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Stewart, Maria W. Miller 1803–1879

Maria W. Miller Stewart 18031879

Public speaker, author, teacher

At a Glance

Wrote Abolitionist Essays

Delivered Public Lectures

Was Silenced by Critics

Became a Teacher and Matron

Sources

Maria W. Miller Stewart, essayist, teacher, and political activist, is thought to be the first American woman to give public lectures. Stewart is known for four powerful speeches, delivered in Boston in the early 1830sa time when no woman, black or white, dared to address an audience from a public platform.

Stewart was heavily involved with the abolitionist movement, and most of her lectures deal with this topic. More radically, however, she called for black economic progress and self-determination, as well as womens rights. Other recurring themes included the value of education, the historical inevitability of black liberation, and the need for black unity and collective action. Many of her ideas were so far ahead of their time that they remain relevant more than 150 years later.

Despite the fact that she had little formal education, Stewart continually showed her learning in her lectures, referencing the Bible, the U.S. Constitution, and various literary works. She was deeply influenced by a type of sermon developed by Puritan preachers known as the jeremiad, which applied religious doctrines to secular problems. According to Stewart, the way for African Americans to obtain freedom was to get closer to God; conversely, resistance to oppression was the highest form of obedience to God.

Maria Stewart was a prototypical black American orator, wrote Halford Ross Ryan in African-American Orators. Her charges against the white racism and hypocrisy that she found in the nineteenth century are still relevant. Her call for black self-help, black education, and black unity still seeks satisfaction.

Maria Miller (later Stewart) was born free in 1803 in Hartford, Connecticut. All that is known about her parents is their surname, Miller; their first names and occupations have been lost to history. At the age of five, Stewart was orphaned and forced to become a servant in the household of a clergyman. She lived with this family for ten years, receiving no formal education but learning as much as she could by reading books from the familys library. After leaving the family at the age of fifteen, she supported herself as a domestic servant while furthering her education at Sabbath schools. Specific details about her employment or where she lived at the time are unknown.

On August 10, 1826, at the age of twenty-three, Maria Miller married James W. Stewart at the African Baptist Church in Boston. At her husbands suggestion, Stewart took not only his last name, but his middle initial as well. James W. Stewart was forty-four years old, and a veteran of the War of 1812; after the war, he earned a substantial living by fitting out whaling and fishing vessels. At the time, African Americans made up just three percent of Bostons population, and the Stewarts were part of an even smaller minority: Bostons black middle class.

At a Glance

Born Maria Miller, 1803, Hartford, Connnecticut; daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Miller, first names and occupations unknown; married James W. Stewart, a businessman, August 10, 1826; no children. Died December 1879. Education: no formal education. Politics: Abolitionist. Religion: Protestant.

Career: Servant, 1808-26, 1829-31; Abolitionist lecturer and writer, Boston, 1831-33; teacher, New York public schools, 1833-52; teacher for paying pupils, Baltimore, 1852-61; teacher in her own school, Washington, D.C., 1861-65; matron, Freedmans Hospital, Washington, D.C., 1870s-1879; Sunday school teacher, 1871-79.

Selected writings: Author, Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality, the Sure Foundation on Which We Must Build (pamphlet, 1831), Meditations from the Pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart (pamphlet, 1832), Productions of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart (1835), Meditations from the Pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart (second edition, 1879).

In December of 1829, just three years after the Stewarts were married, James Stewart died; the marriage had produced no children. Although Maria Stewart was left with a substantial inheritance, she was defrauded of it by his white executors after a drawn-out court battle. Once again, she was forced to turn to domestic service to support herself.

Wrote Abolitionist Essays

In 1830, partly due to grief over her husbands death, Stewart underwent a religious conversion. A year later, according to her later writings, she made a public profession of my faith in Christ, dedicating herself to Gods service. For Stewart, her new-found religious fervor went hand-in-hand with political activism: she resolved to become a strong advocate for the cause of God and for the cause of freedom. In the years to come, when she was criticized for daring to speak in public, Stewart would claim that her authority came from Godthat she was simply following Gods will.

Meanwhile, the abolitionist movement was beginning to gather strength in Boston. In 1831, William Lloyd Garrison, publisher of the abolitionist newspaper the Liberator, called for women of African descent to contribute to the paper. Stewart responded by arriving at his office with a manuscript containing several essays which Garrison agreed to publish.

Stewarts first published work, Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality, the Sure Foundation on Which We Must Build, appeared as a twelve-page pamphlet, priced at six cents, later that year. An advertisement for the pamphlet, which appeared in the Liberator, described it as a tract addressed to the people of color, by Mrs. Maria W. Steward (sic), a respectable colored lady of this city. The production is most praiseworthy, and confers great credit on the talents and piety of its author.

Delivered Public Lectures

Soon afterward, Stewart began to deliver public lectures. Her first speaking engagement was on April 28, 1832, before the African American Female Intelligence Society of Boston. Aware that she was violating the taboo against women speaking in public, Stewart asserted in her talk that the frowns of the world shall never discourage me and that she could bear the assaults of wicked men. While the main thrust of the speech was to urge African American women to turn to God, she also urged them to stand up for their rights, rather than silently suffer humiliation. It is useless for us any longer to sit with our hands folded, reproaching the whites; for that will never elevate us, she said.

Six months later, on September 21, 1832, Stewart lectured to an audience of both men and women at Franklin Hall. In that speech, she asserted that free African Americans were hardly better off than those in slavery: Look at many of the most worthy and most interesting of us doomed to spend our lives in gentlemens kitchens, she demanded. Look at our young men, smart, active, and energetic, with souls filled with ambitious fire; if they look forward, alas! What are their prospects? They can be nothing but the humblest laborers, on account of their dark complexions; hence many of them lose their ambition, and become worthless.

Meanwhile, Stewart continued to submit her writings for publication. In 1832, Garrison published another pamphlet, Meditations from the Pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart. Garrison also printed transcripts of all of Stewarts speeches in the Liberator; however, in accordance with the editorial conventions of the day, her contributions were relegated to the papers Ladies Department.

Was Silenced by Critics

Stewarts third speech, delivered at the African Masonic Hall on February 27, 1833, was titled African Rights and Liberty. In this speech, she again defended her right to speak publicly, while castigating African-American men. You are abundantly capable, gentlemen, of making yourselves men of distinction; and this gross neglect, on your part, causes my blood to boil within me, she told her audience. Had the men amongst us, who have had an opportunity, turned their attention as assiduously to mental and moral improvement as they have to gambling and dancing, I might have remained quietly at home, and they stood contending in my place.

Stewart also condemned the colonization movement, a plan to send free blacks as well as slaves back to Africa. In her conclusion, Stewart recounted how whites first drove the native Americans from their land, then stole blacks from Africa and enslaved them, and now wanted to send them back with nothing. Instead, Stewart argued, blacks should remain in the United States and fight for their freedom.

The response to Stewarts speecheseven from those who supported her causewas overwhelmingly negative; she was roundly condemned for having the audacity to speak onstage. In the words of African-American historian William C. Nell, writing about Stewart in the 1850s, she encountered an opposition even from her Boston circle of friends, that would have dampened the ardor of most women.

Stewart delivered her final Boston speech on September 21, 1833, announcing her decision to leave the city. In the speech, she acknowledged that, by lecturing publicly, she had made myself contemptible in the eyes of many, that I might win some, which she admitted was like a labor in vain.

Still, Stewart refused to go quietly, asserting that women activists had divine sanction: What if I am woman; is not the God of ancient times the God of these modern days? Did he not raise up Deborah, to be a mother, and a judge in Israel? Did not Queen Esther save the lives of the Jews? And Mary Magdelene first declare the resurrection of Christ from the dead?

In 1835, two years after Stewart had left the city, Garrison published a collection of her speeches, Productions of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart. Within a year of its appearance, other women, both black and white, began to follow the path Stewart had opened, lecturing in churches and meeting halls across the country.

Became a Teacher and Matron

Contrary to the prejudices of her day, Stewart had long believed that all African Americansboth male and femaledeserved the chance to acquire an education. In her speeches, Stewart had often referred to literacy as a sacred quest at a time when it was a crime to teach slaves to read or write. Now that she had given in to public pressure to cease lecturing, she turned her energy to education.

From Boston, Stewart moved to New York, where she taught in public schools in Manhattan and Long Island. She continued her political activities, joining womens organizationsincluding a black womens literary societyand attending the Womens Anti-slavery Convention of 1837. She also lectured occasionally, but none of these lectures survive. And while she was affiliated with the radical newspaper The North Star, later called Frederick Douglass Paper, none of her work appeared there.

In 1852, Stewart moved to Baltimore, earning a small living as a teacher of paying pupils. I have never been very shrewd in money matters; and being classed as a lady among my race all my life, and never exposed to any hardship, I did not know how to manage, Stewart later wrote about this period. In 1861, she moved to Washington D.C., where again she organized a school.

By the early 1870s, Stewart had been appointed as matron, or head housekeeper, at the Freedmans Hospital and Asylum in Washington. The facility, established by the Freedmens Bureau, had room for 300 patients, and served not only as a hospital, but also as a refugee camp for former slaves displaced by the Civil War. Stewart continued to teach, even as she lived and worked at the hospital.

In 1878, a law was passed granting pensions to widows of War of 1812 veterans. Stewart used the unexpected money to publish a second edition of Meditations from the Pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart. The book, which appeared in 1879, was introduced by supporting letters from Garrison and others. It also included new material: the autobiographical essay Sufferings During the War, and a preface in which she once more called for an end to tyranny and oppression.

Shortly after the books publication in December of 1879, Stewart died at the Freedmans Hospital at the age of 76. Her obituary in The Peoples Advocate, a Washington-area black newspaper, acknowledged that Stewart had struggled for years with little recognition: Few, very few know of the remarkable career of this woman whose life has just drawn to a close. For half a century she was engaged in the work of elevating her race by lectures, teaching, and various missionary and benevolent labors. Stewart was buried in Graceland Cemetery in Washington on December 17, 187950 years to the day after her husbands death.

The emergence of black history and womens studies has reintroduced scholars to the life and work of Maria W. Stewart, but this pioneering black political activist still lacks a critical biographical assessment, wrote Harry A. Reed in Black Women in America: The Early Years, which was published in 1983. Her life and her continuing obscurity illustrate the double pressures of racism and sexism on the lives of black women. Four years later, Indiana University Press published a collected edition of her work, Maria W. Stewart, Americas First Black Woman Political Writer: Essays and Speeches. While Stewart was criticized and eventually silenced during her lifetime, and her work has been neglected since then, she is finally beginning to be recognized for what she was: a pioneering speaker and essayist.

Sources

African-American Orators, edited by Richard W. Lee-man, Greenwood Press, 1996.

Black Women in America: The Early Years, 1619-1899, edited by Darlene Clark Hine, Carlson Publishing, 1993.

The Book of African-American Women, by Tonya Bolden, Adams Media Corporation, 1996.

Maria W. Stewart, Americas First Black Woman Political Writer: Essays and Speeches, edited by Marilyn Richardson, Indiana University Press, 1987.

Notable American Women, edited by Edward T.James, Harvard University Press, 1971.

Carrie Golus

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Stewart, Maria W. Miller

Maria W. Miller Stewart

American essayist, teacher, and political activist Maria W. Miller Stewart (1803–1879) is thought to be the first American woman to give public lectures. Stewart is known for four powerful speeches, delivered in Boston in the early 1830s—a time when no woman, black or white, dared to address an audience from a public platform.

Stewart was heavily involved with the abolitionist movement, and most of her lectures deal with this topic. More radically, however, she called for black economic progress and self-determination, as well as women's rights. Other recurring themes included the value of education, the historical inevitability of black liberation, and the need for black unity and collective action. Many of her ideas were so far ahead of their time that they remain relevant more than 150 years later.

Despite the fact that she had little formal education, Stewart continually showed her learning in her lectures, referencing the Bible, the U.S. Constitution, and various literary works. She was deeply influenced by a type of sermon developed by Puritan preachers known as the jeremiad, which applied religious doctrines to secular problems. According to Stewart, the way for African Americans to obtain freedom was to get closer to God; conversely, resistance to oppression was the highest form of obedience to God.

Stewart was born free as Maria Miller in 1803 in Hartford, Connecticut. All that is known about her parents is their surname, Miller; their first names and occupations have been lost to history. At the age of five, Stewart was orphaned and forced to become a servant in the household of a clergyman. She lived with this family for ten years, receiving no formal education but learning as much as she could by reading books from the family's library. After leaving the family at the age of fifteen, she supported herself as a domestic servant while furthering her education at Sabbath schools. Specific details about her employment or where she lived at the time are unknown.

On August 10, 1826, at the age of twenty-three, Maria Miller married James W. Stewart at the African Baptist Church in Boston. At her husband's suggestion, Stewart took not only his last name, but also his middle initial as well. James W. Stewart was forty-four years old and a veteran of the War of 1812; after the war, he earned a substantial living by fitting out whaling and fishing vessels. At the time, African Americans made up just three percent of Boston's population, and the Stewarts were part of an even smaller minority: Boston's black middle class.

In December of 1829, just three years after the Stewarts were married, James Stewart died; the marriage had produced no children. Although Maria Stewart was left with a substantial inheritance, she was defrauded of it by his white executors after a drawn-out court battle. Once again, she was forced to turn to domestic service to support herself.

In 1830, partly due to grief over her husband's death, Stewart underwent a religious conversion. A year later, according to her later writings, she made a "public profession of my faith in Christ," dedicating herself to God's service. For Stewart, her newfound religious fervor went hand-in-hand with political activism: she resolved to become a "strong advocate for the cause of God and for the cause of freedom." In the years to come, when she was criticized for daring to speak in public, Stewart would claim that her authority came from God—that she was simply following God's will.

Meanwhile, the abolitionist movement was beginning to gather strength in Boston. In 1831, William Lloyd Garrison, publisher of the abolitionist newspaper the Liberator, called for women of African descent to contribute to the paper. Stewart responded by arriving at his office with a manuscript containing several essays which Garrison agreed to publish.

Stewart's first published work, "Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality, the Sure Foundation on Which We Must Build," appeared as a twelve-page pamphlet, priced at six cents, later that year. An advertisement for the pamphlet, which appeared in the Liberator, described it as "a tract addressed to the people of color, by Mrs. Maria W. Steward (sic), a respectable colored lady of this city.… The production is most praiseworthy, and confers great credit on the talents and piety of its author."

Soon afterward, Stewart began to deliver public lectures. Her first speaking engagement was on April 28, 1832, before the African American Female Intelligence Society of Boston. Aware that she was violating the taboo against women speaking in public, Stewart asserted in her talk that "the frowns of the world shall never discourage me" and that she could bear the "assaults of wicked men." While the main thrust of the speech was to urge African American women to turn to God, she also urged them to stand up for their rights, rather than silently suffer humiliation. "It is useless for us any longer to sit with our hands folded, reproaching the whites; for that will never elevate us," she said.

Six months later, on September 21, 1832, Stewart lectured to an audience of both men and women at Franklin Hall. In that speech, she asserted that free African Americans were hardly better off than those in slavery: "Look at many of the most worthy and most interesting of us doomed to spend our lives in gentlemen's kitchens," she demanded. "Look at our young men, smart, active, and energetic, with souls filled with ambitious fire; if they look forward, alas! What are their prospects? They can be nothing but the humblest laborers, on account of their dark complexions; hence many of them lose their ambition, and become worthless.…"

Meanwhile, Stewart continued to submit her writings for publication. In 1832, Garrison published another pamphlet, "Meditations from the Pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart." Garrison also printed transcripts of all of Stewart's speeches in the Liberator; however, in accordance with the editorial conventions of the day, her contributions were relegated to the paper's "Ladies' Department."

Stewart's third speech, delivered at the African Masonic Hall on February 27, 1833, was titled "African Rights and Liberty." In this speech, she again defended her right to speak publicly, while castigating African American men. "You are abundantly capable, gentlemen, of making yourselves men of distinction; and this gross neglect, on your part, causes my blood to boil within me," she told her audience. "Had the men amongst us, who have had an opportunity, turned their attention as assiduously to mental and moral improvement as they have to gambling and dancing, I might have remained quietly at home, and they stood contending in my place."

Stewart also condemned the colonization movement, a plan to send free blacks as well as slaves back to Africa. In her conclusion, Stewart recounted how whites first drove the native Americans from their land, then stole blacks from Africa and enslaved them, and now wanted to send them back with nothing. Instead, Stewart argued, blacks should remain in the United States and fight for their freedom.

The response to Stewart's speeches—even from those who supported her cause—was overwhelmingly negative; she was roundly condemned for having the audacity to speak onstage. In the words of African American historian William C. Nell, writing about Stewart in the 1850s, she "encountered an opposition even from her Boston circle of friends, that would have dampened the ardor of most women."

Stewart delivered her final Boston speech on September 21, 1833, announcing her decision to leave the city. In the speech, she acknowledged that, by lecturing publicly, she had "made myself contemptible in the eyes of many, that I might win some," which she admitted was "like a labor in vain."

Still, Stewart refused to go quietly, asserting that women activists had divine sanction: "What if I am woman; is not the God of ancient times the God of these modern days? Did he not raise up Deborah, to be a mother, and a judge in Israel? Did not Queen Esther save the lives of the Jews? And Mary Magdelene first declare the resurrection of Christ from the dead?"

In 1835, two years after Stewart had left the city, Garrison published a collection of her speeches, Productions of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart. Within a year of its appearance, other women, both black and white, began to follow the path Stewart had opened, lecturing in churches and meeting halls across the country.

Contrary to the prejudices of her day, Stewart had long believed that all African Americans—both male and female—deserved the chance to acquire an education. In her speeches, Stewart had often referred to literacy as a sacred quest at a time when it was a crime to teach slaves to read or write. Now that she had given in to public pressure to cease lecturing, she turned her energy to education.

From Boston, Stewart moved to New York, where she taught in public schools in Manhattan and Long Island. She continued her political activities, joining women's organizations—including a black women's literary society—and attending the Women's Anti-slavery Convention of 1837. She also lectured occasionally, but none of these lectures survive. And while she was affiliated with the radical newspaper The North Star, later called Frederick Douglass' Paper, none of her work appeared there.

In 1852, Stewart moved to Baltimore, earning a small living as a teacher of paying pupils. "I have never been very shrewd in money matters; and being classed as a lady among my race all my life, and never exposed to any hardship, I did not know how to manage," Stewart later wrote about this period. In 1861, she moved to Washington D.C., where again she organized a school.

By the early 1870s, Stewart had been appointed as matron, or head housekeeper, at the Freedman's Hospital and Asylum in Washington. The facility, established by the Freedmen's Bureau, had room for 300 patients and served not only as a hospital but also as a refugee camp for former slaves displaced by the Civil War. Stewart continued to teach, even as she lived and worked at the hospital.

In 1878, a law was passed granting pensions to widows of War of 1812 veterans. Stewart used the unexpected money to publish a second edition of Meditations from the Pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart. The book, which appeared in 1879, was introduced by supporting letters from Garrison and others. It also included new material: the autobiographical essay "Sufferings During the War" and a preface in which she once more called for an end to tyranny and oppression.

Shortly after the book's publication on December 17, 1879, Stewart died at the Freedman's Hospital at the age of 76. Her obituary in The People's Advocate, a Washington-area black newspaper, acknowledged that Stewart had struggled for years with little recognition: "Few, very few know of the remarkable career of this woman whose life has just drawn to a close. For half a century she was engaged in the work of elevating her race by lectures, teaching, and various missionary and benevolent labors." Stewart was buried in Graceland Cemetery in Washington.

"The emergence of black history and women's studies has reintroduced scholars to the life and work of Maria W. Stewart, but this pioneering black political activist still lacks a critical biographical assessment," wrote Harry A. Reed in Black Women in America: The Early Years, which was published in 1983. "Her life and her continuing obscurity illustrate the double pressures of racism and sexism on the lives of black women." Four years later, Indiana University Press published a collected edition of her work, Maria W. Stewart, America's First Black Woman Political Writer: Essays and Speeches. While Stewart was criticized and eventually silenced during her lifetime, and her work has been neglected since then, she is finally beginning to be recognized for what she was: a pioneering speaker and essayist.

Books

African-American Orators, edited by Richard W. Leeman, Greenwood Press, 1996.

Black Women in America: The Early Years, 1619–1899, edited by Darlene Clark Hine, Carlson Publishing, 1993.

Bolden, Tonya, The Book of African-American Women, Adams Media Corporation, 1996.

Maria W. Stewart, America's First Black Woman Political Writer: Essays and Speeches, edited by Marilyn Richardson, Indiana University Press, 1987.

Notable American Women, edited by Edward T. James, Harvard University Press, 1971.

Women's Firsts, edited by Caroline Zilboorg, Gale Research, 1997.

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What If I Am a Woman? (1833, by Maria W. Stewart)

WHAT IF I AM A WOMAN? (1833, by Maria W. Stewart)


Maria W. Stewart (1803–1879) was the first American-born black woman to publicly lecture and publish on political themes. After a religious conversion following the death of her husband, she began to speak and write for women's rights and racial justice. Stewart published a number of pamphlets and gave several notable public lectures in the 1830s. Though her controversial views were incendiary in the exclusionary political climate of early nineteenth-century America (she urged enslaved Blacks to rise up in revolution in order to gain freedom), she achieved a surprising measure of social prominence. After she retired from public life, she worked as a teacher in New York, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.

In this selection, Stewart called upon Biblical precedent in an argument for the equality of women. If women have historically been leaders, prophets, and lawmakers, she argued, should they not be so now at the eventful beginning of the nineteenth century?

Leah R.Shafer,
Cornell University

See also Gender and Gender Roles ; Women's Rights Movement: The Nineteenth Century .

… To begin my subject. "Ye have heard that it hath been said whoso is angry with his brother without cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whoso shall say to his brother Raca, shall be in danger of the council. But whosoever shall say, thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." For several years my heart was in continual sorrow. Then I cried unto the Lord my troubles. And thus for wise and holy purposes best known to himself, he has raised me in the midst of my enemies to vindicate my wrongs before this people, and to reprove them for sin as I have reasoned to them of righteousness and judgment to come. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are his ways above our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts. I believe, that for wise and holy purposes best known to himself, he hath unloosed my tongue and put his word into my mouth in order to confound and put all those to shame that rose up against me. For he hath closed my face with steel and lined my forehead with brass. He hath put his testimony within me and engraven his seal on my forehead. And with these weapons I have indeed set the fiends of earth and hell at defiance."

What if I am a woman; is not the God of ancient times the God of these modern days? Did he not raise up Deborah to be a mother and a judge in Israel? Did not Queen Esther save the lives of the Jews? And Mary Magdalene first declare the resurrection of Christ from the dead?

… Again: Holy women ministered unto Christ and the apostles; and women of refinement in all ages, more or less, have had a voice in moral, religious, and political subjects.

Again: Why the Almighty hath imparted unto me the power of speaking thus I cannot tell.

… But to convince you of the high opinion that was formed of the capacity and ability of woman by the ancients, I would refer you to "Sketches of the Fair Sex." Read to the fifty-first page, and you will find that several of the northern nations imagined that women could look into futurity, and that they had about them an inconceivable something approaching to divinity. … A belief that the Deity more readily communicates himself to women, has at one time or other prevailed in every quarter of the earth: not only among the Germans and the Britons, but all the people of Scandinavia were possessed of it. Among the Greeks, women delivered the oracles. The respect the Romans paid to the Sybils is well known. The Jews had their prophetesses. The prediction of the Egyptian women obtained much credit at Rome, even unto the emperors. And in most barbarous nations all things that have the appearance of being supernatural, the mysteries of religion, the secrets of physic, and the rights of magic, were in the possession of women.

If such women as are here described have once existed, be no longer astonished, then, my brethren and friends, that God at this eventful period should raise up your own females to strive by their example, both in public and private, to assist those who are endeavoring to stop the strong current of prejudice that flows so profusely against us at present. No longer ridicule their efforts; it will be counted for sin. For God makes use of feeble means sometimes to bring about his most exalted purposes.

In the fifteenth century, the general spirit of this period is worthy of observation. We might then have seen women preaching and mixing themselves in controversies. Women occupying the chairs of philosophy and justice; women haranguing in Latin before the Pope; women writing in Greek and studying in Hebrew; nuns were poetesses and women of quality divines. … Women in those days devoted their leisure hours to contemplation and study. The religious spirit which has animated women in all ages showed itself at this time. It has made them, by turns, martyrs, apostles, warriors, and concluded in making them divines and scholars.

Why cannot a religious spirit animate us now? Why cannot we become divines and scholars? Although learning is somewhat requisite, yet recollect that those great apostles, Peter and James, were ignorant and unlearned. They were taken from the fishing-boat, and made fishers of men.

In the thirteenth century, a young lady of Bologne devoted herself to the study of the Latin language and of the laws. At the age of twenty-three she pronounced a funeral oration in Latin in the great church of Bologne; and to be admitted as an orator, she had neither need of indulgence on account of her youth or of her sex. At the age of twenty-six she took the degree of doctor of laws, and began publicly to expound the Institutes of Justinian. At the age of thirty-four, her great reputation raised her to a chair (where she taught the law to a prodigious concourse of scholars from all nations.) She joined the charms and accomplishments of a woman to all the knowledge of a man. And such was the power of her eloquence, that her beauty was only admired when her tongue was silent.

What if such women as are here described should rise among our sable race? And it is not impossible, for it is not the color of the skin that makes the man or the woman, but the principle formed in the soul. Brilliant wit will shine, come from whence it will; and genius and talent will not hide the brightness of its lustre.…

SOURCE: Spiritual Narratives. New York: Oxford, 1988.

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