- Canadian Methodist Women, 1766–1925: Marys, Marthas, Mothers in Israel
This book is necessary reading for those interested in Canadian women's history and specifically the history of women in social and religious movements. Marilyn Färdig Whitely makes it clear that for the nineteenth century the social and religious were inextricably connected. The result of extensive archival research, Canadian Methodist Women provides both a deep understanding of the pervasiveness of the Methodist Church, and a chronological narrative of women's activism within and beyond the church. Chapters on ministers' wives, Methodism and family life, prayer meetings and revivals, ladies' aid societies, mission wives and missionary women, community outreach work, and Methodism and the social gospel movement, all point to the great extent to which women kept Methodism alive in early Canada.
One is reminded of the self-sacrifice made by these women. The tribulations of the itinerants' wives, for example, were well expressed by Emma Jeffers Graham, who noted, 'I possess one good dress made in the fashion, which I wear when I take my daily constitutional. I occasionally [End Page 253] make rich cakes and once a year a very rich one; and on state occasions I frezz my hair.' Such was the care that it took to stretch the budget. Collectively too women worked together for the good of the church.
In the spring of 1895, for example, the women in Wiarton, Ontario, joined for their ladies' aid meeting and raised funds collaboratively and creatively: 'One woman baked bread; another canned fruit; some crocheted, or made and sold other fancy work; several gave socials; quite a number raised poultry or vegetables.'
Women's work included, among other things, fundraising, teaching Sunday school, making music, holding temperance meetings, and dispensing social service in communities of newcomers and the urban poor. These efforts were widely recognized, and it was clear to church patriarchs that women played an extremely significant role within Methodism. One would be hard pressed to dispute their significance. Women Methodist leaders and activists dating from the late eighteenth century are still well known today. Those who played prominent roles, like Barbara Heck and Eliza Barnes in the early nineteenth century, to women who often became associated with the first-wave feminist movement, like Kathleen Morton, Annie Leake Tuttle, Beatrice Brigden, Louise McKinney, and Nellie McLung, had goals and aspirations that varied widely. Yet one shared objective was to have women's work for the church acknowledged and power officially granted. The campaign for women's ordination would become heated in the first two decades of the twentieth century. One strong expression for the desire of recognition came from Ontario-born Helen Deltour, who catalogued all of the duties women were 'allowed' to carry out, to point to the obvious fact that women did everything but had little 'official' power: 'She may sing in choirs, teach in Sunday schools, do work as an evangelist, lead devotional meetings, be the sexton or occupy the pulpit for the pastor on occasion. She may organize and carry on Ladies' Aid Societies; raise money by teas, bazaars, socials, or voluntary gifts; be a Deaconess, or belong to the Board in connection with Deaconess work. She has the privilege of collecting the missionary money for the general mission fund, but no voice in its disbursement.' Women wanted to be on the General Conference Board and to be ordained. These obstacles would begin to disappear in the 1930s, but it had taken well over a century of hard work.
This is not a book that provides a new interpretive framework for analyzing women's role in the nineteenth-century religious world. However, it provides a rich and detailed set of stories and experiences that thankfully span the entire country and strengthen our appreciation for the many roles played to shape Methodism and move women from the private to the public sphere of church life. Marilyn Färdig Whiteley is to be congratulated for her efforts at bringing these Methodist women's stories to light.