Thursday, May 6, 2010

Phebe Hanaford

Phebe Hanaford, the fourth woman minister ordained in this country, was born today in 1829. Though raised in a Quaker household, and converting to the Baptist faith upon her marriage in 1849, she later became intrigued with Universalism, and preached her first sermon to a group of family and friends at a private function.

Family financial troubles had already forced her to turn to writing for additional income, and after her Baptist minister made his objections to her Universalist leanings plain, she left his church and took a job as the editor of The Ladies' Repository and The Myrtle, two Universalist magazines, for an annual salary of $600. This brought her into contact with leading Universalists, including
Olympia Brown, the first ordained woman in the US, which probably contributed to her own desire to enter the ministry.

This hymn by Phebe dates from 1852, the early days of her writing career and well before her ordination in 1868. It did appear in several nineteenth- and early twentieth-century hymnals, though often anonymously for some reason.

Cast your bread upon the waters,
Do not think it thrown away;
God has said that you shall gather
It again some future day.

Cast your bread upon the waters.
Wildly though the billows roll,
They will help your work to prosper,
Truth to spread from pole to pole.

Cast your bread upon the waters;
Why do you still doubting stand?
Bounteous God will send the harvest
If you sow with liberal hand.

Give then freely of your substance,
O'er this purpose God shall reign;
Cast your bread and work with patience.
You will labor not in vain.

Phebe A. Hanaford, 1852; alt.
Thomas Whittemore, 1841

Hanaford's lifelong commitment to women's rights brought her into contact with the leading suffragists of her day. She was one of twenty-six collaborators with Elizabeth Cady Stanton who published The Women's Bible in 1895. This book was a commentary on the various passages of the Bible that had been used over centuries against women 's equality, particularly in the church, and Hanaford certainly knew those arguments firsthand. The suffragist movement was divided with regard to this book; many believed that it would damage their cause. Some do say that women's right to vote was delayed in part because The Women's Bible was used by religious leaders to denounce the movement; the title alone was considered shocking to many and only the title needed to be brought up to suggest the things that might happen if women were actually allowed to participate in the political process. No familiarity with the work itself was required (I can think of similar bugaboos today).

Phebe Hanaford officiated at the burial of Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1902; this is part of the prayer she offered:

O Thou Infinite and Eternal Power whom so many of thy children love to call Our Father and Our Mother, into thy hands we commit the spirit of our beloved one, assured that all is right where thy rule extends.

Hanaford is, not surprisingly, remembered most in the Unitarian Universalist church, but many feel that she should be more widely known. I plan to keep looking for more information and more of her hymns (as well as those of her companion of more than forty years, Ellen Miles).

One Year Ago: Phebe Hanaford

No comments: