For the first season of “Women of the Church,” we will be chronicling the story of the abolition of the slave trade and slavery in the British West Indies through the lives of ten remarkable women. Christian women played a vital role in campaigning against slavery, which writer and social reformer Hannah More deemed the “horrors of deepest, deadliest guilt.”
During this season, you will hear the stories of women like:
Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784): With the publication of her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral in 1773, she “became the first person of African descent to publish a book of poems in the English language, marking the beginning of an African-American literary tradition” (Gates 31). In her poems, Phillis articulated the truth that God made all humanity, regardless of class, gender, or race, in his image.
Jane Austen (1775-1817): She is one of the most celebrated English novelists of all time. Today, devotees of Austen lovingly call themselves “Janeites.” However, a lot of people don’t know that she was a devout Protestant and grew up surrounded by clergymen.
Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845): Queen Victoria (1819-1901) supported this Quaker’s philanthropic work, which included prison reform. Due to her contribution to society, the Bank of England featured her on the five-pound note for over a decade.
Against incredible odds, these ten women held fast to their belief that God would use them to play a role in British abolitionism. These ten women are not just examples of persevering believers. Ultimately, they point us to an infinitely good and faithful God, who is with us even in the darkest moments of human history.
Source: Gates, Henry Louis. The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America’s First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers. Basic Civitas Books, 2010.
Portrait: Engraving of Phillis Wheatley from Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley, PS 866 .W5 1838, Boston Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.