Antoinette (Brown) Blackwell was the youngest of seven children born to parents who encouraged all of their children in their pursuit of education. Henrietta was of strong faith and pursued a theology degree from Oberlin College. She completed all of the requirements for a degree but was not awarded it because of her gender. She was also denied access to a pulpit as a minister.
She pursued a career as a public speaker and advocate for the abolition of slavery and women’s rights. She was a very popular speaker but was often at odds with others in the women’s rights movement. She opposed divorce and emphasized that women should place a priority on raising their children.
Four years after graduation, she was given a license to preach and was assigned a church. She became the first woman to be ordained as a minister in America. She didn’t last long in the pulpit because she wouldn’t accept the orthodoxy of the church with respect to her concerns for social reforms.
Her marriage and seven children (2 died young) led to further separation from other advocates for women’s rights. She turned to writing.
In her writing, she advocated for women’s access to what had been mostly male-dominated professions. She supported women’s right to vote but also felt strongly that they should also run for office. She supported the 14th Amendment even though it did not give women the right to vote. This led to further separation from other suffragists.
Although she had no training in science, she challenged many of Charles Darwin’s views on evolution as they applied to women. She documented cases where Darwin was wrong in his conclusions about women being different from men in their evolution.
At the age of 45, Antoinette cast her first vote in a presidential election. She was the only one of the original suffragists who lived long enough to vote.
Hidden heroes often have strong values which may put them at odds with others that share the same cause but not perhaps the same values. The fact that Antoinette maintained her values in face of pressure from her peers makes her unique among those who fought for women’s rights.
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“We fully believed, so soon as we saw that women’s suffrage was right, everyone would soon see the same thing, that in a year or two, at farthest, it would be granted.”– Antoinette Blackwell