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Beyond the Pulpit

Women’s Rhetorical Roles in the Antebellum Religious Press

Lisa J. Shaver

Publication Year: 2012

In the formative years of the Methodist Church in the United States, women played significant roles as proselytizers, organizers, lay ministers, and majority members. Although women's participation helped the church to become the nation's largest denomination by the mid-nineteenth century, their official roles diminished during that time. In Beyond the Pulpit, Lisa Shaver examines Methodist periodicals as a rhetorical space to which women turned to find, and make, self-meaning. In 1818, Methodist Magazine first published "memoirs" that eulogized women as powerful witnesses for their faith on their deathbeds. As Shaver observes, it was only in death that a woman could achieve the status of minister. Another Methodist publication, the Christian Advocate, was America's largest circulated weekly by the mid-1830s. It featured the "Ladies' Department," a column that reinforced the canon of women as dutiful wives, mothers, and household managers. Here, the church also affirmed women in the important rhetorical and evangelical role of domestic preacher. Outside the "Ladies Department," women increasingly appeared in "little narratives" in which they were portrayed as models of piety and charity, benefactors, organizers, Sunday school administrators and teachers, missionaries, and ministers' assistants. These texts cast women into nondomestic roles that were institutionally sanctioned and widely disseminated. By 1841, the Ladies' Repository and Gatherings of the West was engaging women in discussions of religion, politics, education, science, and a variety of intellectual debates. As Shaver posits, by providing a forum for women writers and readers, the church gave them an official rhetorical space and the license to define their own roles and spheres of influence. As such, the periodicals of the Methodist church became an important public venue in which women's voices were heard and their identities explored.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Series: Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I am indebted to so many people for their assistance and encouragement throughout this project. First and foremost is Kate Ronald, who willingly waded through early drafts and provided valuable responses and sage guidance since the inception of this project. ...

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pp. 1-17

A small group of Methodist women brought Ruth Short back to life. Long before she died, my grandmother disappeared behind the shroud of dementia, and I had somehow forgotten the lively woman she once was. Following her funeral, some women from the church prepared a bereavement dinner for our family. ...

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1. Dying Well

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pp. 18-35

Harriet Neale led an exemplary life; however, she is memorialized more for the way she died than the way she lived. By dying well, Neale became a holy messenger and a model Christian demonstrating the strength and power of her faith. According to her memoir, when Neale became sick, she knew that her illness would prove fatal. ...

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2. Women’s Deathbed Pulpits

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pp. 36-52

Using both the ethos and pathos of her deathbed, Sarah Tomlinson stressed the “necessity of conversion” and warned her visitors “not to persecute religion as she had done.”1 While her exhortations were directed at family and friends, who stood vigil by her bedside, through the publication of her memoir ...

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3. Contained Inside the Ladies’ Department

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pp. 53-69

In this epigraph, an excerpt from the Christian Advocate (CA) Ladies’ Department, the picture that emerges of a good wife is a tireless servant devoted to the happiness and well-being of her husband. Through advice such as this, likely written by a man and dispensed to women in its national newspaper, ...

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4. Stepping Outside the Ladies’ Department

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pp. 70-104

The “History of Amelia Gale,” appearing on the front page of the June 20, 1828, Christian Advocate (CA), tells the story of a poor widow living in England who spent most of her life eking out an existence by carrying a gaming board to fairs and wakes. Late in life, Amelia was awakened by a minister’s preaching, ...

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5. A Magazine of Their Own

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pp. 105-126

In her essay titled “Female Training,” initially read before a college for teachers and later reprinted in the Methodist church’s Ladies’ Repository (LR), Mrs. Dumont acknowledged the persistent bias against female education. She asserted that while the “day of woman’s proscriptive seclusion from the advantages of intellectual culture ...

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Epilogue: Ambiguous and Liminal Spaces

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pp. 127-134

When the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote passed in the House of Representatives in 1918, the women standing in the gallery celebrated by singing the Doxology, a refrain ritually sung in many Protestant churches.1 This image of ardent first-wave feminists praising God seems peculiar today ...


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pp. 135-154


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pp. 155-164


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pp. 165-169

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780822977421
E-ISBN-10: 0822977427
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822961697
Print-ISBN-10: 822961695

Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture
Series Editor Byline: David Bartholomae and Jean Ferguson Carr, Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 867785830
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Beyond the Pulpit

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Women and journalism -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Methodist women -- Press coverage -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Methodist Church -- United States -- Periodicals -- History -- 19th century.
  • Methodist women -- Religious life -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Women in the Methodist Church -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- Church history -- 19th century.
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