Women played an important and often overlooked role in the development of the Adventist movement in the nineteenth century United States. As a reform movement that set aside established traditions and looked afresh at Scripture, early Adventism found and espoused biblical support for women in ministry. Eventually, debates about women preachers ensued, foreshadowing contemporary arguments about gender. This article will summarize the development of Adventism and the role of women within the nascent movement. It will then look at the lives and ministries of three of Adventism’s most influential women: Harriet Hastings, Ellen White, and Anna Smith. These women were contemporaries, each active in ministry while married and each living into her eighties, but with notable differences.
In 1831, the Baptist farmer-preacher William Miller began to preach openly his expectation of a personal and visible return (“Advent”) of Christ in the near future. Nine years passed, though, before his message began to attract much public attention. From late 1839 to the autumn of 1844, the obscure preacher and his unique message metamorphosed into a mighty movement with a thousand lecturers, a hundred thousand adherents, and a million worried observers.
When Christ failed to return to earth on October 22, 1844—the date on which many Adventists had expected his coming—the popular movement collapsed under its disappointment. Notwithstanding, in the twenty years that followed, the Advent message preserved itself through a half-dozen small denominations: the Church of God (Abrahamic Faith, c. 1845), the Seventh-day Adventists (c. 1847), the Evangelical Adventists (1858), the Advent Christians (1860), and the Life and Advent Union (1863). These new religious groups pulsated with the Advent hope and promulgated their message with great conviction and enthusiasm. That original vitality continued at least until about 1880, when the first generation of committed leaders had dropped from the scene.
This thumb sketch of modern Adventist history suggests to me that we can most profitably examine the period from 1840 to 1880. Prior to 1840, there was a man and a message, but no movement. From 1840 to 1845, we observe the Advent movement in its ecumenical, or interdenominational, phase, when believers from a variety of churches worked together to awaken a sleeping world. Then, from 1845 to 1880, the movement gave birth to Adventist denominations which still sought to proclaim the Advent, yet did so as distinct groups with unique perspectives.
Feminism in early Adventism
The advent movement grew in the cultural soil of Jacksonian America. The early colonial respect for the wealthy, educated, polished aristocracy had faded into the past. In its place, Americans exuded confidence in the common people who were leading the push westward, opening new frontiers, and claiming unimaginable opportunities. A powerful optimism about curing the United States’ ills gripped the nation. Reform movements swept through the population in waves. The most powerful and widespread of these was the growing drive to end slavery in this country. But, beside and beyond abolitionism, numerous other causes vied for attention. Their concerns sound strangely contemporary to our ears: prison reform, fair treatment for workers, universal public education, opposition to alcohol and other drugs, dietary reforms, world peace, ecumenism and antisectarianism, and women’s rights. The early Adventist leaders were frequently activists for these various agendas.
That the Adventist leaders were committed advocates for women’s rights is largely unrecognized and unappreciated. Aside from Miller himself, the movement’s more prominent spokesmen were younger men with strong reformist tendencies: Joshua V. Himes and Charles Fitch come readily to mind. I believe their interest in advancing the equality of women helps to explain the prominence of female preachers in early Adventism. In Himes, several influences converged to foster his pro-feminist stance. In addition to his prior involvement in a variety of reform movements, he brought his Christian Connexion religious convictions with him. The “CHRISTians” (as they were called) were a loosely affiliated group of independent churches that aspired to avoid the corruption of the religious world by returning to the purity of the New Testament churches. They rejected denominationalism, creeds, and theological education while they determined to “shake off the authority of human creeds and . . . make the Bible their only guide” and to restore to everyone “the right to be his own expositor of it.”1 This freed Himes to approach the issue of women in ministry without a commitment to the traditional position of the historic churches. If he found biblical justification for women in ministry, then he could support it. He did, and this left its impact upon other Millerites, then upon the Evangelical Adventists (with whom he first identified), and later upon the Advent Christians when he joined them.
The influence of the Wilbraham Camp Meeting
Another influential young Adventist was Horace L. Hastings from western Massachusetts’ hill country. Although elected the first president of what later became the Advent Christian Association, H. L. Hastings was no sectarian and refused to apply any denominational name to himself. He burned with a passion for publishing biblical truth and proclaiming the gospel. He encouraged his wife, Harriet, to develop her gifts of preaching and supported her with clothing and food to distribute when she went on lengthy missionary trips to work among the former slaves in the post-Civil War south. Both Himes and Hastings were activists and motivators in any cause they embraced. And their efforts came together in the annual Adventist camp meeting convened at North Wilbraham, Massachusetts (1849–1867). Strategically located in southern New England’s Connecticut River Valley, this annual assembly billed itself as a “Union Camp Meeting” at a time when Adventists were drifting apart into separate denominations. Both men were opposed to what they viewed as an undesirable sectarian spirit, which they tried to counter by promoting an inclusive and irenic spirit at Wilbraham. As an announcement of the first meeting had promised, “This meeting will not be a party one, nor for strife and contention, but for the glory of God and for the spread of his truth.”2 Wilbraham welcomed minorities (blacks and Indians), remained open to the courteous debate of diverse doctrinal views, and gave women freedom to participate fully in the activities of the encampment. This openness impressed one visitor in 1849, who reported that “by thus spending a week together, as one great family, the brethren and sisters become more intimately acquainted with each other, and an agreeable and lasting fellowship is contracted even with those we have never seen before.”3
Although the camp meeting majored on the religious services of prayer, song, Bible study, testimonies, and preaching, it offered free moments when participants could gather for conversation or games of horseshoes or tag. At Wilbraham, women joined in their own robust recreational activities. Many of them had adopted a radically new form of dress, which permitted physical activity while preserving modesty. Known as the “American costume,” this attire included full-length slacks under a loose mid-calf-length dress and resembled the present-day “pantsuit.”4 This clothing allowed more freedom of movement than the prevalent laced corsets and hoop skirts, and it provoked as much comment and criticism as fashion changes do in our own day. Wilbraham is the only early Adventist camp meeting where I have found reference to this costume. Wilbraham’s acceptance of female participation in its program proved to be an effective agent for networking women who felt a sense of divine call to Christian work. In early 1860, Daniel T. Taylor published the first known census of Adventist preachers and reported a total of 584 ministers. While this included predominantly white males, he listed five females, four “colored,” and, two Indians.5 That number of women was growing so that in 1867 a group of preaching women organized the Union Female Missionary Society (UFMS) in Horace L. Hastings’ tent at Wilbraham. The society included about twenty women who wished to encourage and support one another in preaching the gospel. Mrs. Anna E. Smith became president, and Mrs. Miriam McKinstry was elected secretary and treasurer. Other members included Mrs. A. E. Warren, Mrs. L. M. Warren, and Harriet B. Hastings.6
President Anna Smith’s preaching mission the next winter exemplified the results of such mutual support. Accompanied by a “Sr. Boide,” she preached to the Shinnecook Indian tribe on Long Island for eleven days with meetings every afternoon and evening, resulting in ten conversions.7 She and her associates were destined for distinguished careers in Christian service during and even beyond the period we are considering.
While intent on promoting a feminist ministry, the UFMS did not position itself as an anti-male, segregated group. Three years later, when the Wilbraham camp meeting had relocated to nearby Springfield, Massachusetts, Mrs. McKinstry issued an inclusive call to the society’s annual meeting: “We kindly invite our brethren and sisters, who are interested in the mission work, and desire to help the women who labor in the gospel, to meet with us.”8
Early conferences encourage women
Although the idea of women in ministry was controversial (and we will take a glance at the debate later), most Adventist women preachers appear to have been more interested in ministry than in argument. They were content that the result of their preaching should speak for itself. As their irenic spirit and productive ministries produced increasing support among their more moderate male counterparts, various conference business sessions began to defend them in their labors. In 1869, the first meeting of the Advent Christian Conference of North America voted: “Whereas, we as a body do recognize women co-laborers in the gospel; therefore, Resolved, That we recommend to the various conferences acting in harmony with this body, the propriety of admitting to membership worthy women laborers who may act in harmony with this conference.”9 Since membership in Adventist conferences consisted of both churches and ministers, the resolution called for women ministers to have the same recognition as men. Conference records provide evidence that this took place, although it is not always clear whether early recognitions granted equal standing with male ministers. In the spring of 1870, the New York State Advent Christian Conference minutes recorded that “Bro. Cogswell presented a form of certificate to be given to Sr. Emily A. Esserline, in which the conference recognizes her as a worthy and useful laborer in the vineyard of the Lord. It was voted to present the same properly endorsed.”10 The same year, the conference in Maine “[v]oted to receive Sr. Sarah K. Taylor as a member of the conference.” This wording appears to grant her the full rights of an ordained minister. However, “The question was then raised whether the virtue of membership entitles females to the right of action and voting in the business of our conference. After some very pleasant discussion on the Bible doctrine of ‘Women’s Rights’ and place, the question was tabled to be called up at the next conference for further discussion.”11 One wonders how “pleasant” the discussion actually was, and how the next conference session settled the issue.
Nonetheless, the number and influence of women in the Adventist ministry was clearly growing. We have no record of controversy on July 5, 1872, when the Rhode Island conference ordained Sr. Ellen Crumb, who worked closely in ministry with Harriet B. Hastings. At the 1872 session of the National Adventist Camp Meeting at Springfield, Massachusetts, four women (L. M. Stoddard, E. Crumb, J. Benson, and E. Jennings) were among the twenty-three who delivered sermons. The next year, six women were recorded among the preachers present at the 1873 session of the Advent Christian Association, which would later become the Advent Christian denominational organization. These were Mrs. L. M. Stoddard (Lockport, N.Y.), Mrs. M. L. Durand (Saratoga, N.Y.), Mrs. E. S. Jennings (Rochester, N.Y.), Mrs. Anna E. Smith (New York City), Mrs. Harriet B. Hastings (Boston, Mass.), and Mrs. E. A. Warner (Dalton, Mass.). Even the rural Hoosick Valley Conference opened itself to women. Its 1873 minutes adds to its list of the “preaching brethren” who attended “also the following ‘handmaidens,’ upon whom God had poured out his Spirit, and were received as members of the conference by unanimous vote—sisters Tower and E. Towslee” at Pownel, Vermont, July 3, 1873.12 Preachers at the Bethel, Vermont, camp meeting that summer included Sr. Harriet B. Hastings, Sr. L. E. Saulpaugh, and Sr. S. J. Buswell.13
That these early Adventist women preachers were most prominent in the northeastern United States fits with the reality that the region had been Adventism’s birthplace and that the leading Adventist papers (Advent Herald, World’s Crisis, and Herald of Life) were published there. Most of these women were married (often identifying themselves as “Mrs.” followed by a husband’s full name) and enjoyed the support and encouragement of their spouses. In several cases, their husbands were denominational leaders. Single women who served were decidedly in the minority, perhaps owing to the bitter opposition any woman preacher encountered. Female preaching, however, moved westward as quickly as Adventism expanded in that direction. A few names can illustrate the point: Ruth M. Rowell (Minnesota, 1872), Mrs. M. S. Reed (Oregon, 1873), and Sr. Boynton (Illinois, 1888). But there were numerous others.
The debate over women in the ministry
Then as now, preaching women encountered more than their share of prejudice and rejection. Often, the opposition had been internalized so that the women themselves felt unfit or unworthy for preaching. Abigail Messer Mussey remembered her first dreams of public ministry: “I often thought if I were a man, I should love to preach Jesus.”14 O. R. Fassett recounted that his wife, Lauretta, resisted invitations to preach: “She had been taught to believe it immodest and unbecoming of a woman to speak in public and considered it forbidden by Paul.”15 Even the later famous Miriam McKinstry said at first, “I . . . was so weak that it seemed almost impossible for me to speak a word for the Master when I met with his people.”16 Yet, beyond these subjective considerations, prejudice against women ministers was an objective reality in the churches and society to which these women came with the gospel.
Craig Dunham traced this painful reality in his doctoral study of women in Advent Christian ministry. Their husbands, their churches, and their communities often denied women the right to preach. When Mary D. Wellcome (wife of a leading Millerite preacher) informed her husband of her call to preach, he promptly labeled her inclination as “of the devil” and warned her not to be led astray by impressions. Their disagreement over the propriety of women in ministry became so intense that she felt obligated to separate from her husband and family for many years as she followed her “call” to preach.17 Some churches simply refused to permit women to preach under any circumstances. In Schenectady, New York, Lucy H. Stoddard was introduced with the provision that “if there is no objection raised by anyone present, we would like to hear from her.”18 A single objection would apparently have vetoed her speaking. As Abigail Mussey accurately assessed the situation, “Female preachers are but few, and they are persecuted and opposed by the Clergy of the day, they will repeat the words of the apostle, that it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church, and that is sufficient for them to know that a woman has no call, and ought not to preach.”19
The clash between aspiring women preachers and the entrenched opposition was bound to create a debate in the religious press. In the early 1850s, the crusty Deacon Henry Grew offered his best argument against any female involvement in the public ministry. Grew based his opposition on 1 Corinthians 14:34–37 and 1 Timothy 2:11–14, which he affirmed settled the matter: “No prohibition or command is stated in plainer terms.”20 He dismissed the possibility that Paul was prohibiting disorderly conduct, affirming Paul’s prohibition to be universally binding. Grew admitted that the New Testament did record examples of women in ministry (e.g., Philip’s four daughters who prophesied), but these could not justify any woman preaching in light of Paul’s inspired prohibition.
Mrs. Beulah Mathewson came to the defense of women in ministry by responding to Grew’s article. She denied that Paul’s statements on the matter were clear and argued that to follow Grew’s argument to its logical conclusion would prevent women even from singing in church. Why should Paul’s teaching that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ” (Gal. 3:28) not be given full weight in a discussion of women’s role in the church? In fact, Beulah Mathewson argued, Paul had written statements like this after he had written 1 Corinthians 14:34–37 and 1 Timothy 2:11–14; therefore, he could not have intended those prohibitions to disqualify women from preaching. The most natural explanation of Paul’s prohibitions is that he desired to avoid confusion in the church. She admonished Grew: “Do not let us isolate this scripture, and interpret it in such a manner as to conflict with all other scriptures relating to this point.”21 Later, she expanded on these arguments in her book Women From a Bible Stand-Point.22 This exchange shows that early Adventist discussion of the propriety of women in ministry involved the same passages of Scripture and similar rhetoric to that of the contemporary debate. These debates within early Adventism anticipated the main outlines of today’s theological discussion.
Representative leading women in Adventism
Early Adventism offers numerous examples of productive women ministers. I have chosen three remarkable and influential women who moved in the circles of three separate Adventist denominations: Harriet B. Hastings, Ellen G. White, and Anna Boyd Smith. Born within three years of one another, these women followed their callings in different directions so that their ministries made diverse contributions during the same period of time.
Harriet B. Hastings (1828–1913)
Harriet F. Barnett was born into rural Vermont’s poverty and reared in the brutality and virtual slavery of a foster home. Both of these factors contributed to her lifetime of precarious health. God employed these experiences to shape her into a faithful servant who combined compassion toward the less fortunate with a profound consciousness that her own sufficiency was in God alone. She found a kindred spirit in Horace L. Hastings, a youthful preacher destined to become one of America’s evangelical leaders. After their marriage in 1853, they eventually had three children. Harriet’s “call” to ministry came in 1865 after what she considered to be a miraculous healing from impending death. “Winter closed in,” she remembered, “with its chilly winds, aggravating my pulmonary and pleuritic difficulties, and complication of diseases indicated most clearly, that unless speedy relief was afforded, I must rest from my labors, and sink to the grave with my mission fulfilled.”23 With the desperate needs of the war-devastated South heavy on her heart, “at length I yielded to the Master’s call, and went forth to do his will.”24 She was soon a missionary to the freed slaves in the post–Civil War South. Her husband sympathetically supported her efforts to carry the gospel to America’s most needy. “My husband,” she explained, “could not oppose my calm convictions; nor question my confident assertion that with me it was to obey and live, or disobey and die; and so, though unable to accompany me, by reason of pressing duties at the Tract Repository, he bade me God-speed and I went forth to do my work.”25
Between 1865 and 1872, Harriet made five trips to the South doing educational, evangelistic, and social work. She was joined by seventeen different men and nineteen different women (including some family members) during a period of six years. By July 1871, Horace had shipped three hundred barrels of clothing, other provisions, and books, with more than $8,000 invested in the effort.26 Yankees in the South were not the most popular people, and at least once she faced hostile gunfire.
After her missionary trips, Harriet continued to preach and evangelize in other sections of America. Her ministry frequently took her in different directions from her husband. At times, when he poured his energies into writing and publishing, she traveled widely in evangelistic work. During one of her preaching missions in New Haven, Connecticut, the great Boston Fire of 1872 devoured the heart of the city. She remained several days to complete her commitment before returning to Boston with her little girl, only to find that her husband’s printing business and their home had been burned to the ground. After determining that her husband and two sons were safe, she remained in Boston only a short time before leaving for a scheduled preaching trip to Chicago.27 Horace and the boys remained to rebuild.
Harriet’s missionary and preaching ministry demonstrated a unique combination of compassion and evangelism built upon a firm biblical base. Christians today are perplexed by the depth of Harriet Hastings’ dedication and the dexterity with which she juggled the duties of wife, mother, and Christian worker. But she could not escape a sense of God’s claim on her life and of her responsibility to share the gospel with society’s most needy. Harriet believed that God had spared her life for Christian ministry and that she would forfeit that life if she failed to be useful in her Master’s service. And, wherever she served, her trust was in God. Her work “was done in faith, and we lived accordingly; trusting God for every thing we had. If we needed money, we asked the Lord for it; and if it was right that we should have it, we received it.”28 Harriet exemplified the life of faith: God had spared her life so that she could minister, and she would be obedient while trusting him for the strength and other resources she needed. She did not stop to answer those who criticized women in the ministry; she just went ahead and ministered.
Harriet B. Hastings traveled broadly in Advent Christian circles, but she and her husband understood that God’s work can never be circumscribed by any one sect. She was first and foremost a Christian, comfortable and effective within Adventism, but the whole church was her spiritual family, and her field was, in fact, the whole world.
Ellen G. Harmon White (1827–1915)
No single figure has been more important to the rise and development of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination than Ellen G. Harmon. A native of Maine, Ellen had been converted under the preaching of William Miller himself at Portland in early 1840 at the age of thirteen. In the autumn of 1843, she and her family were cast out of their local Methodist church for their views on Christ’s return. Like most Millerites, Ellen was confused and depressed by the failure of Christ to return on October 22, 1844, but was encouraged by the preaching of Elder James White (1821–1881), whom she later married (August 1846).
Some time prior to her wedding, she began to experience trances, which she believed gave her insight into heaven and God’s purposes. The historian I. C. Wellcome reports that Ellen
traveled from town to town, where she was strangely exercised in body and mind, usually talking in assemblies until nature was exhausted and then falling to the floor, unless caught by someone sitting near (we remember catching her twice to save her from falling to the floor), remained a considerable time in the mesmeric state, and afterwards, perhaps not until another meeting, she would relate the wonders which she claimed had been shown her in spirit (these were subsequently called “visions.”)29
These visions, and the respect accorded them in Seventh-day Adventist circles, lie at the heart of Ellen White’s formative influence in that denomination. The visions are so important that it will be helpful to understand their exact nature. The Seventh-day Adventist historian George R. Knight sympathetically describes a vision she had in December of 1844, in which Ellen saw the Advent people on a
straight and narrow path, cast high up above the world. On this path the Advent People were traveling to the City. . . . They had a bright light set up behind them at the first end of the path, which an angel told me was the Midnight Cry. This light shone all along the path and gave light for their feet so they might not stumble. And if they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus who was just before them, leading them to the City, they were safe. But soon some grew weary, and said the City was a great way off, and they expected to have entered it before. . . . Others rashly denied the light behind them, and said that it was not God who had led them out so far. The light behind them went out which left their feet in perfect darkness, and they stumbled and got their eyes off the mark and lost sight of Jesus, and fell off the path in[to] the dark and wicked world below.30
Working together, James and Ellen White played a major role between 1844 and 1848 in networking those Millerites who later organized the Seventh-day Adventist church. The group gradually coalesced around the three distinctive doctrines of Sanctuary, Sabbath, and the Spirit of Prophecy. Their view of Sanctuary attempted to explain why Christ had not returned to earth on October 22, 1844. Miller had confessed that he had been wrong about the date, but the Sabbatarian Adventists maintained he had been correct about the date but had misunderstood what had been predicted for that time. On that day, instead of returning to cleanse an earthly sanctuary, Jesus as High Priest had entered the sanctuary in heaven to cleanse it by completing his work of atonement. While Christ was thus engaged, his followers on earth were to spread the third angel’s message (of Rev. 14:9–12) that God’s true people must keep the Seventh-day Sabbath.
Those Adventists who came under the influence of James and Ellen White came to believe that God had given to her “wonderful views of heaven and of what was being transacted there.”31 With time, the future Seventh-day Adventists accepted Ellen G. White as the person in whom the “Spirit of Prophecy” (mentioned in Rev. 19:10) was embodied. Most Adventists followed William Miller in opposing what they felt were excesses (like Ellen’s trances and visions). I. C. Wellcome, for example, eventually disassociated himself from the Whites following a meeting in Portland in which James White shared “some singular experiences and strange messages, claiming to be direct from the Lord.” To Wellcome, this was clearly “fanaticism.”32 He would not dispute the assessment of those who remained free from Ellen’s influence and viewed her as “a wonderful fanatic and trance medium.”33
At first, Ellen communicated the contents of her visions orally to the congregations in which she experienced them. But, soon, James began to publish accounts of her visions for general distribution.34 Later, Ellen G. White wrote extensively, and Seventh-day Adventists have valued her writings as expressions of the operation of the Spirit of Prophecy. Ellen herself connected the study of Scripture with the light that came to her through visions in the early days of Seventh-day Adventism: “Let none seek to tear away the foundations of our faith—the foundations that were laid at the beginning of our work, by prayerful study of the Word and by revelation.”35 She recalled that experience of revelation, reporting, “The power of God would come upon me, and I was enabled clearly to define what is truth and what is error. We accepted the truth point by point, under the demonstration of the Holy Spirit. I would be taken off in vision, and explanation would be given me.”36
While critics have attacked Seventh-day Adventism for the high regard accorded to Ellen G. White’s writings, the denomination’s own scholars have attempted to draw a distinction between the authority of Scripture and that of the teachings of Ellen G. White. Professor LeRoy Edwin Froom states the case for a difference:
All during this time of searching the Word, the Spirit of Prophecy was a help and a guide. It was not the channel through which the major doctrines were given, as they all came from, and were founded upon, Holy Scripture. But it was the unifier, the corroborator, and essentially the confirmer and expander of the findings. Its mission was unique, and was clearly defined and delimited.37
With the passage of time, Ellen G. White’s prestige only increased. She traveled extensively, made public appearances, and issued important statements at crucial times in Seventh-day Adventist history. After her husband’s death in 1881, she spent nearly two years (1885–1887) traveling and counseling in Great Britain and on the European continent.38 In addition, she wrote prolifically, including a volume in 1915, the year of her death. Although not all her writings claim to be the product of visions, they are highly regarded among Seventh-day Adventists.
In contrast to Harriet B. Hastings and Anna Smith, Ellen G. White lived and moved within the confines of a single Adventist body with unparalleled influence. In a denomination which is reluctant to ordain women, and without holding an elected office therein, she nonetheless cast her monumental shadow over the rise and development of Sabbatarian Adventism. It may even be that her denomination would not have come into existence without the unifying effects of her visions and prophecies.
Anna E. Boyd Smith (1825–1906)
Like Harriet B. Hastings, Anna E. Boyd was a gifted woman who possessed a servant’s heart. Already a confirmed Adventist at seventeen years of age, she later married James E. Smith in 1845 and shortly afterward pursued studies at the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania. She thereby joined a number of early male Adventist ministers who were also physicians. In 1866, she was ordained by the Rhode Island Adventist conference and that same year became the first president of the Union Female Missionary Association. By this time, she was already one of Adventism’s leading women preachers.
In 1863, Anna Smith had established the Eighth Ward Medical Mission in New York City, followed by a second mission in the same city a year later. This work provided Anna with the opportunity to employ her skills as a physician in conjunction with her interests in preaching and pastoral work. She consolidated these in 1867 under the name Star of Hope Mission. Historian I. C. Wellcome was deeply impressed by her accomplishments and reports that she and her coworkers
visited cellars, garrets, and lanes, and ministered to the wants of thousands of the poor and the fallen of that corrupt city, providing food, clothing, and medicine, holding meetings, preaching, reading, and praying with them, and holding regular religious services at the home and at other points, and distributing tracts freely.39
Her annual reports show that she averaged some thirty visits per day while at the mission. In nearby Hackensack, New Jersey, she established a church that reached an average attendance of 1,100 people each Sunday.40 The extent of her activities and the account of her accomplishments bear an eloquent testimony to her tireless dedication and almost superhuman perseverance.
Anna turned over the magazine Woman and Her Work (which she had founded in New York) to the Union Female Missionary Society for its use. She preached more than 1,580 sermons during her city mission work and made more than 1,600 speaking appearances at churches, conferences, and camp meetings to muster support.41 Her location in New York City and proximity to nearby Connecticut opened the door to close fellowship with members of the Life and Advent Union, which was the strongest Adventist denomination operating in the region. Still, she was equally at home with Advent Christians whose support she solicited and for whom she also did good wherever she could. Not surprisingly, she proved to be a familiar figure at most of the Adventist camp meetings, where she was often a featured speaker on “Mission Day.”
She did not confine her ministry to the northeastern United States, but went wherever she had opportunity to preach or to encourage people to support benevolence for society’s most needy. Her appearance at an 1888 session of the Central Illinois Advent Christian Conference was typical. The World’s Crisis reported that “Mrs. A. E. Smith spoke with evident liberty and to the acceptance of all the hearers.”42
These three contemporaries, while similar in many ways, were also significantly different. Ellen G. White was a “sectarian Adventist” in that she spent her life within her own denomination and held the deep conviction that it was a specially chosen “remnant” people. Her interest in others was that they should become Seventh-day Adventists. Anna Smith and Harriet Hastings, on the other hand, were Adventists of a broader spirit who found joy in fellowship and ministry with God’s people in any Christian group. They moved freely across denominational lines, both in their preaching activities and in their compassion for the downtrodden. Then again, neither Anna nor Harriet made any claim that God gave truth to them directly. They considered themselves to be human instruments who preached the truth of Scripture and sought to follow the example of Christ in ministry. Further, their followers did not elevate their teachings and writings to a place of authority over the church.
Women who made significant contributions to Adventism during its formative years have left their imprint on the beliefs and practices of Adventist denominations today. An understanding of their legacy can lead us also to a greater appreciation for the ways that God uses women to build his wider church.
We wish to thank Duane E. Crabtree, Curator of the Adventual Library at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, for his assistance with this article.
- Joshua V. Hines, “Christian Connexion,” in Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, ed. J. Newton Brown (Brattleboro, Vt.: Fessenden, 1837), 362.
- Bro. I. Adrian, letter to the editor, Advent Herald 3, no. 24 (14 July 1849): 190, col. 3.
- J. P. Jr., “North Wilbraham Camp Meeting,” Advent Herald 4, no. 7 (15 Sept. 1849): 54, col. 4.
- Ronald L. Numbers, “Dr. Jackson’s Water Cure,” Adventist Heritage 1, no. 1 (Jan. 1974): 14–16.
- World’s Crisis 10, no. 20 (18 Jan. 1860): 7, cols. 6 and 7.
- Albert C. Johnson, Advent Christian History (Boston, Mass.: A. C. Publication Society, 1918), 327.
- World’s Crisis 27, no. 3 (1 Apr. 1868): 11, col. 2.
- World’s Crisis 31, no. 19 (27 July 1870): 75, col. 3.
- World’s Crisis 30, no. 14 (22 Dec. 1869): 53, col. 5.
- “Report of 5th Annual Session of the New York State Advent Christian Conference,” Lockport, N.Y., June 9–12, 1870, in World’s Crisis, 29 June 1870, 58.
- Minutes of Maine Second Advent Christian Conference, in World’s Crisis 31, no. 16 (6 July 1870): 64, col. 5.
- World’s Crisis 37, no. 16 (23 July 1873): 62, col. 4.
- World’s Crisis 39, no. 2 (15 Oct. 1873): 6, col. 7.
- Craig R. Dunham, “Women Ministers?! Women in Paul and Advent Christendom,” Henceforth 14, no. 3 (Spring 1986): 34.
- Dunham, “Women Ministers,” 35.
- World’s Crisis 43, no. 42 (27 Oct. 1897): 1, col. 8.
- Dunham, “Women Ministers,” 37.
- Isaac C. Wellcome, History of the Second Advent Message and Mission, Doctrine and People (Yarmouth, Maine: I . C. Wellcome, 1874), 305.
- Qtd. in Dunham, “Women Ministers,” 19.
- Dunham, “Women Ministers,” 20.
- Dunham, “Women Ministers,” 21.
- 1873; see Dunham, “Women Ministers,” 19–22.
- Harriet B. Hastings, Pebbles from the Path of a Pilgrim (Boston, Mass.: H. L. Hastings, 1887), 143.
- Hastings, Pebbles, 144.
- Hastings, Pebbles, 144; cf. Dunham, “Women Ministers,” 40.
- Johnson, Advent Christian History, 362–63.
- Hastings, Pebbles, 270–74.
- Hastings, Pebbles, 187.
- Wellcome, History, 397.
- George R. Knight, Millennial Fever and the End of the World: A Study of Millerite Adventism (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Assoc., 1993), 302.
- Welcome, History, 402.
- Wellcome, History, 403.
- Wellcome, History, 402.
- Wellcome, History, 406.
- Qtd. in LeRoy Edwin Froom, Movement of Destiny (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assoc., 1971), 102.
- Qtd. in Froom, Movement of Destiny, 104.
- Froom, Movement of Destiny, 83.
- Froom, Movement of Destiny, 457.
- Wellcome, History, 624.
- Dunham, “Women Ministers,” 38.
- Dunham, “Women Ministers,” 38–39.
- World’s Crisis 66, no. 2 (4 Jan. 1888): 8, col. 2.