Papers of Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell, 1842-1921
Biographical information for and tributes to Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell, the first woman to be ordained as a Protestant minister in the United States.
Language of Materials
Materials in English.
Access. Originals closed; use digital images.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright. Papers created by Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell are in the public domain. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.
The collection includes newspaper articles and other biographical information; tuition accounts, 1842; a poem honoring Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell written by her students, 1847; testimony re: Blackwell by her brother William Brown, concluding that "Those who confide in her as a woman of ability, learning, & integrity of character will not be disappointed," 1879; a tribute to her upon her death by the Elizabeth League of Women Voters and her cremation certificate, 1921; postcards of buildings in Henrietta, New York, with explanatory notes on the backs; and a document re: her connection with the First Congregational Church of Butler & Savannah of New York.
Antoinette Brown Blackwell was born in Henrietta, New York, in 1825, the daughter of Joseph and Abby Morse Brown. She had six older siblings. Blackwell joined the Congregational Church at the age of nine and soon began preaching during services. She enrolled at Oberlin College in 1846, receiving her Bachelor's Degree the following year. She then applied for admission to Oberlin's theological school. The school allowed her to attend classes but without formal credit for them. During this period, Blackwell began lecturing widely on abolition, temperance, and women's rights, as well as writing what is now considered feminist theology. In 1850, she spoke at the first National Women's Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. Other speakers included Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott, and Lucy Stone.
In 1851, she was granted a license to preach by the Congregational Church and the following year she became minister of a Congregationalist Church in South Butler, New York. Luther Lee, a socially radical Methodist minister ordained her, making her the first woman to be ordained as a minister in the United States. In 1854, due to poor health and doctrinal doubts, she resigned her position with the church, focusing instead on her work for women's rights. Blackwell differed from many other women's rights activists in that she believed that improving women's position in society was of more immediate importance than suffrage: she believed that men could not effectively represent women politically and therefore the right to vote held little benefit for women unless it was paired with a stronger role societal role. In 1869, Blackwell joined Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, and others in forming the American Woman Suffrage Association, which differed from Susan B. Anthony's National Woman Suffrage Association on several key points.
Blackwell did not initially intend to marry, feeling that she was more independent as a single woman. However, her views changed after meeting businessman Samuel Blackwell, the brother of Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, and the two married in 1856. They had seven children, two of whom died in infancy. Blackwell continued lecturing after her marriage, but her continued disagreements with others in the women's rights movement, and her growing domestic responsibilities, led her to temporarily give up her public speaking career. As her children grew older and required less care, she began writing books on issues of gender, science, religion, and philosophy.
She received honorary Master's and Doctoral degrees from Oberlin College in 1878 and 1908. Also in 1878, the American Unitarian Association accepted her as a minister and she resumed speaking in churches and on the lecture circuit. She was one of the founders of the Unitarian Society of Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1903, and served as its minister. Blackwell's books include Studies in General Science (1869), The Sexes Throughout Nature (1875), The Physical Basis of Immortality (1876), The Philosophy of Individuality (1893), The Making of the Universe(1914), The Social Side of Mind and Action (1915), She also wrote a novel, The Island Neighbors (1871) and a book of poetry, Sea Drift (1902). She died in 1921.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Accession number: 96-M124
These papers of Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell were transferred from the papers of Barbara Miller Solomon, MC 687.
By: Schlesinger Library staff.
Updated and additional description added: September 2020
By: Susan Earle.
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- Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
- Language of description
- Processing of this collection was made possible by the Radcliffe Class of 1955 Manuscript Processing Fund
- EAD ID
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