Amanda Smith was born into slavery in Maryland in 1837. Her father, dedicated to buying his family out of slavery, worked all day making brooms and then in the fields until the early hours of the morning. He eventually succeeded in freeing his entire family. Amanda reflected on this when she became a Christian saying, “I often say to people that I have the right to shout more than some folks. I have been bought twice and set free twice, so I feel I have a good right to shout Hallelujah!”1 Like her father, Amanda worked long hours, often as a scrubwoman for twelve hours, followed by hours of ironing.2 However, her most significant impact came from her faith.
Amanda Berry Smith was deeply influenced by the Holiness Movement that grew out of Wesleyan Methodism. A charismatic movement known under many names, its preachers emphasized the power of the Holy Spirit to engage all people in the work of God – regardless of sex, race, or class. The Holiness Movement, specifically known for its emphasis on entire sanctification, which,
believed that sanctification redefined who a person was. No longer were sanctified people primarily marked by sin, their past, or the norms of society. Rather, their identity in Christ was what mattered. This emphasis on sanctification and the death of self relativized the gender norms of American culture and empowered women preachers in the Holiness tradition.3
Amanda Berry Smith internalized this redefinition explaining, “You may not know it, but I am a princess in disguise. I am a child of the King.”4
Convinced that she was called by God to preach, Amanda did not wait for a church ordination but instead preached to both white and black camp meeting congregations across much of the United States. As she said, “The thought never entered my mind, for I had received my ordination from him who said, ‘You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained you, that you might go and bring forth fruit.”5 Many people’s hearts were first opened to her because of her beautiful singing voice, and through her preaching many came to a saving knowledge of Jesus. She received invitations to preach from Maine to Texas and was highly regarded by the leading women of the Holiness Movement in England. Hannah Whitall Smith and Mary Broadman invited Amanda to preach as the first international black woman evangelist in England.
The Holiness Movement also focused on the conditions of the oppressed, working to change and improve their situation. Amanda’s life reflected these values. After her speaking tour in England, she traveled to India where she labored for two years, both in small villages and large cities. But it was in Liberia and Sierra Leone where she dedicated eight years of her life (1881-1889) to
helping with churches, establishing temperance societies, and working to improve the status of women and education for children. . . .Smith’s ministry in those countries was so prolific that at its end, famed Methodist missionary William Taylor insisted that she had done more for the cause of missions and temperance in Africa than the of all missionaries before her.”6
Her outreach did not end there. Back in the United States, she adopted homeless children and eventually founded an orphanage for black children in the city of Chicago. Despite the prejudice and racism Amanda experienced her whole life, she allowed the word of God to redefine her. As she said,
Somehow I always had a fear of white people—that is, I was not afraid of them in the sense of doing me harm or anything of that kind—but a kind of fear because they were white, and were there, and I was black and was here! But that morning on Green Street, as I stood on my feet trembling, I hear these words distinctly. . . . ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free there is neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Gal 3:28). . . . And as I looked at white people that I had always seemed to be afraid of, now they looked so small. The great mountain had become a mole hill. ‘Therefore, if the Son shall make you free, then are you free, indeed.’ All praise to my victorious Christ!7
In this reliance on scripture to redefine her identity, Amanda realized she only needed to answer God’s call, and God called her to preach. Through her courage and obedience to the call of the Holy Spirit, she brought countless lives across the globe to a transformative knowledge of God.
To understand Amanda Berry Smith’s work ethic, read: “Our Heritage-Part 3,” by Liz Sykes.
The impact of Amanda Berry Smith’s ministry is discussed in “In the Name of the Gospel,” by Estrelda Alexander, in Mutuality, September 5, 2009.
Amanda Berry Smith is one of many voices highlighted in this deep dive into the consequences of our belief: “Ideas Have Consequences,” by Mimi Haddad in Priscilla Papers, January 30, 2012.
To more deeply understand the Holiness Movement, see: “Your Daughters Shall Prophecy: The Rise of Women’s Ordination in the Holiness Tradition,” by Michelle Sanchez in Priscilla Papers, October 30, 2010.
“10 Awesome Women Pastors from History,” by Ruth Perry, March 6, 2018.
“Women’s History Month: Women in the Modern Mission Movement,” by Mimi Haddad.
- Leanne M. Dsubinski and Anneke H. Stasson, Women in the Mission of the Church: Their Opportunities and Obstacles throughout Christian History (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021), 136.
- Liz Sykes, ”Our Heritage – Part 3,” Mutuality (January 20, 2014).
- Dzubinski, Women in the Mission of the Church, 136.
- Walter B. Sloan, These Sixty Years: The Story of the Keswick Convention (London: Pickering & Inglis, 1935), 91.
- Sykes, “Our Heritage”.
- Estrelda Alexander, “In the Name of the Gospel,” Mutuality (September 5, 2009).
- Paul Chilcote, The Methodist Defense of Women in Ministry (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2017), 104.