Women of Righteous Discontent

What are some contributions of early black women ministers?

The contributions of black women ministers are vital in the black community. Sometimes women served as traveling evangelists, especially within the black denominations. While Sojourner Truth’s oratory has become appropriately famous, women like Maria Stewart, Jarena Lee, Zilpha Elaw, and other early nineteenth-century women also spoke eloquently and, in Lee’s and Elaw’s cases, traveled widely and labored diligently. Although these women were not ordained, Elizabeth (whose last name is unknown), a former slave from Maryland whose ministry began in 1796, spoke for many female preachers when she was accused of preaching without a license: “If the Lord has ordained me, I need nothing better.” During the postbellum years, some black women sought and obtained formal ordination from their denominations. Many women exercised their ministry through para-ecclesiastical structures, such as women’s temperance and missionary societies, while others, such as Anna Julia Cooper (1858–1964) and the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s Frances Jackson Coppin (1837–1913), became renowned educators.


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