Consecrated Merchants and Midnight Criers: Commercial Evangelicalism and a Jazz Theory of Gender Distinctions in Nineteenth-Century America
- Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 12, Number 3, Fall 2014
- pp. 601-625
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Drawing on Jeanne Boydston’s “aesthetic of jazz” and the contributions of queer theory, this article complicates notions of a “normative” gender binary and feminized Protestant religion in nineteenth-century America. Evangelical tract and book sellers known as “colporteurs” constructed spiritual personalities that failed to organize neatly around a gender binary, combining private, passive, and dependent roles as servants and employees with conquering, public identities as sellers of the gospel message. Moving away from a focus on female preaching and the liminal gender fluidity of “fringe” sects, this paper argues that colportage reflected a larger cultural instability in the gender binary where spiritual selling collapsed conventional masculine and feminine traits, opening a queer space for expressions beyond the gender line. Tracing colporteur identities from the American Tract Society and Millerites of the 1840s to the International Bible Students of the 1890s and 1900s, this article suggests that colportage was one expression of the vast variation and instability of potential gender identities that marked America in the nineteenth century.