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Published Date: March 23, 2015

Published Date: March 23, 2015

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Women’s History Month: The 19th Century

Harriet Beecher Stowe

Author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher was born in Litchfield, Connecticut in 1811. An accomplished writer from a young age, Harriet decided early on that she wanted to use writing to make her voice heard and provide income for her family, especially since she was the seventh of thirteen children and her mother passed away when Harriet was only five years old.

She studied and became a teacher at Harford Female Seminary while starting her publishing career, all before she married Calvin Stowe in 1832. Her big break came in 1851 when The National Era contracted her to “paint a word picture of slavery.” After Uncle Tom’s Cabin was released and energized many of the anti-slavery forces, she became a full-time writer. She published more novels on slavery as well as textbooks, advice books, and biographies ranging from homemaking and childrearing to religion and gender roles.

Phoebe Palmer

Phoebe Worrall was born into a devout Methodist family in New York City in 1807. Twenty years later, she married a physician named Walter, also a devout Methodist, and became Phoebe Palmer. Two years after her sister started a prayer meeting for women, Phoebe became the leader of the group, hosting the weekly meetings in her own home, which soon had to be enlarged due to the growing number of people attending. In another two years, the group began to allow men to attend and pray with them.

Both Phoebe and Walter became preachers, traveling to different churches, conferences, and camps to share about Christianity and their faith. Phoebe also began writing books and later, along with Walter, purchased a magazine called The Guide to Holiness, which she edited until the time of her death. Her greatest legacy is her theology, which laid the foundation for organizations such as The Salvation Army.

Betsey Stockton

Betsey Stockton was born into slavery in Princeton, New Jersey in the late 1790s. She was in the household of Reverend Ashbel Green, who was the president of what is now Princeton University. In 1817 she was released from slavery but stayed with the Greens as a paid domestic servant.

She was a member of a Presbyterian church and did some teaching on the side. Dr. Green helped her become literate and educated and when she wanted to join a family friend on a missionary trip to Hawaii, he wrote a letter of recommendation for her to be commissioned. Her request was a success, making her the first single American woman to go overseas as a missionary and the first known African American woman in Hawaii.

Her contractual agreement released servant status on the trip; she was to be a friend, with only as many domestic duties as the others. She was abroad for three years, teaching the people of Hawaii and training other teachers. She pioneered the instruction of subjects besides Christianity in schools, something previously available only to chiefs and only in the home. She taught for the remainder of her life in Canada and Pennsylvania and died in 1865 in her hometown.

Nellie and Topsy Saunders

Harriette Eleanor “Nellie” and Elizabeth Maud “Topsy” Saunders were the only two daughters born to their parents, John and Elizabeth. John, a widower, had five children from his first marriage. When Nellie and Topsy were still young, their father passed away, leaving their mother to raise seven children alone.

Topsy, two years younger than Nellie, became a Christian when she was fifteen years old because of a discipleship class she was going through with her church. About a year later, despite many arguments and debates, Nellie became a Christian as well. Many friends and family members, including their own mother, saw the dramatic changes that occurred and in them and converted to Christianity as well.

A few years later, their family moved to a new town and they began attending a church with a leader and missionary named Reverend H.B. Macarteny. The sisters felt convicted to leave behind the lives they knew and they prayed to be used in the China mission field. They were the first two missionaries sent to China. Nellie and Topsy were only in China for two years before they were martyred by a rebellious group called the Vegetarians for their faith in Jesus. Their legacy lived on through many different people, including their mother and step-sister, who became missionaries in China, both of them staying until their deaths.

High Chiefess Kapi’olani


Halemaumau Crater

The Halemaumau Crater that Kapi’olani walked into.

American missionaries write that they first saw the Hawaiian chiefess Kapi’olnai in 1819 while she was sunbathing with several of her husbands on the beach. Curious about these new people, she followed the missionaries to Honolulu in 1821, where she began going to school and learned to read and write with ease. After learning about Christianity, she embraced monogamy, remaining married to only one of her husbands. She also began to send for a preacher to come to her island and preach at Sunday services.


In 1824, Kapi’olnai decided it was time to truly demonstrate her faith to her people. To prove that her God was real, she trekked up Kiauea, an active volcano where Hawaiians worshipped Pele, the goddess of volcanoes. Refusing to offer the customary sacrifices or prayers to Pele, she instead offered a Christian prayer. The story goes that she then made the trek down into the volcano and, in defiance of Pele, threw stones into the lava and ate sacred berries, proclaiming that she did not fear Pele. She left the volcano unharmed and the event became legendary. She was then baptized in 1825 and began to travel more in order to help the poor.

About twenty years later, Kapi’olnai developed breast cancer. Despite having surgery to remove the cancer and surviving without anesthetics, she died suddenly as she was recovering. She was buried in the royal plot on the islands.