Date of Award

5-3-2007

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Reiner Smolinski - Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Tanya Caldwell

Third Advisor

Dr. Malinda Snow

Abstract

In the past two decades or so, feminist historians have sifted through the copious illustrations of the turbulent, emotion-ridden years of early nineteenth-century American revivalism to devote considerable attention to the rise of female evangelism. Despite the notable upsurge, scholars generally remain untutored about the plethora of powerful female preachers who devoted their lives to advancing the kingdom of God. This dissertation seeks to resurrect the voice of one such woman: Dorothy Ripley (1767- 1831), an evangelist from Whitby, England, whose personal and evangelical awakening rivaled the revolutionary power of the revivalism sweeping the new Republic. Citing her direct mandate from God to preach, Dorothy grasped religion and reshaped it into a spiritually, culturally, and politically altering device. She became the first woman to preach before the U.S. Congress, composed five literary volumes (most of which she published herself and in multiple editions), crossed the Atlantic as many as nineteen times, and traveled up and down the Eastern Seaboard to preach among the different levels of society in a variety of settings. As an unlicensed, unsanctioned preacher, Dorothy defied powerful social and religious conventions by her solitary travel, scriptural exegesis, public performances, and presumption of the patriarchally assigned and protected role of preacher. She strove to proclaim the gospel even at the expense of reputation, family ties, home and hearth, marriage and motherhood, and personal security. Her rebelliousness allowed her to rise above the backstage role commonly assigned to, and accepted by, women of the early Republic. Her works serve as cultural artifacts by providing eyewitness accounts spotlighting the problems inherent in the formative years of a Republic reeling with the headiness of self-rule: the tension between Protestantism and American capitalism, the conflict between an emerging elite and the increasingly dissatisfied lower class, the misogyny of the cult of domesticity and separate spheres, the embryonic stages of widespread social reform, and the virulent ethnocentrism of the rhetoric of Manifest Destiny. Through an examination of her spiritual autobiographies, this dissertation seeks to enrich scholarly understanding of women’s influence in the evolution of evangelization, abolitionism, women’s rights, and social service.

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