Wednesday, May 6, 2009

More Voices Found: Phebe Hanaford

Today is the 180th birthday of Phebe Hanaford (1829 - 1921). Born into a Quaker family, she reportedly played at preaching as a child, gathering a little congregation of friends together to hear her. Years later she would become the fourth woman minister ordained in this country.

Phebe became a teacher at age sixteen, and married at twenty. She converted to the Baptist denomination of her husband, but her interest in womens' rights and abolitionism eventually led her to
Universalism. She delivered her first sermon in 1865, and was soon recognized for her preaching. In 1868 she was ordained into the Universalist ministry and went on to serve churches in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

She was well acquainted with the leaders of the
women's suffrage movement: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (and officiated at both their funerals many years later). Lucretia Mott, in fact, was her cousin.

Phebe edited a women's Universalist magazine, The Ladies' Repository, around this time. She also wrote at least fourteen books, including a best-selling
biography of Abraham Lincoln (the first published after his assassination) and a volume of poetry, From Shore to Shore. The total number of her hymns doesn't seem to be known, but it was probably small. I chose this one because we are still in the Easter season.

Christ is risen! Lo, the day
Glows with love's divinest ray;
Light is come, the gleam divine
On each human path to shine;
So with grateful gladness sing,
Christ is risen, our glorious King!

Christ is risen! Lo, the grave
Holds him not who came to save,
Save from sin and death and pain,
Save from doubt's beguiling reign;
So with joyful hope we sing,
Christ is risen, our conquering King!

Christ is risen! Lo, a voice
Calls from heav'nly heights, "Rejoice!"
Angels welcomed him whose birth
They had heralded on earth --
Of his triumph let us sing,
Christ is risen, our Savior King!

Christ is risen! Lo, we'll be
Witnesses, O Christ, for thee;
Men and women strong and sweet
By thy grace disciples meet;
Till this song in heaven we'll sing,
Christ is risen! behold our King!

Phebe Hanaford, 1883; alt.
Trier Gesangbuch, 1695

Phebe and her husband separated (but never divorced) when he would not move to Connecticut with her when she accepted a call to the Universalist church in New Haven. She then lived with Ellen Miles, a writer and poet, for the next forty-four years, until Miles' death. In 1877, the church she pastored in Jersey City did not renew her contract, supposedly over her support for womens' rights, but papers and letters from the period reveal that Phebe had been asked to "dismiss" Ellen Miles (referred to as "the minister's wife") and she refused. She and her supporters formed another congregation in Jersey City, where she remained for another seven years.

A view of the two women's home life is depicted in
a 1905 article in the New York Times. Ellen Miles is here referred to as a "writer of hymns," though I have not located any yet.

Phebe Hanaford's obituary in that same paper (June 2, 1921) summarized her accomplishments thus: "All forms of feminine advancement she supported." She lived to see the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution passed.

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