Faculty Advisor

Dr. David Schley


“The nineteenth-century American woman’s rights movement was deeply rooted in evangelical revivalism. Its theology and practice motivated and equipped women and men to adopt a feminist ideology, to reject stereotyped sex roles, and to work for positive changes in marriage, church, society, and politics”, said by historian Nancy A. Hardesty.[1] Indeed, evangelical revivalism played an active role in gender history in the early nineteen-century America. Many evangelist leader advocated women’s right and abolition by gaining authority from Bible scriptures. Meanwhile, revolution on the press also created a favorable environment for women and minister to spread their ideas. By publishing articles to the public, it influenced greatly to reconstruct gender roles for both men and women.

Nancy in her book “Women Call to Witness: Evangelical Feminism in the Nineteenth Century” shed some lights on how women involved in religious reform by interpreting words and participating in activism in the whole nineteenth-century. While Nancy emphasized women’s involvement in women’srightadvocacy and feminism, some others argued that religious leaders used Christianity to limit

women’s role and participation in society. Traditionalist conservatives from Presbyterians, Lutherans and Episcopalians rejected women’s participation in ministry publicly. Ann Douglas’s The Feminization of American Culture and Nancy F. Cott’s The Bonds of Womanhood had argued the women in religious revival were confined to domesticity.

These previous historical researches bring some interesting directions to examine women’s role and their sphere in the religious revival period in this essay. How did the women reinterpret words to advocate equal rights of both sexes and women’s suffrage? Did religious leaders reconstruct gender roles when they interpreted words and initiated social reform, and how? Was women’s sphere confined or extended as previous historians had argued? Were women’s right movements and abolition movements advocated by religious leaders interrelated? In order to answer these questions, this paper conducts research mainly interprets publications by religious organizations and leaders, that has not discussed in depth previously, in order to show the sexes relationship are social, “how these relationship are constructed as they are” and “how they work”.[1] It also provides evidences on men’s direct or indirect participation in women activism during the period, which has been always overlooked in women history in previous works.

This paper focuses on the early period and the peak of the Second Awakening Movements, which was in the 1800s-1840s. It argues that evangelists, especially the female, did involve a lot in activism trying to equalize the statuses of men and women in family. However, they could hardly achieve the goals of women’s rights and extending the women’s sphere to the public. They also failed to reject traditional and stereotyped women’s role in family and in the public. First, the paper investigates the biblical interpretation for equalizing women’s status and rights. Second, as organization of power inequalities along axes in gender, race and class[2], this paper focuses on the relationship between gender and race that reflects by the women’s right movement and abolition movements in the period. Thirdly, it looks at the construction of gender roles reflected by the religious movements and moral reforms. Last but not least, the men’s and women’s sphere during the period will be investigated.

[1] Joan Scott in her journal articles stated that most of the historians fall into the approaches of descriptive or causal usage to theorize phenomena, which could be problematic to miss out analytic power to social relationship on sexes and theories’ implications. Joan W. Scott, “A useful Category of Historical Analysis”, American Historical Review 91, no.5 (Dec., 1986): 1056-1057.

[2] Scott, “A useful Category of Historical Analysis”: 1054-1055.

[1] Nancy A. Hardesty, Women called to witness: Evangelical Feminism in the Nineteenth Century (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1999), X.


Department of History

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