Preachers of the word and singers of the Gospel: The ministry of women among nineteenth century African-Americans

Gloria Davis Goode, University of Pennsylvania


In the disciplines of American Civilization and Folklore and Folklife, there has been a paucity of scholarship on the subject of African-American women's spiritual autobiographies. The lack of study in the area may be attributed to external factors including the inaccessibility of the materials, an historical focus on the records of established black churches and ministers of those congregations, and an unwillingness to recognize non-elites, in this case, black women outside denominational churches as credible spokespersons for black culture. Internal factors include the limitations inherent in the spiritual autobiographical form itself--the questions of authorship, the parochial nature of the text, and the historical validity of the document.^ This study is an endeavor to contribute to the fields of folklife and history through an examination of the religious traditions of African-American women in the North who as preachers told their stories in spiritual autobiographies during the nineteenth century. Examples of the narratives used for this study include the manuscript memoirs of African-American women in the Moravian congregation at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and the printed journals of itinerant women preachers such as Maria Stewart, Jarena Lee, Zilpha Elaw, Rebecca Steward, Julia Foote, Sarah Mix, and Amanda Smith. In addition, some bioautobiographical forms have been used, including the memoirs of Chloe Spear, Hannah Carson, and Harriet Baker.^ The bulk of this research relies on qualitative analysis of the journals for the religious traditions of conversion, preaching, and singing. Topical content of the chapters includes the definition and development of the spiritual autobiography, religious women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the spiritual narratives of nineteenth century women with emphasis on their eclectic folk theologies, preaching strategies, song texts, and religious garb.^ This dissertation establishes African-American women's spiritual autobiographies as sources for folklife historians. Produced by free women living in the North during a time when their sisters in the South were trapped in a precarious caste system, these narratives and others which have yet to be discovered can take their places alongside recognized autobiographical forms. They offer insights into the private worlds of women who were part of a unique cultural experience. ^

Subject Area

Religion, General|Religion, History of|American Studies|Black Studies|Folklore

Recommended Citation

Goode, Gloria Davis, "Preachers of the word and singers of the Gospel: The ministry of women among nineteenth century African-Americans" (1990). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9112565.