Early Quaker Women in Ministry
The Account of the Travels, Sufferings, and Persecutions of Barbara Blaugdone gives us an insight into the traveling ministry of the work’s namesake, Barbara Blaugdone, the Quaker woman who persevered through trial after trial to come out on top. As she says, “I can speak it to the glory of God, he never moved me to any thing, but that he gave me Power to perform it” (Blaugdone 8). In other words, God gave Blaugdone no trial that He did not also give her the power to overcome. However, Blaugdone was only one of many Quaker women to minister and share the Truth that the Quakers so loved. While the majority of active Quaker ministers were men (Trevett 70), women in the Quaker movement enjoyed opportunities to minister, both privately and publicly, while sharing in many of the trials of their male counterparts.
Much of what the Quakers considered ministry was less visible to the general public. “For Quakers, [ministry] encompassed not just preaching, prophecy, and other overtly ‘religious’ activity, but also any witnessing to the faith, be it in the home, the marketplace or workplace…. An example had to be set in all those places” (58). Many Quaker women performed more feminine tasks in addition to preaching and teaching (43). For example, they saw to the poor and needy, with extra care given to less fortunate Quakers (58). Other women set an example to public officials by standing alongside their husbands in demonstration of their faith (60). When imprisoned, which happened often enough to Quaker men and women alike, these stalwart, godly people continued to share their faith with those around them (Bauman 67). Still other women followed the example of the great early Quaker leader Margaret Fell, who “ensured . . . that no ministering Friend lacked coat, stocking, or shoes,” and provided for Friends on the road. (Trevett 56). When “called”, though, Quaker women opted to minister in a more public fashion.
To the Quakers, a woman in a public ministry role was the fulfillment of God’s Will as opposed to the disobedience of divine directive. They believed that ministers “were called and served by the ability God gave them, [and] that women were equally eligible to serve in the ministry” (Bauman 36). This philosophy directly opposed a long-observed teaching from 1 Timothy 2:11-12, “Let the woman learn in silence, with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” Instead, the Friends, like other non-Conformist sects of the day, believed that that men and women were one through Christ (36). As a result, Quaker women were often seen in churches, in homes, and in the streets, preaching and prophesying (Trevett 47). If they felt called to it, Quaker women could also travel on missionary work, as Blaugdone did. At home or abroad, though, Quaker women also endured the hardships that their male counterparts also had to endure.
Quaker women were subjected to varying degrees of difficulty. Those at home were in danger of imprisonment and public disgrace (61, 63). Much like Blaugdone, traveling women Friends of the time faced danger no matter where they were. Often, no discrimination was shows between male and female when it came to displays of violence. Bauman recounts a tale of a woman Friend minister who was treated quite roughly for speaking out in a meeting against the priest. When she came again, they beat her brutally and threw her in the street (67). In all of these harassment, though, Quaker men and women alike continued to remain faithful to their cause. “They refused to be deterred from their purpose so long as they had strength to continue” (67).
The ministries of Quaker women, varied as they were, proved to be an invaluable help for the movement which they were a part of, whether they acted publicly or privately. Considering what trials these women dealt with as they served their Lord and fellow Man, they lived a testimony though their faithfulness to one another and to God that no sermon could have preached.
Bauman, Richard. Let Your Words Be Few: Symbolism of
Speaking and Silence among Seventeenth-Century Quakers. New
York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Blaugdone, Barbara. An Account of the Travels, Sufferings and Persecutions of Barbara Blaugdone. London, 1691.
Trevett, Christine. Women and Quakerism in the 17th Century. York, England: The Ebor Press, 1991.