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Redeeming the Southern Family

Evangelical Women and Domestic Devotion in the Antebellum South

Scott Stephan

Publication Year: 2008

In the years leading up to the Civil War, southern evangelical denominations moved from the fringes to the mainstream of the American South. Scott Stephan argues that female Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians played a crucial role in this transformation. While other scholars have pursued studies of southern evangelicalism in the context of churches, meetinghouses, and revivals, Stephan looks at the domestic rituals over which southern women had increasing authority-from consecrating newborns to God's care to ushering dying kin through life's final stages. Laymen and clergymen alike celebrated the contributions of these pious women to the experience and expansion of evangelicalism across the South.

This acknowledged domestic authority allowed some women to take on more public roles in the conversion and education of southern youth within churches and academies, although always in the name of family and always cloaked in the language of Christian self-abnegation. At the same time, however, women's work in the name of domestic devotion often put them at odds with slaves, children, or husbands in their households who failed to meet their religious expectations and thereby jeopardized evangelical hopes of heavenly reunification of the family.

Stephan uses the journals and correspondence of evangelical women from across the South to understand the interconnectedness of women's personal, family, and public piety. Rather than seeing evangelical women as entirely oppressed or resigned to the limits of their position in a patriarchal slave society, Stephan seeks to capture a sense of what agency was available to women through their moral authority.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

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pp. vii-ix

At times it seemed to me that this study of the life course might take my entire lifetime to complete. Fortunately, many wonderful individuals and institutions aided me along this sojourn, making the research, writing, and publication of this volume enjoyable and enriching. Th e ideas and energy at the core of this study originated from coursework in Steve Stowe’s ...

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Introduction. From Cane Ridge to the Bible Belt: Evangelicalism, Gender, and the Southern Household in the Antebellum Era

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pp. 1-19

Craddock’s reflections on how evangelical piety shaped her relationship with God and her family illustrate the tensions that white evangelical women experienced across the antebellum South. Her writings illustrate the psychological turmoil of a woman whose family refused to share her faith. Craddock believed that her family’s failure to convert suggested that ...

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CHAPTER 1 Taming the Second Great Awakening: Evangelical Identity and Worship Patterns in the Antebellum South

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pp. 21-58

Historians often point to the early republic’s “anxious bench”—a row of seats prominently placed between the audience and the preachers—as the embodiment of American revivalism during the Second Great Awakening. As individual sinners moved to the anxious bench, they publicly testified to their inward, personal struggle. In the process, they often sought ...

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CHAPTER 2 Courting Women, Courting God: Strenuous Courtships and Holy Unions

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pp. 59-94

Unlike other points in the life course, where women often pushed the bounds of their influence beyond the narrow limits suggested in advice literature, single women discovered that clergy and kin alike sanctioned women’s authority in courtship. A strenuous courtship offered single women the only assurance that they might achieve a harmonious and ...

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CHAPTER 3 Improvising on the Ideal: Evangelical Marriages in the Antebellum South

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pp. 95-132

As evangelical couples passed from the turbulence of courtship to the anticipation of engagement, most individuals claimed to experience unparalleled emotional fulfillment. Susan Heiskell, who had been prone to bouts of the blues during her courtship with William McCampbell, turned awestruck at the joy she found after their engagement, asking him, “Were you ...

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CHAPTER 4 “Unto Whom Much Is Given”: Childbirth, Child Rearing, and Coming of Age in the Evangelical Home

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pp. 133-182

In spite of her heavy burdens as the matron to more than sixty young women boarding at the Wesleyan Female College in Murfreesboro, North Carolina, Anne Davis found time to write to her oldest son, Robert, away at college and far from her supervision, to warn of the new threats to his immortal soul. Indeed, she reminded him that evangelical southerners ...

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CHAPTER 5 Authoring the Good Death: Illness, Deathbed Narratives, and Women’s Authority

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pp. 183-220

In 1844, Methodist Ann Sexton stole a moment away from nursing her dying mother in Alabama to write an update for her aunt in North Carolina. Like other white southern evangelicals, Sexton struggled to align her neat expectations of the Good Death with the messy realities of the deathbed. The Good Death involved three core principles, the first two of which ...

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Epilogue. “We Walk by Faith and Not by Sight”: Evangelicals and the Civil War–Era South

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pp. 221-232

Southern evangelicals welcomed introspection and suffering as a means to forge spiritual intimacy with God and family. Such, after all, had been their introduction to evangelical Christianity during the conversion process. During the antebellum era, those dramas increasingly played out domestically, permitting women to interpret God’s profound and often ...

Appendix. Principal Families

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pp. 233-339


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pp. 241-281


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pp. 283-293


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pp. 295-304

E-ISBN-13: 9780820336411
E-ISBN-10: 0820336416
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820332222
Print-ISBN-10: 0820332224

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2008