Antoinette Brown Blackwell

Early Ordination

Antoinette Brown Blackwell
Antoinette Brown Blackwell. Kean Collection / Getty Images

Known for: first woman in the United States ordained by a congregation in a major Christian denomination

Dates: May 20, 1825 - November 5, 1921

Occupation: minister, reformer, suffragist, lecturer, writer

Antoinette Brown Blackwell Biography

Born on a farm in frontier New York, Antoinette Brown Blackwell was the seventh of ten children. She was active from the age of nine in her local Congregational church, and decided to become a minister.

Oberlin College

After teaching for a few years, she enrolled in one of the few colleges open to women, Oberlin College, taking the women's curriculum and then the theological course. However, she and another woman student were not permitted to graduate from that course, because of their gender.

At Oberlin College, a fellow student, Lucy Stone, became a close friend, and they maintained this friendship throughout life. After college, not seeing options in ministry, Antoinette Brown began lecturing on women's rights, slavery, and temperance. Then she found a position in 1853 at the South Butler Congregational Church in Wayne County, New York. She was paid the small annual salary (even for that time) of $300.

Ministry and Marriage

It was not long, however, before Antoinette Brown realized that her religious views and ideas about women's equality were more liberal than those of the Congregationalists.

An experience in 1853 also may have added to her unhappiness: she atttended the World's Temperance Convention but, though a delegate, was refused the right to speak. She asked to be let go from her ministerial position in 1854.

After some months in New York City working as a reformer while writing of her experiences for the New York Tribune, she married Samuel Blackwell on January 24, 1856.

She met him at the 1853 temperance convention, and discovered that he shared many of her beliefs and values, including supporting women's equality. Antoinette's friend Lucy Stone had married Samuel's brother Henry in 1855. Elizabeth Blackwell and Emily Blackwell, pioneer women physicians, were sisters of these two brothers.

After the Blackwell's second daughter was born in 1858, Susan B. Anthony wrote to her to urge that she have no more children. "[T]wo will solve the problem, whether a woman can be any thing more than a wife and mother better than a half dozzen, or Ten even..."

While raising five daughters (two others died in infancy), Blackwell read widely, and took special interest in natural topics and philosophy. She remained active in women's rights and the abolitionist movement. She also traveled widely.

Antoinette Brown Blackwell's speaking talents were well known, and put to good use in the cause of woman suffrage. She aligned herself with her sister-in-law Lucy Stone's wing of the woman suffrage movement.

Her dissatisfaction with the Congregational church led her to switch her allegiance to the Unitarians in 1878. In 1908 she took a preaching position with a small church in Elizabeth, New Jersey, which she held until her death in 1921.

Antoinette Brown Blackwell lived long enough to vote in the presidential election of November, woman suffrage having taken effect earlier that year.

Facts About Antoinette Brown Blackwell

Collected Papers: The Blackwell family papers are at the Schlesinger Library of Radcliffe College.

Also known as: Antoinette Louisa Brown, Antoinette Blackwell

Family, Background:

  • Mother: Abby Morse Brown
  • Father: Joseph Brown

Education:

  • Oberlin College 1847: "Ladies Literary Course," a 2 year literary curriculum
  • Oberlin, Theology degree: 1847-1850. No degree, because she was a woman. Degree granted later, in 1878.
  • Oberlin, honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree, 1908.

Marriage, Children:

  • Children: seven
    • Florence Brown Blackwell (November 1856)
    • Mabel Brown Blackwell (April 1858, died August 1858)
    • Edith Brown Blackwell (December 1860) - became a physician
    • Grace Brown Blackwell (May 1863)
    • Agnes Brown Blackwell (1866)
    • Ethel Brown Blackwell (1869) - became a physician

Ministry

  • Ordination: 1853
  • Ministry: Congregational Church, South Butler, NY, 1853-1854
  • Ministry: All Souls Unitarian Church, Elizabeth, NJ, preacher 1908-1921

Books About Antoinette Brown Blackwell:

  • Elizabeth Cazden. Antoinette Brown Blackwell: A Biography. 1983.
  • Carol Lassner and Marlene Deahl Merrill, editors. Friends and Sisters: Letters Between Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown Blackwell, 1846-93. 1987.
  • Carol Lassner and Marlene Deahl Merrill, editors. Soul Mates: The Oberlin Correspondence of Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown, 1846 - 1850. 1983.
  • Elizabeth Munson and Greg Dickinson. "Hearing Women Speak: Antoinette Brown Blackwell and the Dilemma of Authority." Journal of Women's History, Spring 1998, p. 108.
  • Frances E. Willard and Mary A. Livermore. A Woman of the Century. 1893.
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage. History of Woman Suffrage, Volumes I and II. 1881 and 1882.
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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Antoinette Brown Blackwell." ThoughtCo, Apr. 13, 2017, thoughtco.com/antoinette-brown-blackwell-3529980. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2017, April 13). Antoinette Brown Blackwell. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/antoinette-brown-blackwell-3529980 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Antoinette Brown Blackwell." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/antoinette-brown-blackwell-3529980 (accessed February 25, 2018).