Born 23 January 1837, Long Green, Maryland; died 24 February 1915, Sebring, Florida
Daughter of Samuel and Mariam Matthews Berry; married Calvin Devine, 1854; James Smith, 1863
Born of slave parents, Amanda Smith was the eldest daughter of 13 children. Her father, through persistent hard work, bought his own freedom and that of his wife and family. He moved his family to Pennsylvania where they farmed, worked as domestics, and were a part of the Underground Railroad. Smith worked as a domestic until 1870, when she began her career as an evangelical preacher and missionary. Although she had only a few months of schooling, her natural charismatic character and religious enthusiasm made her a well-known figure in the holiness movement. In 1878 an associate suggested Smith preach in England, and after a year in England she traveled to India where she lived and preached for two years. In 1881, she left for West Africa, returning to the U.S. in 1890. After Smith's missionary works abroad, she settled in Chicago where she focused her attentions on evangelism, temperance, and social work among black orphans.
Smith's contribution to literature is an autobiography published in 1893. Even though her formal education was minimal, her autobiography is rich with sensitive understanding of her life as a black, a woman, and a religious leader. Beginning with her early life, and prior to her full-time commitment to evangelism, the reader senses Smith's struggle with her conversion experience and her understanding of God's direction in her life. Although her faith is strong, Smith candidly writes of her confusion and indecision about her religious convictions. Throughout this first section, she frequently cites examples of the difficulties she encountered as a woman and a black—from burying her small child to not being allowed off the train until all the white people had disembarked.
Smith's descriptions of her travels and adventures in England, India, and Africa give the modern reader a unique view of those countries as seen through the eyes of a 19th-century black evangelical Christian. While in Africa she was particularly sensitive to the plight of women who were sold at an early age to men for wives, and worked like animals in the fields. Her memories of Africa and Asia would shape her latter involvement with black orphans in Chicago.
The autobiography tells the story of a remarkable woman, and gives a realistic account of 19th-century Protestantism. The holiness doctrine, faith healing, the "Amen Corner," and the missionary movement all figure prominently in the autobiography. Smith extended the role of women in evangelical Christianity, and especially in the Methodist church, by her ability to preach and to personally relate to her Savior.
An Autobiography (1893).
Cadbury, M. H., The Life of Amanda Smith (1916).
NAW (1971). Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).
—M. COLLEEN MCDANNELL