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Published Date: September 4, 2020

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Book Review: When Others Shuddered: Eight Women Who Refused to Give Up

The first sentence of the introduction clearly and concisely lays out the issue When Others Shuddered hopes to address: “we have too few female heroes of the faith” (11).

Jamie Janosz, in her clearly written and carefully interpreted profile of eight nineteenth- and twentieth-century female Christians, explores the triumphs and hardships of these women. From a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, they were all united by their steadfast willingness to fight for God’s glory on earth. Some are better known than others, but each committed their lives to the worship of Christ with pragmatism and devotion.

From Fanny Crosby, blind hymn-writer who pursued love and God in a time when the physically disabled were not considered capable of living independently, to Mary McLeod Bethune, former sharecropper-turned-founder of a Christian school for Black children who fought the influence of the KKK and gained the attention of the White House, every one of these women used the “quiet things” they did as worship to glorify God in ways that had lasting impact (12).

Written as a narrative insight into these women’s minds rather than a dry recitation of fact, Janosz draws attention to the oft-unheard voices and uncredited influence of women in the growth and flourishing of the Chicago church through the nineteenth century. Moody Bible Institute, a well-known Bible college based in the Near North Side of the city, bears the name of Dwight Lyman Moody, but Emma Dryer fought tooth and nail for its existence, in the face of broken promises and piecemeal funding, when even Moody himself had given up.

The accessible writing style of When Others Shuddered lends itself to the layperson. Janosz highlights the everyday acts of the women she writes about, and expresses the “hope that through learning about these women who have gone before, [readers] will realize how God is using your ordinary life in amazing ways, to make a difference for eternity” (15).

Janosz keeps her view broad, and does a good job sketching out the profiles of each of her subjects. She avoids bloating her story with too much detail, and the distribution of each story is fairly even, with three smallish chapters subdividing each life. Each is enough to pique interest, potentially leading to further study, rather than indulging in the blow-by-blow accounts of a full biography.

The wide variety of life experiences represented in When Others Shuddered is also impressive, considering that the time frame and ministry location that they are drawn from is rather narrow. Different races, classes, areas of calling, marital status, and more are represented. Each woman approached her life’s calling from a different perspective, using the significant challenges of her life for God’s glory and honor. Some married, some did not, some were widowed, but Janosz frames their personal lifestyle choices as coming second to their callings—ministry, both in Chicago and beyond.

As much as I appreciated Janosz’s thoughtfulness in selecting a diverse group of women, there was one aspect of their diversity—or lack thereof—that I did not appreciate quite as much. They had “a great deal in common” because every woman is intertwined with one another in some way, through some combination of work with D.L. Moody, the Pacific Garden Mission, or philanthropist Nettie McCormick (183). That, in itself, is not a problem, but this connection goes unmentioned for the entire book. After two or three sections, it seems to be an interesting coincidence, then becomes predictable. Since Janosz acknowledges that “there are many more women whose stories are not included that deserve to be told,” her book may have been stronger if she acknowledged the limits of her selection in the introduction (183). Perhaps this occurred because she had limitations on her research scope and locations, or perhaps because these were women who piqued her interest regardless of location.

When Others Shuddered is best suited for individuals looking for role models into whose lives they would like to delve more deeply, or inspiration to commit their own small acts of faith that may have a large impact. In the conclusion, Jarosz expresses hope that her book “will encourage your heart and renew your vision for what God can and will do through your life” with the brief profiles of remarkable women she has provided (186). She is upfront that some of the details may be expanded or lightly embellished to make a more compelling story, so if you value narrative over granular detail, When Others Shuddered may be for you.

In the face of practical difficulties, as well as theological, may you find the strength to hold tight to God and truth as Fanny, Emma, Nettie, Sarah, Amanda, Virginia, Evangeline, Mary, and so many others have done before us.