Friday, June 6, 2014

#19 - Phebe Willets (Mott) (Dodge)- Female Preacher when before Women were Equal - part 1 of 2

Phebe Willets, Female  Preacher Before Women were Equal (part 1/2)
I almost missed this ancestor because I made the mistake of focusing on the male names.
Beginning with my mother's side, the first names go backwards like this: Elizabeth (my grandmother)-Bertha-Marianna-Mary-John-Samuel-Elizabeth-Phebe Willets (Mott) (Dodge). Or, the visual:

Phebe Willets was born in 1699, and died in 1782 in her 83rd year, having lived through the transition from Dutch to English control of New York, the French & Indian War, and dying right before the end of the Revolutionary  War.

She married "late" (in her 30s) Adam Mott (who was much older) and they had 3 children [including my ancestor Elizabeth Mott]. Adam died when her youngest was a toddler. Phebe remarried (Tristam Dodge), he also predeceased her.

Long Island Quakers began meeting before Penn's: about 25 years before William Penn's settlement in Pennsylvania & about 20 years before Burlington, New Jersey in 1657.

By the late 1600s, when Phebe Willets was born, there were more Friends Meetings (Quaker equivalent of churches) in Queens County-which then included some towns also in what is now Nassau County-than Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed or Anglican churches. 

Not only that, but the Quakers exerted influence that was disproportionate to their numbers, and their influence lasted into the early 1800s. 

Quakers were especially noted for recognizing women as equal and valued members. They spearheaded much of what we call Gender Equality. 

From what I have read, the Quaker values, heritage and ways of thinking and behavior, helped give women the strength to organize for female suffrage.   Did you know that at the First Woman's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848, the main organizers were Quakers or former Quaker--except one (Elizabeth Cady Stanton)? [They were: Lucretia Mott, Mary Ann M'Clintock, Jane Hunt=Quakers; Martha Coffin Wright=Quaker,but disowned for marrying out of unity; and the non-Quaker=Elizabeth Cady Stanton].

Women & Preaching
Even today, the recognizable names of ministers and preachers are usually males.  Most denominations don’t recognize women as leaders in the church (called ordination). 

The Society of Friends began differently. Since the beginning of Quakerism in the 1600s, starting with Margaret (Askew) Fell of England  (who wrote the book,“Women’s Speaking Justified: a Scripture-Based Argument for Women’s Ministry”) women in Quakerism were preachers. I guess that set the pace.

"They practiced greater equality for women centuries before most other religious groups--women Quaker ministers and missionaries came to Long Island, and women ministers from Long Island traveled to preach and exhort."(Women in Long Island's Past: A History of Eminent Ladies and Everyday Lives, by Natalie A Naylor).

This, at a time when women didn't vote or even speak in public meetings. And they DID NOT PREACH.

Quakers in the American colonies recognized many “official preachers” (for more, see Daughters of Light by Rebecca Larson, and Strangers & Pilgrims-Female Preaching in America by Catherine A Brekus).
A preacher was distinct from being moved to speak in a typical Quaker meeting where either sex may speak--preachers were specially recognized:

Explanation from Carol Faulkner
Phebe Willets stood out to me because she was recognized by her Long Island Meeting as a preacher. Phebe not only preached, but she traveled and preached. That suggests she was in some kind of demand by other meetings.

Before you think Phebe was speaking about gender equality, think again. All preachers were recognized as having a special gift which was rooted in faith, not in the outcomes of the faith. Gender equality was an outcome of their faith.

"their vindication of women’s right to preach was always secondary to their faith in biblical revelation. 
They were biblical rather than secular feminists and based their claims of female equality on the grounds of scriptural revelation. 
Female preachers were too conservative in their theology for women’s rights activists but too radical to be remembered by evangelicals.”  (Strangers and Pilgrims - Female Preachers in America by Catherine A Brekus)

Phebe Willets, it seems, was one of those women ministers. She expanded her field when she traveled as companion minister with Susanna Morris and Mary Weston in 1752 -1753 to meetings in England.

Knowing Quakerism & a bit of Quaker history, I agree with Larson when she asserts that female freedoms helped to bolster the hand of women involved in the nascent women's rights movements:

From "Daughters of Light" by Rebecca Larson

This post is Part 1 of 2 about her because Phebe will appear in the follwing post for (once again) setting the pace for her fellow Quakers--and they set pace for New York at the time. 

Phebe Willets Mott or Phebe Willets Dodge appears over and over histories of the 1700s, I am so glad I followed this line. I'll have to continue to keep an eye on other my female lines now and then!

from appendix of female preachers "Daughters of Light" by Larson

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