Hanaford, Phebe (Ann) Coffin

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HANAFORD, Phebe (Ann) Coffin

Born 6 May 1829, Siasconset, Massachusetts; died 2 June 1921, Rochester, New York

Wrote under: Phebe A. Hanaford, Rev. Phebe A. Hanaford

Daughter of George W. and Phebe Barnard Coffin; married Joseph H. Hanaford, 1849; children: two

Phebe Coffin Hanaford's father, a merchant and shipowner, traced his descent from Tristram Coffin, a founder of Nantucket, and her mother was descended from Gregory Priest, pilot of the Mayflower, and Peter Folger, grandfather of Benjamin Franklin. Hanaford's mother died soon after she was born; her father then married Emmeline Barnard Cartwright, who brought a son, older than Hanaford, and then bore seven younger children.

Raised a Quaker, Hanaford was accustomed to hearing women preach. The men of Nantucket were frequently away from home on whaling and mercantile trips, and women were important figures in the Nantucket community. Among the women preachers who inspired the young Hanaford to her ministerial vocation were Mary Farnum, Elizabeth Coggeshall, and her cousin, Lucretia Mott.

Hanaford studied in both public and private schools on Nantucket and studied Latin and higher mathematics privately. She was undoubtedly a very serious, dedicated person: she signed the temperance pledge at eight, published her first piece at thirteen, and began to teach in Siasconset at sixteen. In 1849 Hanaford married a homeopathic physician and teacher 10 years older than she. She had two children, and later served in her capacity as minister at the marriage of her daughter, Florence, and at the ordination of her son, Howard, to the Congregational ministry.

Hanaford became a Baptist after her marriage but joined the Universalist church after a crisis brought about by the death of a sister and brother. After marriage, she continued to teach and edited the religious magazines The Ladies' Repository and The Myrtle from 1866 to 1868. In 1865 at her father's request, she preached her first sermon in the Siasconset schoolhouse. With the urging and support of the Reverend Olympia Brown of South Canton, Massachusetts, Hanaford entered the ministry, becoming ordained in 1868. She served as minister to congregations in Hingham and Waltham, Massachusetts, New Haven, Connecticut, and Jersey City, New Jersey, apparently leaving her husband to take the pulpit in New Haven in 1870. She was a popular speaker, known for her "clarity of expression and well-modulated voice."

Writing her memoirs of 20 years of pastoral service in The Woman's Journal (27 December 1890), Hanaford listed among her accomplishments "preaching four different sermons on one Sunday in four different towns, and riding in a carriage twenty-eight miles to do it," citing this as evidence of woman's capacity to undertake responsibilities as demanding as those of men. She was proud of being the first woman ordained in New England and the first woman to serve as chaplain in a state legislature (the Connecticut House in 1872 and the Connecticut Senate in 1872).

Hanaford was active in the temperance and women's movements as well. In 1869 she participated in the American Equal Rights Association Convention, helped organize the conservative American Woman Suffrage Association, and served as vice president of the Association for the Advancement of Women. Her church in New Jersey divided on "the woman question," and Hanaford continued to serve as minister of the more radical branch. She preached at the funerals of her friends Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. At the age of eighty-nine, Hanaford drove eight miles to cast her first vote.

After retiring from the ministry in 1891, Hanaford lived in New York City with her friend, a Sunday school teacher and hymn writer, Ellen E. Miles. She had hoped to live to 100 years of age, but died at ninety-two of hardening of the arteries and endocarditis at the home of a granddaughter.

Hanaford was a prolific writer of inspirational fiction, biographies, and light verse for adults and children. In 1852 she wrote My Brother, a miniature volume of poems and essays addressed to brothers of different types: the orphan, the student, etc. Lucretia, the Quakeress (1853) was an abolitionist novel. Her Life of Abraham Lincoln (1865) sold 20,000 copies and was translated into German.

Hanaford's work of most enduring value is an American centennial celebration of women's accomplishments, Women of the Century, 1877, reissued in expanded form in 1882 as Daughters of America. The introduction stresses the importance of freedom and equality and describes heroines of the Bible, ancient Rome, and Greece. The bulk of the book consists of biographical sketches of both major and minor American women, arranged by vocational categories such as lawyers, reformers, inventors, and journalists. It is a valuable and readable source of information.

Other Works:

Stories about Egypt (1856). The Best of Books and Its History (1857). Leonette; or, Truth Sought and Found (1857). Frank Nelson, the Runaway Boy (1865). The Soldier's Daughter (1866). The Captive Boy of Tierra del Fuego (1867). Field, Gunboat, Hospital, and Prison (1867). The Young Captain (1868). George Peabody (1870). The Life of Charles Dickens (1870). From Shore to Shore, and Other Poems (1871). Our Home Beyond the Tide (1872).


Douglas-Lithgow, R. A., Nantucket: A History (1914). Hanson, E. R., Our Woman Workers (1882). Harper, I. H., The Life and Work of Susan B. Anthony (1898). Services at the Ordination and Installation of Rev. Phebe A. Hanaford (1870).

Reference works:


Other references:

Nantucket Historical Association Proceedings (1929).