July 20: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1902; Amelia Bloomer, 1894; Sojourner Truth, 1883; and Harriet Ross Tubman, 1913, Liberators and Prophets

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

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About these commemorations

Elizabeth Cady Stanton 1815–1902

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Born into an affluent, strict Calvinist family in upstate New York, Elizabeth, as a young woman, took seriously the Presbyterian doctrines of predestination and human depravity. She became very depressed, but resolved her mental crises through action. She dedicated her life to righting the wrongs perpetrated upon women by the Church and society.

She and four other women organized the first Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York, July 19–20, 1848. The event set her political and religious agenda for the next 50 years. She held the Church accountable for oppressing women by using Scripture to enforce subordination of women in marriage and to prohibit them from ordained ministry. She held society
accountable for denying women equal access to professional jobs, property ownership, the vote, and for granting less pay for the same work.

In 1881, the Revised Version of the Bible was published by a committee which included no women scholars. Elizabeth founded her own committee of women to write a commentary on Scripture, and applying the Greek she learned as a child from her minister, focused on passages used to oppress and discriminate against women.

Although Elizabeth blamed male clergy for women’s oppression, she attended Trinity Episcopal Church in Seneca Falls, with her friend Amelia Bloomer. As a dissenting prophet, Elizabeth preached hundreds of homilies and political speeches in pulpits throughout the nation. Wherever she visited, she was experienced as a holy presence and a liberator. She never lost her sense of humor despite years of contending with opposition, even from friends. In a note to Susan B. Anthony, she said: “Do not feel depressed, my dear friend, what is good in us is immortal, and if the sore trials we have endured are sifting out pride and selfishness, we shall not have suffered in vain.” Shortly before she died, she said: “My only regret is that I have not been braver and bolder and truer in the honest conviction of my soul.”

Amelia Jenks Bloomer 1818–1894

Amelia Jenks Bloomer

Amelia Jenks, the youngest of six children, born in New York to a pious Presbyterian family, early on demonstrated a kindness of heart and strict regard for truth and right. As a young woman, she joined in the temperance, anti-slavery and women’s rights movements.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer never intended to make dress reform a major platform in women’s struggle for justice. But, women’s fashion of the day prescribed waist-cinching corsets, even for pregnant women, resulting in severe health problems. Faith and fashion collided explosively when she published in her newspaper, The Lily, a picture of herself in loose-fitting Turkish trousers, and began wearing them publicly. Clergy, from their pulpits, attacked women who wore them, citing Moses: “Women should not dress like men.” Amelia fired back: “It matters not what Moses had to say to the men and women of his time about what they should wear. If clergy really cared about what Moses said about clothes, they would all put fringes and blue ribbons on their garments.” Her popularity soared as she engaged clergy in public debate.

She insisted that “certain passages in the Scriptures relating to women had been given a strained and unnatural meaning.” And, of St. Paul she said: “Could he have looked into the future and foreseen all the sorrow and strife, the cruel exactions and oppression on the one hand and the blind submission and cringing fear on the other, that his words have sanctioned and caused, he would never have uttered them.” And of women’s right to freedom, “The same Power that brought the slave out of bondage will, in His own good time and way, bring about the emancipation of woman, and make her the equal in power and dominion that she was in the beginning.”

Later in life, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, a frontier town, she worked to establish churches, libraries, and school houses. She provided hospitality for traveling clergy of all denominations, and for temperance lecturers and reformers. Trinity Episcopal Church, Seneca Falls, New York, where she was baptized, records her as a “faithful Christian missionary all her life.”

Sojourner Truth, “Miriam of the Later Exodus” 1797–8 to 1883

Sojourner Truth

Isabella (Sojourner Truth) was the next-to-youngest child of several born to James and Elizabeth, slaves owned by a wealthy Dutchman in New York. For the first 28 years of her life she was a slave, sold from household to household. She fled slavery with the help of Quaker friends, first living in Philadelphia, then New York, where she joined the Mother Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church when African-Americans were being denied the right to worship with white members of St. George’s Church in Philadelphia. Belle (as Isabella was called) became a street-corner evangelist in poverty-stricken areas of New York City, but quickly realized people needed food, housing and warm clothing. She focused her work on a homeless shelter for women.

When she was about 46, Belle believed she heard God say to her, “Go east.” So, she set out east for Long Island and Connecticut. Stopping at a Quaker farm for a drink of water, she was asked her name. “My name is Sojourner,” Belle said. “What is your last name?” the woman asked. Belle thought of all her masters’ names she had carried through life. Then the thought came: “The only master I have now is God, and His name is Truth.”

Sojourner became a traveling preacher, approaching white religious meetings and campgrounds and asking to speak. Fascinated by her charismatic presence, her wit, wisdom, and imposing six-foot height, they found her hard to refuse. She never learned to read or write, but quoted extensive Bible passages from memory in her sermons. She ended by singing a “home-made” hymn and addressing the crowd on the evils of slavery. Her reputation grew and she became part of the abolitionist and women’s rights speakers’ network.

During a women’s rights convention in Ohio, Sojourner gave the speech for which she is best remembered: “Ain’t I a Woman.” She had listened for hours to clergy attack women’s rights and abolition, using the Bible to support their oppressive logic: God had created women to be weak and blacks to be a subservient race.

Harriet Ross Tubman, “Moses of her People” 1820–1913

Harriet Ross Tubman

Slave births were recorded under property, not as persons with names; but we know that Harriet Ross, sometime during 1820 on a Maryland Chesapeake Bay plantation, was the sixth of eleven children born to Ben Ross and Harriet Green. Although her parents were loving and they enjoyed a cheerful family life inside their cabin, they lived in fear of the children being sold off at any time.

Harriet suffered beatings and a severe injury, but grew up strong and defiant, refusing to appear happy and smiling to her owners. To cope with brutality and oppression, she turned to religion. Her favorite Bible story was about Moses who led the Israelites out of slavery. The slaves prayed for a Moses of their own.

When she was about 24, Harriet escaped to Canada, but could not forget her parents and other slaves she left behind. Working with the Quakers, she made at least 19 trips back to Maryland between 1851 and 1861, freeing over 300 people by leading them into Canada. She was so successful, $40,000 was offered for her capture.

Guided by God through omens, dreams, warnings, she claimed her struggle against slavery had been commanded by God. She foresaw the Civil War in a vision. When it began, she quickly joined the Union Army, serving as cook and nurse, caring for both Confederate and Union soldiers. She served as a spy and scout. She led 300 black troops on a raid which freed over 750 slaves, making her the first American woman to lead troops into military action.

In 1858–9, she moved to upstate New York where she opened her home to African-American orphans and to helpless old people. Although she was illiterate, she founded schools for African-American children. She joined the fight for women’s rights, working with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, but supported African-American women in their efforts to found their own organizations to address equality, work and education.

Collects

I O God, whose Spirit guideth us into all truth and maketh
us free: Strengthen and sustain us as thou didst thy
servants Elizabeth, Amelia, Sojourner, and Harriet. Give
us vision and courage to stand against oppression and
injustice and all that worketh against the glorious liberty
to which thou callest all thy children; through Jesus Christ
our Savior, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy
Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

II O God, whose Spirit guides us into all truth and makes us
free: Strengthen and sustain us as you did your servants
Elizabeth, Amelia, Sojourner, and Harriet. Give us vision
and courage to stand against oppression and injustice and
all that works against the glorious liberty to which you
call all your children; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who
lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for
ever and ever. Amen.

Lessons
Wisdom 7:24–28
1 Peter 4:10–11
Luke 11:5–10

Psalm 146

Preface of Baptism

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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18 Responses to July 20: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1902; Amelia Bloomer, 1894; Sojourner Truth, 1883; and Harriet Ross Tubman, 1913, Liberators and Prophets

  1. Leonel Mitchell says:

    I have been using the propers from Holy Women Holy Men whenever they appeared. either at the office or t(if possible) at the Eucharist. Today’s was, except for the NT reading in LFF, and the passage from 1 Peter is certainly worthwhile. I remember that the inclusion of Ms. Bloomer caused some clerical (and perhaps lay) snickering, but these women are worth remembering

  2. Celinda Scott says:

    Yes, they certainly are worth remembering! I just got my copies of _Holy Women, Holy Men_ and Dr. Mitchell’s
    _Praying Shapes Believing_, which are good companion pieces. My only reservation about the new saints overall is the very strong emphasis on large social structural change through personal witness and action (certainly very important), without the caveat that we are never really “there”–never really in “the kingdom” on earth–because of our sinful nature, which we were born with (not “in the following of Adam, as the Pelagians do vainly talk”–not through what we’ve done, but through what we are). It’s Christ who redeems us, Christ who makes us acceptable to God, not our actions (admirable though our new saints are). If we try energetically to work for social reform, without being aware of our need for renewal in Christ, without a realistic sense of our limitations, without humility before God and our neighbor, proudly calling ourselves “prophets and liberators” without being aware of our sinful nature still there beneath all our actions, we don’t make lasting change and we don’t get closer to God. Again, I don’t mean to detract from all our new saints and their witness and action. I just mean that there’s something missing from the list, something missing from the official biographies that would bring us closer to who they were in their Christian walk.

  3. Suzanne Sauter says:

    I am concerned by the last sentence in Sojourner Truth’s biography: “She had listened for hours to clergy attack women’s rights and abolition, using the Bible to support their oppressive logic: God had created women to be weak and blacks to be a subservient race.” The last think we hear about her is a statement which denies what Sojourner Truth said in her speech. It concludes:
    “Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
    If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
    Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say. ”

    Suzanne Sauter

  4. Celinda Scott says:

    She reminds me of Joan of Arc in her command of scripture and ability to refute her questioners and detractors, drawing from her faith and experience. Thanks for quoting Sojourner. She was no “victim.” One could say she “put on the armor of God.”

  5. Marjorie Menaul says:

    Two things:
    1) there’s a typo, I think, in the Harriet Tubman entry. It says “Harriet Ross, sometime during. . . ” I think you mean “Harriet Ross, BORN sometime during. . . ”
    2) These are fascinating women, and worth our attention on more than one day – four bios on the same day just don’t do them justice. If we don’t have enough days to assign one to each woman, how about splitting them into pairs?

    • Gregory Howe says:

      Thanks for the typo. There was a prior request to split off one of the group and the Calendar Comm. went back to the original proponent [who had written the bios] and asked her what she thought. She asked us to keep them together, as approved by General Convention, and so we did. Greg Howe

  6. NT Reading: Though I like 1 Peter 4: 10-11, it is only two verses. Two verses! Surely we can find at least three verses to support these fine women. 🙂

  7. Steve Lusk says:

    These four were lumped together as a back-handed way of marking the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention of July 19-20, 1848, but all four deserve dates of their own. Mashing all four into a single commemoration tends to diminish the witness of each. In particular, Stanton and Bloomer both look rather pale beside Tubman and Truth.
    The Wisdom reading is off-target, as none of the four are exactly contemplatives. How about Joel 1:25-32a?

    • Philip Wainwright says:

      Today I went through my Morehouse Pocket Diary for 2011, and the list of those being commemorated for this date took up so much room there was no room for additional appointments! I’ll have to take the day off, I suppose

  8. Nigel Renton says:

    I can understand how this entry is important to EDS Graduates, and especially for those who attended the Cambridge Seminary when it was ETS.

    However, when I compare the entry for July 19 with that for July 20, the group of wonderful women, sometimes called jokingly “The Four Troublemakers”, seems to me to list four Saints, any one of whom would be more important to us than Adelaide Case.

    I have some specific criticisms of the biography, which I will cover elsewhere.

    These observations lead me to suggest that, if Adelaide deserves her own day, we need more than one day for the “troublemakers”. I want to suggest that the SCLM consider two commemorations, one for Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Amelia Jenks Bloomer, and another for Sojourner Truth and Harriet Ross Tubman. Incidentally, I found the biographies of these four women inspiring, as I am sure many others will.

    The coupling of Stanton and Bloomer is natural, as they were friends and temporaries, and both have connections to Trinity, Seneca Falls.

    Likewise, Truth and Tubman are a natural pair, for their Quaker connections and struggles against slavery.

  9. Nigel Renton says:

    Due to a misunderstanding with my amanuensis, I would ask you to substitute what follows for what was sent earlier today.

    “The coupling of Stanton and Bloomer is natural, as they were friends and contemporaries, and both have connections to Trinity, Seneca Falls.

    Likewise, Truth and Tubman are a natural pair, for their Quaker connections and struggles against slavery.”

    Nigel

    • Dr. Judith Sornberger says:

      Stanton and Bloomer may have known each other, but they certainly were not equals in terms of their importance to the struggle for women’s rights. Stanton (along with Susan B. Anthony) struggled her entire life to create equal rights for women, as well as writing one of the most important books ever written by a woman on theological issues. Bloomer, by contrast, was a political and spiritual lightweight.

  10. Lenny Anderson says:

    I have a bit of a problem regarding them as “prophets.” I feel that the word “prophet” carries a connotation of one who in some sense was instrumental to the formation of the scriptural canon. Obviously, that isn’t the sense that is being applied here. Yet this volume has broad use, and care must be taken in the terminology we apply to the women and men of God whose lives we are commemorating, in order to present accurately why their contributions are worthy of note. In an earlier entry, the word “prophetic witness” was used, which I think might apply better, yet that phrase carries some ideological baggage that may be unhelpful. Perhaps the term “witness” or “Christian witness” would be appropriate and better received.

    Lenny Anderson

  11. Nigel Renton says:

    Before I began the routine of responding to the bios, I made a suggestion about this commemoration at the end of my earlier comments on Adelaide Teague Case. Here are addenda

    Elizabeth Cady Stanton:

    Line 1, first paragraph: add “on November 12, 1815” after “born”.

    Penultimate line, fourth paragraph: add “in New York City, on October 26, 1902.” after “died”.

    Amelia Jenks Bloomer:

    Line 1, first paragraph: add “on May 27, 1818,” after “York”.

    Final line, final paragraph: add as a final sentence “Amelia Bloomer died in Council Bluffs on December 30, 1894.”

    Sojourner Truth:

    Line 2, first paragraph: add “, in 1797 or 1798” after “York”.

    Final paragraph: add final sentence “She died on November 26, 1883 in Battle Creek, Michigan.”

    Harriet Ross Tubman:

    Final paragraph: add a sentence “She died on March 10, 1913 in Auburn, New York.”

  12. Pingback: July 20 – Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Others : St. Paul's Episcopal Church

  13. cynthia hizer says:

    definately need more than one day for these troublemakers!

  14. Dr. Judith Sornberger says:

    I definitely feel that these women are important, but to place Amelia Bloomer in the same category as Stanton, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman is to trivialize the latter three. The woman who is left out and should not be is Susan B. Anthony. While Stanton was the prophet and the author of the 19th century women’s movement, Anthony was its foremost spokeswoman. Also, it seems very strange to lump them all together this way. Do we do the same thing for male saints and prophets? The only one of the four that I would actually consider a prophet is Elizabeth Cady Stanton because of her lifelong quest for equal rights for women, not only socially and economically, but also spiritually. Her Woman’s Bible is a visionary work reaching far beyond the political scope for which she is most known. Because of it, she was denounced as a heretic even by many of her feminist friends and lost some of her standing in the women’s rights movement. Even contemporary readers find this book challenging and enlightening, even–still–prophetic.

  15. Susan says:

    Add me to those who find it odd to lump these four very different women together. There are links between them, but they had very different ministries, and they become less visible when all jammed together.

    Susan, Thanks for your comment. Next time please include your last name. Thx. — Ed.

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