Women of Righteous Discontent

Who was Jarena Lee?

In 1817 Jarena Lee (1783–?) became the first woman to preach in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Lee was born in Cape May, New Jersey. After hearing Richard Allen preach, she experienced conversion and later felt a call to preach. In 1817 she rose in Bethel Church, Philadelphia, to give a spontaneous talk. Although never formally licensed to speak by the church, Lee began an extraordinary career as an evangelist. She began her work as leader of a predominantly female praying and singing band, later becoming an evangelist. Lee, and other women, like Juliann Jane Tillman, made a considerable impact on religious life as well as on the growth of their denominations. Although she had little formal education, Lee published two autobiographies: The Life and Religious Experience of Jarena Lee in 1836 and Religious Experiences and Journal of Jarena Lee in 1849. Both of these works are extant.


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