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Looking Back at Baptist Women: Great Awakenings

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Baptist women participated in both the First and Second Great Awakenings in America.

Both revival movements produced many Baptist women preachers, prophets, educators and missionaries.

From Freewill Baptists, Mary Savage and Sally Parsons preached to New England crowds in the 1790s.

The press touted revival evangelist Clarissa Danforth as the “sensation preacher of this decade” in 1810-1820. Much of her popularity sprang from her ability to motivate individuals and her ecumenism.

In 1800, Baptist Mary Webb founded the Boston Female Society for Missionary Purposes. It was the earliest ecumenical cooperation of American women and the catalyst for the wildly successful mite societies. These societies were forerunners of organizations like the Women’s Missionary Union. Similarly, Baptist women were among the pioneers of Woman’s Work for Woman and other ecumenical missionary movements.

In 1837, Baptist Mary Lyon established Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, one of the premier colleges for women preparing for ministries in other countries (Lyon later joined the Congregationalists).

The following year Baptists on the Alabama frontier established a similar institution for females in Marion, Alabama, named in honor of America’s first female foreign missionary, Ann Hasseltine Judson. Judson, a New Divinity Congregationalist, eventually affiliated with Baptists at the behest of her husband, Adoniram.

An activist for women’s education and social progress, Ann Hasseltine Judson proved an influential minister, evangelist, teacher, journalist, translator and cultural celebrity. Judson was the first Protestant to translate Christian Scriptures into Siamese, and she translated Siamese scripture into English. Her journals and life story inspired younger generations of women and men alike to volunteer for foreign missions.

Carol Ann Vaughn is assistant professor of history at Judson College in Marion, Alabama.