upon her sex, having received much praise for her logical methods of thought. "Studies in General Science" (New York, 1869), "A Market Woman" (New York, 1870), "The Island Neighbors" (New York, 1871), "The Sexes Throughout Nature" (New York, 1875), and "The Physical Basis of Immortality" (New York, 1876), are some of her various works. The most prominent fact to be recorded in the history of Mrs. Blackwell's life, and the one which speaks loudly for her present honorable place among the eminent women of our country, is her love of effort; only by persistent work has she been able to accomplish so much for herself and others. Although a wife and the mother of several daughters, she has kept abreast of the times on the questions of science, art and literature. She has by no means allowed the luster of intellectual gifts to grow dim from disuse. Amid scenes of domesticity she has found even fresh inspiration for public work. Not wholly pre-occupied with home cares and duties, she has yet given faithful attention to them, and this fact, in connection with her success as a speaker and writer, should be chronicled. Mrs. Black well has always been actively interested in reformatory subjects and has spoken in behalf of the temperance cause. In 1854 she was a delegate to the World's Temperance Convention in New York, but a hearing was refused to her in that body, not because she was not an able representative, but simply because she was a woman. The change in the condition of women is plainly shown in the reminiscences of such women as Mrs. Blackwell. Mr. and Mrs. Blackwell have five children, and now live in Elizabeth, N. J. Mrs. Blackwell still preaches occasionally and has become a Unitarian.
Samuel Charles Blackwell
Sponsored by Ancestry