“as a little girl preaching alone in the forest…to a congregation of listening trees.”
~Anna Howard Shaw
What a profound statement. These are the words that a twenty-three year old Anna Howard Shaw spoke to Dr. Peck when he invited her to give her first sermon. The success of this led her down the path to preaching. In 1880, Shaw became the first woman in America to be ordained in the Methodist Protestant Church.
Though Shaw known best for her role in the Woman’s Suffrage Movement achieved many successful accomplishments, but her path was as many women who became the first in anything in history was a long hard struggle.
As a little girl Anna recalled the vivid memory of her mothers reaction upon arriving in the newly opened West. Her father an established businessman in New England wanted the freedom and the land given to those willing to settle in the west. Sending his wife and children on to their new home in Michigan, a young Anna remembered the excitement her mother had thinking she would enjoy a luxurious Victorian style farmhouse like the one she had while living in the established East. The sad reality remained in Anna’s memory upon the family arriving at the log cabin. Her mother found the bare rugged one room cabin nestled deep in a wooded area, forty miles from anything. As she opened the door and stepped inside she dropped to her knees and sobbed. The stricken emotion remained with her mother forever. The children plowed fields, planted crops and worked from sun up to sun down. Anna often took laborious jobs like digging ditches and wells just to help out financially. Anna blamed her father for his selfish act and the emotional suffering of her mother. Anna took a teaching job to help supplement the financial burden of the family at age fifteen.
Through her years of teaching Anna wanted nothing more than to go to college. Her family frowned on her chosen career path of preaching and refused any financial help for an education. She was given an option, give up preaching or go to college. Not willing to give in she went hungry and cold living in attics and working to pay her own way through Albion College.
Women were given options to do only one thing in their life. They didn’t have the luxury of variety or seeking a self supported life. After graduating from Albion College Anna went on to Boston University and in 1886 received her M.D.. During her college years she became an advocate on political rights for women, a very outspoken one at that.
She rallied, debated, lectured and lobbied for women’s rights. Two years after graduating from Boston University she attended her first meeting of the International Council of Women and met Susan B. Anthony who encourage her to join the National Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Holding a key position in the association she encouraged the merge between NAWSA and the AWSA (American Women’s Suffrage Association). The merging of the two associations created a unified suffrage movement.
Rev. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw died July 2,1919 at the age of seventy-two. A few months before congress ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.
She never married and portrayed with great tenacity that women did have a variety of options and experience a self sufficient life. Upon her death she was a Methodist Minister, a medical doctor and a suffragist.
Teresa L. Watts
Historical Author discovering amazing women in US History, one gal a time.