More women than men participated in nineteenth-century religious life. Therefore, women began to take on important roles in that religious life: missionary, teacher, evangelist etc. One well-known example is Phoebe Palmer—a revivalist preacher in the Methodist tradition. She preached at over 300 camp meetings and revivals in the United States, Canada and the British Isles. For more information on Palmer, see the Wikipedia entry. Some of her works can be found online: The Way of Holiness and Faith and its Effects.
Adventist women began preaching during the Millerite Movement. One of the earliest known was Lucy Maria Hersey Stoddard, born in Worcester, MT in 1824. She accepted Miller’s teachings in 1842 and was impressed that God wanted her to proclaim the gospel. She quit her job as a teacher to preach full-time. Her ministry was very successful—Isaac Wellcome pointed out that:
“Elder Jonas Wendell and many other ministers now proclaiming the gospel state that their conversion to the truth was through her preaching. This should encourage others, whom the Lord calls, not to refrain because they are females.” (Isaac Wellcome, History of the Second Advent Message, 156.)
Stoddard was associated with Sarah J. Paine Higgins–the first female preacher in Massachusetts; unfortunately, very little is known about her life.
Olive Maria Rice was a Millerite preacher in the State of New York, of whom it was said: “This devoted sister is still laboring in this State [New York]. She lectured recently at Batavia, and Pine Hill…and Attica….The effect is good, wherever she goes.” (The Midnight Cry, October 19, 1843, 73.)
Two other Millerite women preachers were Emily C. Clemons and Corinda S. Minor. Together they also edited the Millerite periodical The Advent Message to the Daughters of Zion and wrote numerous articles for that journal as well as another Millerite periodical, the Advent Herald.
Abigail Mussey encountered Millerite teachings during the 1830s. However she did most of her preaching after 1844. She gave insight into some of the difficulties she faced in her ministry when she wrote in her autobiography:
“Preachers that oppose female laborers can shut up their houses, and refuse to give out their appointments; but they can’t shut up the private houses or school-houses, and the cannot hinder others room giving out appointments; so there is no danger of shut doors or the way being hedged up….Doors opened, and I moved on, with sword in hand and the gospel armor on, with loving all and fearing none. I knew in whom I believed, in whom trusted, and who had sent me out. My mission was from heaven, not from man. My faith stood not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (Life Sketches and Experience, 163-164.)
Mussey was known as “The Yankee woman preacher”, and spent most of her time in Massachusetts. She is known to have spent a large part of her ministry preaching to the Black community. She preached at Black churches in Clarence and Clements in 1861, and also in the Bay Shore area. She later reflected, “I felt to praise God that he called me to preach free salvation to rich and poor, bond and free, black and white, male and female, old and young, high and low, and none has any right to say, ‘Stop!’ or hedge up the way.” (Life Sketches and Experience, 1865, 63.)
In Lauretta Elysian Armstrong Fassett’s biography, her husband wrote:
“The spirit of the Lord was with her; and there came to me, though as opposed as herself to women’s taking the place as teacher or preacher in public, the scripture: ‘On my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my spirit; and they shall prophecy [sic].’ (Acts 2:18) This kept me from ever hindering, or placing the least thing in the way of hr duty, fearing I might grieve the Holy Spirit, by which she was divinely aided in reaching the hearts of her hearers with the words of life as they fell from her devoted lips. (O. R. Fassett, The Biography of Mrs L. E. Fassett, A Devoted Christian, 26-27.)
Josephine Benton, Called by God, Smithsburg: Blackberry Hill, 1990.
Michael Bernoi, “Nineteenth century Women in Adventist Ministry Against the Backdrop of the Times,” in Women in Ministry, Nancy Vhymeister (ed.), Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1998, 211-233.
Bert Haloviak, “A Place at the Table: Women and the Early Years,” in The Welcome Table, Patricia A. Habada and Rebecca Frost Brillhart (eds.), Langley Park: TEAMPress, 1995.
Carole Rayburn, “‘Women Heralds of the Advent Near’,” Adventist Heritage 17:2 (1996), 11-21.
Isaac Wellcome, History of the Second Advent Message, Boston: Advent Christian Publication Society, 1874.