Empowered Foremothers: Wesleyan/Holiness Women Speak to Today’s Christian Feminists

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Women in the Wesleyan/Holiness Movement of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries possessed the power of the Holy Spirit which enabled them to minister. Amanda Smith and Hulda Rees are just two examples. Methodist Bishop James M. Thoburn attributed Amanda Smith’s evangelistic success to “that invisible something which we are accustomed to call power, and which is never possessed by any Christian believer except as one of the fruits of the indwelling Spirit of God.” (1)


Likewise, Hulda Rees preached “in the power of the Spirit” after experiencing entire sanctification. (2)

Christian feminist literature abounds with references to empowerment. For example, Lynn Rhodes in Co-Creating speaks of “feminist visions of the promise of a new creation” where “God is envisioned as advocate, as the spirit of empowerment.” (3)


Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel, who is among the feminist theologians exploring the potential of the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen women, says:


The power which is renewing women today in opposition to patriarchal structures and their own insecurity and discouragement, the power which liberates them and enables them to stand upright like the healed crippled woman, the power which enables them to discover their sisters, is the power of the Holy Spirit. (4)


While Christian feminists today are examining empowerment by the Holy Spirit, for the most part they are unaware of the important role of empowerment in the lives of Wesleyan/Holiness women. Christian feminists, other than the few who research the Wesleyan/Holiness Movement, (5) never mention the doctrine of entire sanctification and the power that accompanied it in their discussions of empowerment. There is a usable past within the Wesleyan/Holiness Movement that has not yet been explored by feminists.


The possibility of appropriating women’s experience in the Wesleyan tradition as a usable past for feminists has been suggested by Rosemary Keller. Keller notes the spiritual empowerment possessed by Wesleyan women. She mentions the work of the Holy spirit as “a fruitful focus for constructive theology,” yet Keller (mistakenly) locates the possibility of Christian transformation within the conversion experience. (6)


An examination of the lives of women in the Wesleyan/Holiness Movement discloses, however, that empowerment actually resulted from the second work of grace or entire sanctification rather than conversion.


My purpose is to highlight the emphasis Wesleyan/Holiness women placed on empowerment and to suggest that their experience can serve as a usable past for the contemporary Christian feminist quest for empowerment. In a recent issue of Wesleyan Theological Journal, Randy Maddox compared Christian feminism and Wesleyan theology. I agree with his assessment that “Wesleyanism presents to Christian feminists a theological tradition with which they will find strong affinities and on which they can build.” (7)


The doctrine of empowerment as articulated by women in the Wesleyan/Holiness Movement of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries affords a basis on which Christian feminists can build their own understanding of empowerment.


Sometimes, it is incorrectly assumed that he Wesleyan/Holiness Movement has not stressed power. Winthrop Hudson represents those who describe Wesleyan/Holiness doctrine as emphasizing purity with no focus on empowerment.


Wesleyan holiness leaders had long been committed to the idea that conversion should be followed by a baptism of the Spirit, the primary effect of which was purity of life. The higher Christian life leaders, in contrast, thought of this second transforming religious experience as energizing and empowering believers to witness for Christ and thus serve the church and society. (8)


An examination of the Wesleyan/Holiness doctrine does not support Hudson’s contention that it is a doctrine concerned solely with purity. (9)


Phoebe Palmer, the mother of the Wesleyan/Holiness Movement who popularized John Wesley’s doctrine in the united States, made power a central element of her doctrine of holiness. (10)


Her theology refutes Hudson’s generalization. While Palmer affirmed that the outcome of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was heart purity, she emphasized power. Palmer articulated a doctrine of holiness in which purity and power for service were intimately intertwined.


Hermeneutic of Empowerment


Just as Palmer equated purity and power, likewise she proclaimed: “Holiness is power.” (11)


For Palmer, power was synonymous with holiness: “heart holiness and the gift of power should ever be regarded as identical.” (12)


Adopting the theology of John Fletcher, Palmer equated holiness with the baptism of the Holy ghost experienced by Jesus’ followers at Pentecost. (13)


Acts 2 records the events of Pentecost when the believers were clothed with power from on high, fulfilling Jesus’ promise of Luke 24:49. At Pentecost, “newly energized men and women, whose talents had before been dormant, became valiant in holy warfare.” (14)


Palmer and other holiness women recognized that the Holy Spirit empowered both men and women at Pentecost. (15)


The Holy Spirit did not discriminate on the basis of one’s sex. An editorial on entire sanctification and woman’s work in Guide to Holiness affirmed: “He [God] fulfills His prophecy by Joel, and sheds upon her the Holy Spirit for all the varieties of her work.” (16)


According to Palmer, the “endowment of power” which accompanied this baptism was not restricted to the New Testament era but was still available to Christians through the experience of holiness or entire sanctification. (17)


Frances Willard referred to the Woman’s Crusade against alcohol during 1873-1874 as a modern Pentecost. She explicitly connected the power received by the followers of Jesus at Pentecost with the power which enabled women to inaugurate the Woman’s Crusade which culminated in the organization of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union,


Born of such a visitation of God’s Spirit as the world has not known since tongues of fire sat upon the wondering group at Pentecost, cradled in a faith high as the hope of a saint, and deep as the depths of a drunkard’s despair, and baptized in the beauty of holiness, the Crusade determined the ultimate goal of its teachable child, the W.C.T.U., which has one steadfast aim, and that none other than the regnancy of Christ, not inform but in fact. (18)


Annie Wittenmyer described the Crusade as “the Pentecostal baptism that sent the women of all denominations out to plead the cause of God and humanity, with tongues o fire.” (19)


Christian feminists also focus on Pentecost as the event when Christians first experienced empowerment. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza describes the theological self-understanding of the early Christians or, as she prefers to call them, the Christian missionary movement. She lists Acts 2 along with other texts to support her contention that “the experience of the power of the Spirit is basic for [the ministry] of the Christian missionary movement.” (20)


Authority of the Holy Spirit


The Wesleyan/Holiness Movement sought to model the early church by affirming prophetic leadership which based its authority on the Holy Spirit. Holiness leaders were explicit about their intention to imitate the prophetic leadership style of the New Testament era. They documented the role of women in primitive Christianity (21)


and sought to restore to women the prominent place they had filled in the life of the early church.


While the prophetic authority of the Holy Spirit held sway initially in the early church, by the second century priestly leadership in the form of a hierarchy composed of presbyters, deacons and bishops emerged and began to squelch prophetic authority. The developing institutional hierarchy situated all authority in its offices. Authority came to be associated with the priestly position rather than flowing directly from the Holy Spirit to individuals.


Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel has summarized the continuing conflict between prophetic and priestly authority:


In the long history of the patriarchal church women were able again and again to breach the dominant structures in the power of the Holy Spirit. But the church constantly distrusted both the women and the Spirit, condemning their works as extremism, heresy, paganism. The Holy Spirit was chained to official ministries and robbed of the renewing power. (22)


The Holy Spirit authorized Phoebe Palmer’s preaching, thus transcending the male ecclesiastical structure of the Methodist Episcopal Church which, for the most part, opposed women preachers. Rev. A. Lowrey, a eulogist, commented on Palmer’s credentials:


Her license came from no subordinate source. She was accredited from on high. Her authority and credentials were conferred by the Holy Ghost. She was set apart and gifted as a gentle leader. . . . She was vested with a remarkable power to produce immediate results. Nor were these fruits evanescent. They were lifelong and permanent. (23)

Palmer would have agreed with the understanding of authority as empowerment for service which Letty Russell advocated in Household of Freedom. Likewise, she would concur with Russell’s description of the source of authority: “The self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ and through the Spirit is the source of authority in our lives as Christians.” (24)


Lynn Rhodes speaks of the need for Christian feminist women to understand the source of their authority as they begin working with church structures. She asks:


What gives them courage for acting on their convictions? When they are confronted by the principalities and powers that are pervasive in Christian institutions and traditions as well as in the culture in general, what is the basis for their sense of authority? (25)


These are questions that Wesleyan/Holiness women such as Phoebe Palmer could have helped answer because of their understanding of the Holy Spirit as the source of their authority to preach and minister. Wesleyan/Holiness women claimed the authority of the Spirit in an environment that valued prophetic authority. This often is not the case today as evidenced in the account of one woman clergy recorded by Rhodes:


One woman said that she does not talk about the deep mystical experiences she has had. When she tries to communicate them, she is seen as either weird or more holy, depending on the context. The tendency of others to see her mystical experience as “special revelation” makes her wary of exposing it. She is careful, therefore, never to claim that the Holy Spirit is the source of her authority, even when the image of the Holy Spirit seems appropriate for expressing her experience. (26)


An awareness of the experience of Wesleyan/Holiness women would offer a precedent for this woman. Rather than being made to feel “weird,” she would realize that her experience of the authority of the Holy Spirit parallels that of many Wesleyan/Holiness women.


The authority or command of the Holy Spirit superseded any command by mere man. The Biblical injunction of Acts 5:29 to obey God rather than man became the basis for Wesleyan/Holiness women to challenge the authority of those who attempted to prevent them from preaching. Employing this verse, Palmer explicitly challenged male ecclesiastical authority: “Where church order is at variance with divine order, it were better to obey God than man.” (27)


Other women shared Palmer’s conviction. Asked to leave her religious society or refrain from praying and exhorting, Mary Taft reflected: “I counted the cost, but concluded to obey God rather than man.” (28)


Evangelist Julia Foote rallied her sisters in Christ: “Sisters, shall not you and I unite with the heavenly host in the grand chorus? If so, you will not let what man may say or do, keep you from doing the will of the lord by using the gifts you have for the good of others.” (29)


Mary Cole, another evangelist, encouraged women: “But if you are certain of the leadings of the Lord, even if God does not make it plain to others, you may do as God bids you with certainty of success.” (30)


Wesleyan/Holiness women relied on Acts 5:29 to support their preaching despite opposition.


Armed with Biblical support and the authority of the Holy Spirit, women still faced a formidable barrier, a “man-fearing spirit.” Many women spoke of the “man-fearing spirit” that inhibited them prior to their sanctification experience. Empowerment which accompanied sanctification enabled women to overcome the “man-fearing spirit” which had caused them to restrict their religious activities. Strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit, women broke through the barrier created by their fear and initiated their public ministries.


Empowerment by the Holy Spirit often resulted in a dramatic personality change. Evangelist Sarah Smith affirmed: “When God sanctified me He took all the shrink and fear of men and devils out of me.” (31)


Smith further testified:


Everybody that knew me before I received this great blessing knew how fearful I was, and then when I came out with such boldness, everybody, preachers and all, that knew me before were astonished and wondered how I came into such a blessed experience. (32)


Alma White spoke of the “man-fearing spirit” which prevented her from speaking in a church service in 1890. (33)


Even though she felt led by God to speak, she was paralyzed by fear and sat in silence. It wasn’t until her sanctification, three years later, that White overcame this fear and initiated her preaching career.


The empowerment of the Holy Spirit not only enabled women to overcome the fear of men but rearranged women’s priorities. Rachel Peterson advised: “The Lord tells us not to be man-pleasers, but to fear God.” (34)


The Christian woman’s first duty was to God not to men. Women asserted their autonomy as they claimed their allegiance to God rather than to men. The belief that women ultimately had to answer to God for their actions opened the way for women to challenge attempts to restrict their religious activities. A comment by the compiler of Phoebe Palmer’s letters illustrates the implications of this conviction: “It is always right to obey the Holy Spirit’s command, and if that is laid upon a woman to preach the Gospel, then it is right for her to do so; it is a duty she cannot neglect without falling into condemnation.” (35)


Ethic of Empowerment: Empowered for Service


Neither Wesleyan/Holiness women nor Christian feminists perceive power as an end in itself. Phoebe Palmer insisted that sanctification insured usefulness. (36)


Her work in the Five Points district of New York City witnessed to her belief that empowerment enabled one to serve others. Door to door visitation in this poverty stricken area convinced Palmer of the need for a mission. She was instrumental in the establishment of Five Points Mission which contained a chapel, twenty apartments for families and a school. (37)


She and other Wesleyan/Holiness women embodied the ethic of empowerment; their lives exemplified the ethic in action.


Palmer was not the first to voice the conviction that the empowerment which accompanied the experience of holiness resulted in reaching out to serve others. John Wesley had articulated an ethic of empowerment which Leon Hynson describes as “a social ethic conceived largely in pneumatological terms.” (38)


Hynson emphasizes the function of the Holy Spirit as the source of power in Wesley’s ethics:


The ethics of the Spirit also amplifies the empowering presence of the Spirit. The whole field of social ethics is merely abstract theory unless an adequate resource is found for reaching its value goals. So much effort in social ethics is promising, carefully planned, correct theoretically, but without the dynamic drive that carries it off. This is the spiritual force that is given in the Holy Spirit’s presence. “You shall receive the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon you’ (Acts 1:8). (39) Hynson elaborates on the dynamic work of the Holy Spirit:

An ethics of the Spirit emphasizes the Spirit’s empowering work. There is a moral force that the wind of the Spirit brings to the ethical spheres of life. Without this force creativity and sanctity remain lifeless concepts, structure without substance, body without breath. . . .


In this empowerment we may see believers undergirded to carry out the world-transforming mandate that has been given to the Christian church. “you are the salt of the earth,” Jesus said. “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13-14). (40)


Wesley never intended that the doctrine of holiness should lead individuals to focus solely on themselves and to neglect the needs of those around them. Hynson emphasizes this point: “Wesley’s ethical message was as thoroughly social as it was individual. His doctrine of love is at the heart of his lifelong effort to reform the nation and the church.” (41)


Alma White shared Wesley’s and Palmer’s conviction that empowerment leads to action. “He [the Holy Spirit] illuminates and empowers, bringing all the faculties of one’s being into action, using them in the service of the Lord.” (42)

Jennie Fowler Willing elaborated on the consequences of holiness power: “The ‘enduement of power’ is the Holy Spirit filling the soul with His own love, and giving zeal, skill, success. This love fills with the divine ‘go.'” (43)


The women who initiated the Temperance Crusade of 1873-1874 in Hillsboro, Ohio, illustrate the impetus of the divine “go.” Women, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, besieged tavern owners and their customers, demanding that they forsake alcohol. Willing recounted the witness of one activist in the Crusade:


The lady spoke of the call that came to her to go out with the Crusade Band. She had to wait two weeks in prayer before she so surrendered and trusted that the Holy Spirit filled her soul. After that she could kneel on the sidewalk in front of a saloon, while brutal men leveled loaded guns at her, and wretched women threatened to throw boiling water from the windows above-and all without the slightest fear. (44)


Annie Wittenmyer compiled a history of the Temperance Crusade which consisted of accounts of Crusade activities from throughout the United States. Several reports explicitly credited the Holy Spirit with empowering the crusaders to battle tavern owners. For example, in Circleville, Ohio, “the Spirit descended in power” while in Providence, Rhode Island, “the presence and power of the Holy Spirit was manifest, and all felt that God was calling to action.” (45)


Sarah Strothers of Findlay, Ohio, reported: “The baptism of power came upon us.” (46)


Whether all of the participants in the Crusade understood the “baptism of power” as the experience of entire sanctification is difficult to determine. However, it is probable that a number of the women were products of the Wesleyan/Holiness Movement. The crusade in New York City was inaugurated at a Holiness prayer meeting. Two women volunteered when another member of the group begged for assistance. (47)


Wesleyan/Holiness women such as Phoebe Palmer and Annie Wittenmyer reflected John Wesley’s ethics. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they addressed societal issues and worked to alleviate social problems.


Ethic of Empowerment: Expansion of Woman’s Sphere


During the last half of the nineteenth century, guardians of popular culture glorified woman’s role in the home as her only appropriate arena of service: “The canon of domesticity . . . constitut[ed] the home as a redemptive counterpart to the world.” (48) Nancy Cott claims that the cult of domesticity “might almost be called a social ethic.” Cott continues, “this ethic made women’s presence the essence of successful homes and families.” (49)


The doctrine of domesticity allowed no room for women to act in the world outside the home. Wesleyan/Holiness women preachers directly challenged the doctrine of domesticity by extending their calling outside the home. Likewise, temperance women, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, spoke in public and attacked the evils of alcohol. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they moved outside the home to fulfill their calling. The ethic of empowerment was in direct opposition to the ethic of domesticity. It authorized women to expand their influence beyond the four walls of their homes.


Palmer did not directly challenge the doctrine of woman’s sphere but extended it by redefinition. While claiming to approve of woman’s sphere by explicitly affirming women’s important function in the home, Palmer’s preaching engagements often took her outside the home. Along with her example, Palmer’s theology also defied the widely-held belief that woman’s highest calling was in the domestic realm. To experience sanctification, Palmer advised that a woman lay everything on the symbolic altar of Christ, including one’s husband and children. for Palmer, this meant that God, and God’s will must come first. A sanctified woman must keep her priorities straight. (50)


Palmer advised: “Home, on the whole, or speaking in general terms, is the sphere of woman’s action; and yet she must not be unmindful of the example of [Christ] who lived not to please himself.” (51)


The implication was that while a woman might prefer to be home, she must be willing to sacrifice her domestic obligations to do God’s bidding. Religious duties come first.


Jarena Lee kept her priorities in order by following Palmer’s advice. She left her sickly son with a friend while she spent a week preaching thirty miles away from home. During that time, she reported, “Not a thought of my little son came into my mind, it was hid from me, lest I should have been diverted from the work I had to do, to look after my son.” (52)


Lee’s calling to perform God’s work came first.


The ethic of domesticity provided the rationale for limiting women’s activities to their homes. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Wesleyan/Holiness women challenged attitudes and customs that impeded their ministry. While many clergy sanctioned a narrow understanding of women’s sphere, Kathleen White of the Pillar of Fire Church found no evidence of divine approval for woman’s sphere: “Jesus had nothing to say about woman’s place: ‘Never, so far as we know, did He utter a single sentence in abridgement of the domestic, social, or religious privileges of women; and never by His actions or words did He show any discrimination against them.'” (53)


Jennie Fowler Willing pointed out Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) to fortify her contention that God did not limit women to a prescribed sphere. (54)


God expected women to use their talents wherever appropriate, rather than hide them in the home. Alma White attacked the limitations of the popular understanding of woman’s sphere: “Should not old traditions and customs be forgotten and every effort be put forth in this new era to place woman in her intended sphere that she may help start society on the upward grade?” (55)


In her sermon, “Woman’s Place,” Alma White contended that woman’s place was beside man as his social and mental equal. (56)


Contrary to Palmer and most of her own contemporaries, White explicitly renounced any boundaries imposed on women by advocates of the doctrine of woman’s sphere.


Alma White’s life illustrates the thesis that the empowerment of the Holy Spirit “compelled women to burst the cocoon of ‘woman’s sphere.'” (57) The doctrine of holiness provided an alternative social ethic to the ethic of domesticity. Empowerment by the Holy Spirit enabled women effectively to challenge the confining strictures of domesticity. Women in the Wesleyan/Holiness Movement appealed to a higher authority to break down barriers intended to inhibit their activities. Sanctified women left their assigned sphere to perform the ministry they believed God called them to accomplish.


Sarah Smith related how attaining entire sanctification involved a willingness to challenge cultural norms: “I could say yes to everything until God said, ‘Are you willing to work for Me?’ Then the Devil saw his last chance and said, ‘If you promise to work for God you will have to leave home, and your husband will not let you go.'” Smith recalled that “the death struggle commenced” but the victory ultimately was hers: “All that man-fearing spirit was taken away, and my heart was overflowing with perfect love that was so unspeakable and full of glory.” (58) Smith later traveled throughout ten states and Canada as a member of the first evangelistic team of the Church of God (Anderson).


Sarah Lankford, Phoebe Palmer’s sister, advised a correspondent: “Get the blessing of holiness, and it will be a gift of power.” (59)


Wesleyan/Holiness women testified to the fact that empowerment accompanied the experience of holiness. Their ministries demonstrated the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they effectively challenged the ethic of domesticity which sought to confine them within the walls of their homes. Armed with the gift of power, women overcame the “man-fearing spirit,” and moved outside their homes, refusing to limit their ministries to their immediate families. Christian feminists’ discussions of empowerment can be enhanced by the awareness of their foremothers in the Wesleyan/Holiness Movement who relied on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to minister as evangelists and social reformers. Their lives provide a usable past to inspire their daughters as they articulate a theology of empowerment that will enable them to fulfill their calling in the world today. (60)



1. Amanda Berry Smith, An Autobiography, The Story of the Lord’s Dealings with Mrs. Amanda Smith the Colored Evangelist, with an Introduction by J. M. Thoburn (Chicago: Meyer & Brother, Publishers, 1893), p. vi. Amanda Smith’s (1837-1915) ministry extended to England, India and Africa.


2. Byron J. Rees, Hulda, The Pentecostal Prophetess or a Sketch of the Life and Triumph of Mrs. Hulda A. Rees, Together with Seventeen of Her Sermons (Philadelphia: Christian Standard Col, Ltd., 1898), p. 20. Hulda Rees (1855-1898) was a Quaker preacher who conducted evangelistic campaigns along with her husband, Seth Rees.


3. Lynn N. Rhodes, Co-creating: A Feminist Vision of Ministry (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1987), p. 54.


4. Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel and Jürgen Moltmann, “Becoming Human in the New Community,” in The Community of Women and Men in the Church: The Sheffield Report, ed. Constance F. Parvey (Philadelphia: Fortress Press. [1983]), pp. 29ff.


5. Nancy A. Hardesty stated the connection between sanctification and power in her discussion of Holiness women in her dissertation. “‘Your Daughters Shall Prophesy’: Revivalism and Feminism in the Age of Finney” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1976), pp. 55, 78. Another author to recognize the relationship is William L. Andrews who edited the autobiographies of Holiness evangelists Jarena Lee, Zilpha Elaw and Julia Foote: “We cannot understand the special sense of empowerment that Lee, Elaw, and Foote discovered in Christianity unless we examine the idea of ‘sanctification.'” Sisters of the Spirit (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), p. 14.


6. Rosemary Keller, “The Transformed Life in Jesus Christ: Toward a Feminist Perspective in the Wesleyan Tradition,” in Wesleyan Theology Today: A Bicentennial Theological Consultation, ed. Theodore Runyon (Nashville: Kingswood Books, 1985), pp. 197, 200.


Keller’s article appeared along with eight other papers in the section entitled “Constructing a Feminist Theology in the Wesleyan Tradition.” Several contributors mentioned the Holy Spirit and empowerment yet none pursued the doctrine of sanctification and its relationship to power.


My work parallels Keller’s approach in that theological reflection results from a study of women’s lives rather than a survey of holiness theological treatises. James McClendon advocates this approach to exploring theology in Biography as Theology(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1974).


7. Randy Maddox, “Wesleyan Theology and the Christian Feminist Critique,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 22 (Spring 1987): 107. See his article for a systematic comparison of the two theologies.


8. Winthrop S. Hudson, Religion in America (4th ed.; New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987), p. 256.


9. The role of empowerment in the theology of the Wesleyan/Holiness Movement raises several issues. First, did women emphasize power more than men? While my research has focused on the role of empowerment in the lives of Wesleyan/Holiness women, there is evidence that men addressed the doctrine of empowerment as well. John Fletcher observed, “Upon the whole, it is, I think, undeniable, from the first four chapters of the Acts, that a peculiar power of the Spirit is bestowed upon believers under the gospel of Christ.” (John Fletcher, Christian Perfection [Nashville, Tenn.: Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1917], p. 29.) In light of this observation, he advised; “Constantly wait for full ‘power from on high'” (Christian Perfection, p. 83). After his sanctification, B. T. Roberts reported: “I received a power to labor such as I had never possessed before.” (Quoted by Benson Howard Roberts in Benjamin Titus Roberts: A Biography, [North Chili, New York: “The Earnest Christian” Office, 1900], p. 51.) A. M. Hills, a Congregational pastor who later became known as a prominent theologian in the Church of the Nazarene, authored Holiness and Power (Cincinnati: Revivalist Office, 1897). In the preface, Hills speaks of the “doctrine of the instantaneous ‘baptism with the Holy Ghost,’ with its consequent ‘holiness and power'” (Holiness and Power, p. 5). Power obviously accompanies holiness in the theology of this author. Later in the book, Hills lists the enduement of power as one of the results of entire sanctification or holiness and briefly relates the stories of over thirty people (Holiness and Power, pp. 326-343).


The second issue bearing upon the discussion of empowerment has already been introduced with the statement by Hudson contrasting the higher life or Keswick formulation of holiness doctrine with Wesleyan/Holiness theology. Once Hudson’s thesis has been refuted, the next question is how the two groups understood the role of power, not only in terms of power for service but in terms of combating sin in the Christian’s life. The women whose writings were consulted for this article focused on power for service rather than the role of power in rooting out sin or keeping the sinful nature under control.


Last, did many in the Wesleyan/Holiness Movement abandon the doctrine of empowerment along with other Pentecostal language when the Pentecostal Movement emerged in the twentieth century?


Each of these questions, while outside the scope of this article, deserves further investigation.


10. Charles Edward White, The Beauty of Holiness: Phoebe Palmer As Theologian, Revivalist, Feminist, and Humanitarian (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Francis Asbury Press of Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), p. 128. Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874) was a Methodist Episcopal laywoman whose evangelistic efforts resulted in approximately 25,000 conversions. White documents the pivotal role of Palmer in the Wesleyan/Holiness Movement in his biography.


To test White’s statement a survey of Four Years in the Old World (New York: Foster & Palmer, Jr., 1865) reveals Palmer used power 38 times and mentions purity or cleansing six times. In The Promise of the Father (Boston: Henry V. Degen, 1859; reprint ed., Salem, Ohio, Schmul Publishers, n.d.), Palmer uses power 90 times and purity or cleansing 21 times.


11. Palmer, Promise, p. 206; Four Years, p. 33.


12. Guide to Holiness, 64 (1873):24 quoted in Beauty of Holiness, p. 286.


13. White, Beauty of Holiness, p. 122.


14. Palmer, Four Years, p. 151. See also Phoebe Palmer, ed., Pioneer Experiences or, the Gift of Power Received by Faith (New York: W. C. Palmer, Jr., 1868), p. xi.


15. [Phoebe or Walter Palmer], “The Doctrine of Sanctification and Woman’s Work,” Guide to Holiness, March 1879, p. 85. Alma White, “Woman’s Chains,” Woman’s Chains, Jan.-Feb. 1924, p.4.


16. “The Doctrine of Sanctification and Woman’s Work,” p. 85.


17. Palmer, Four Years, pp. 96, 122, 127; Palmer, Promise of the Father, pp. 257-8.


18. Frances Willard, “Work of the W.C.T.U.,” in Women’s Work in America, ed. Annie Nathan Meyer (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1981; reprint ed., New York: Arno Press, 1972), p. 408.


19. Annie Wittenmyer, History of the Woman’s Temperance Crusade (Philadelphia: Office of the Christian Woman, 1878), p. 771. Annie Wittenmyer (1827-1900) served as the first president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. She also wrote a holiness tract, “The Valley of Blessing.” Charles E. Jones, Perfectionist Persuasion: The Holiness Movement and American Methodism, 1867-1936. ATLA Monograph Series, no. 5 (Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press Inc., 1974), p. 38.


20. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins (New York: Crossroad, 1983), pp. 184-5.


21. See Susie Cunningham Stanley, “Alma White: Holiness Preacher with a Feminist Message” (Ph.D. dissertation, Iliff School of Theology/University of Denver, 1987), pp. 305-321 for a brief overview of the work of Wesleyan/Holiness exegetes in documenting the prominent role of women in the New Testament. B. T. Roberts voiced the consensus:


“In the New Testament church, woman, as well as man, filled the office of Apostle, Prophet, Deacon or Preacher, and Pastor. There is not the slightest evidence that he functions of any of these offices, when filled by a woman, were different from what they were when filled by a man. Woman took a part in governing the Apostolic church.” (B. T. Roberts, Ordaining Women [Rochester, N.Y.: Earnest Christian Publishing House, 1891], p. 159.)

Rosemary Radford Ruether also discusses prophetic versus priestly traditions in Sexism and Godtalk: Toward a Feminist Theology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1983), pp. 194-9.


22. Moltmann-Wendel and Moltmann, in Sheffield, p. 41. Moltmann summarized briefly the transition from prophetic to priestly authority in the early church: “The church quite early in its history tied the Holy Spirit to the successive holders of the episcopal office, especially in the old doctrine of the monarchical episcopate” (p. 41).


The decline of women ministers in the Wesleyan/Holiness movement can be attributed to this same sociological process. As churches became institutionalized, leaders de-emphasized prophetic authority.


23. Wheatley, The Life and Letters of Mrs. Phoebe Palmer (New York: W. C. Palmer, Publisher, 1881; reprint ed., New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1984), pp. 631-632.


24. Letty Russell, Household of Freedom: Authority in Feminist Theology(Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1987), p. 23.


25. Rhodes, Co-Creating, pp. 26-27.


26. Ibid., p. 46.


27. Palmer, Promise, p. vi.


28. Ibid., p. 75.


29. Julia A. J. Foote, A Brand Plucked form the Fire (Cleveland, Ohio: By the Author, 1879), p. 112. Undaunted by the refusal of the African Methodist Episcopal Church to ordain her, Julia Foote (1823-1900) conducted evangelistic campaigns from Massachusetts to Ohio and up into Canada.


30. Mary Cole, Trials and Triumphs of Faith (Anderson, Ind.: Gospel Trumpet Company, 1914), p. 191. Mary Cole (1853-1940) was an evangelist in the Church of God (Anderson). She also worked for ten years in the slum district of Chicago.


31. Sarah Smith, Life Sketches of Mother Sarah Smith (Anderson, Ind.: Gospel Trumpet Company, 1901), p. 55. Sarah Smith (1822-1908) led a holiness band in Ohio before affiliating in 1882 with what is now the Church of God (Anderson).


32. Ibid., p. 17.


33. Alma White, The Story of My Life and Pillar of Fire (5 vols.; Zarephath, N.J.: Pillar of Fire, 1935-1943), 1:364. Alma White (1862-1946) began her ministerial career as an evangelist in Colorado. She founded the Pentecostal Union (now the Pillar of Fire Church) in 1901 and served as its first bishop. See Stanley, “Alma White” for further information.


34. Rachel Wild Peterson, The Long Lost Rachel Wild or, Seeking of Diamonds in the Rough: Her Experience in the Slums of Denver (Denver: Reed Publishing Co., 1905), p. 264. Rachel Peterson (1860-?) was a gospel worker in Denver. Working independently and with holiness missions, she conducted street meetings and visited jails and hospitals. She ministered to alcoholics and prostitutes, often taking them into her home.


35. Wheatley, Life and Letters, p. 614.


36. Palmer, Promise, p. 248.


37. White, Beauty of Holiness, pp. 64-5, 224.


38. Hynson, To Reform the Nation (Grand Rapids: Francis Asbury Press of Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), p.12.


39. Ibid., p. 59.


40. Ibid., p. 119.


41. Ibid., p. 28.


42. Alma White, The New Testament Church (Zarephath, N.J.: Pillar of Fire, 1929), p. 74.


43. Jennie Fowler Willing, “Amounting to Something,” Guide to Holiness, May 1893, p. 140. Jennie Fowler Willing (1834-1916) was a licensed local preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church in Illinois until the Church recalled all women’s licenses in 1880. She advocated temperance and other reforms. In 1895, she established the New York Evangelistic Training School which incorporated settlement work in its ministry. See Joanne Elizabeth C. Brown, “Jennie Fowler Willing (1834-1916): Methodist Churchwoman and Reformer,” (Ph.D. dissertation, Boston University Graduate School, 1983) for more information.


44. Jennie Fowler Willing, “The Women’s Christian Temperance Union,” Guide to Holiness, March 1896, p. 102.


45. Wittenmyer, History of the Crusade, pp. 331, 582.


46. Ibid., p. 106.


47. Ibid., p. 534.


48. Nancy F. Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: “Woman’s Sphere” in New England, 1780-1835 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), p. 98.


49. Ibid., pp. 1-2.


50. Nancy Hardesty, Lucille Sider Dayton, and Donald W. Dayton, “Women in the Holiness Movement: Feminism in the Evangelical Tradition,” in Women of Spirit: Female Leadership in the Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. Rosemary Ruether and Eleanor McLaughlin (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), p. 242. See also Anne C. Loveland, “Domesticity and Religion in the Antebellum Period: The Career of Phoebe Palmer,”Historian, May 1977, pp. 460, 465.


51. Wheatley, Life and Letters, p. 597.


52. Andrews, Sisters of the Spirit, p. 45.


53. Kathleen M. White, “Should Women Have Full Ministerial Responsibilities?” Woman’s Chains, July-August 1944, p. 2; no source given for quotation. Kathleen White was Alma White’s daughter-in-law.


54. Jennie Fowler Willing, “Woman and the Pentecost: Salome,” Guide to Holiness, September 1989, p. 87.


55. Alma White, “Woman and the New Era,” Woman’s Chains, November-December 1940, p. 4.


56. Alma White, “Woman’s Place,” Woman’s Ministry (London: Pillar of Fire [1921]), p. 5.


57. Hardesty, Dayton and Dayton, “Women in the Holiness Movement,” p. 244.


58. Sarah Smith, Life Sketches, p. 16.


59. Wheatley, Life and Letters, p. 67.


Stanley, Susie. Empowered Foremothers: Wesleyan/Holiness Women Speak to Today’s Christian Feminists, Wesleyan Theological Journal, 24 (1989): 103-116.



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