Saturday, January 5, 2013

Olympia Brown

“The grandest thing has been the lifting up of the gates and the opening of the doors to the women of America, giving liberty to twenty-seven million women, thus opening to them a new and larger life and a higher ideal.” 
—Olympia Brown
Rev. Brown was 85 years old the first
time she voted in a presidential election.

Born this day in 1835: Olympia Brown (1835–1926), suffragist and first woman to be ordained minister by a full denomination

Olympia Brown was born the daughter of Michigan pioneers. She spent a year at Mary Lyons’s Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in Massachusetts, then transferred to Antioch College in Ohio. She then sought a theological school that would accept a woman. She was refused by the Unitarian School of Meadville, Pennsylvania, and Oberlin College. The divinity school of St. Lawrence University did not refuse her outright, but its president wrote Brown a letter he felt was discouraging enough to keep her away. It wasn’t. She graduated in 1863. She was officially ordained into the Northern Universalist Association, becoming the first woman to be ordained by a full denomination.
Brown began full-time ministry the following year. Her first ministry was in Weymouth Landing, Massachusetts (1864–1870). She next served in Bridgeport, Connecticut (1870–76). Her final ministry was spent in Racine, Wisconsin, reviving a failing congregation (1878–1887).
Brown also took up the cause of woman suffrage. She spent the summer of 1867 campaigning vigorously, though unsuccessfully, for state suffrage in Kansas, making over 300 speeches.
In 1873 she married newspaperman John Henry Willis, who actively supported his wife in her ministry and feminist activities. Brown did not take Willis’s name upon marrying him. The couple had two children.
Brown gave up her ministry in Racine in 1887 in order to devote herself full-time to the cause of suffrage. In 1913 she joined the more militant Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, which later merged with the Women’s Party  to become the National Women’s Party. She also managed her husband’s newspaper and printing business following his death in 1893. After the passage of suffrage, she turned her attention to pacifism.

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