loss of impetus and a sense of existing privileges being taken away. Women had lost out to growing denominational demands for an educated clergy, but still lacked the access to higher education, both secular and theological, that would have enabled them, potentially, to regain their positions. Within this educational gap, women struggled to find a means of expressing their ministerial talents. As a result, female preaching during these decades appears fragmented and incoherent. Women achieved little more than a grudging acceptance of fairly restrictive ministerial roles.
By the 1840s, the number of women occupying ministerial roles in British Methodism had fallen to single figures. By 1848 there were only three female itinerants within the Bible Christians and by 1850 only one among the Primitive Methodists.11 However, there is evidence to suggest that within Methodism and in other Nonconformist denominations women's public ministry had not disappeared, it had merely gone underground. Here, at the level of the local circuit or chapel, removed from the reach of denominational regulations, with a sympathetic minister and a congregational tradition of female preaching, women could find an audience that continued to endorse their ministry. Other women appear to have packaged their preaching under the guise of 'Bible teaching' or charitable work. During the mid-nineteenth century, a number of English women set up evangelistic missions to the working classes, and some even established new churches. Accounts suggest that such activity involved public preaching to mixed audiences.12
In mid-nineteenth-century Britain it was the emergence of an evangelical sub-culture that provided women with a more favourable environment for their public ambitions. Stimulated by the revival in Ulster in 1859, British evangelicals embraced a more ecumenical approach to gospel work and demonstrated a greater willingness to use lay agents, including women, to achieve their conversionist goals. Throughout the 1860s, female evangelists like Mathilda Bass, Isabella Armstrong and Mrs Col. William Bell featured prominently in the pages of the movement's most influential periodical, The Revival. These women were, for the most part, married, middle class and from denominations without a tradition of female ministry, like the Church of England, the Church of Scotland and the Baptists. Their preaching was so
11 Graham, 'Chosen by God', p. 90; Wilson, 'Decline of female itinerant preachers', pp. 17-18.
12 Wilson, '"Constrained by zeal"', pp. 193-4. Holmes, Religious revivals, pp. 127-31, also suggests there was an underground network of independent Methodist female preaching in the 1880s.
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