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Antoinette Brown

Clergywoman / Activist

Born: 20 May 1825
Died: 5 November 1921
Birthplace: Henrietta, New York
Best known as: The first clergywoman in the United States
Antoinette Brown was ordained to the Christian ministry in 1853 as pastor of the Congregational Church of South Butler, New York, thus becoming the first clergywoman in United States history. Encouraged by her mother to pursue a childhood call to the ministry, "Nettie" Brown faced constant obstacles: Ohio's Oberlin College grudgingly admitted her to religious studies and refused her a degree; a Methodist clergyman presided at her ordination when Congregationalist ministers wouldn't. She left the South Butler church in less than a year. Before and after ordination, she was a prominent public speaker and activist for women's rights and against slavery and drinking. She earned headlines in Horace Greeley's New York Tribune in 1853 when a male-dominated national temperance convention expelled her for trying to speak. After a long period devoted to family and to writing books on philosophy and science, she became a minister in the American Unitarian Association in 1878 and in 1879 resumed lecturing and occasional preaching. She organized and briefly led a Unitarian congregation in Elizabeth, New Jersey, in 1903.
Extra credit: She married Samuel Blackwell in 1856. They had seven children, five of whom survived infancy... Her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Blackwell, was the first woman to earn a medical degree.

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