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Re-enactor tells story of advocate for women’s suffrage

September 18, 2010
By EDWARD J. HUNT, The Leader-Herald

GLOVERSVILLE - Members and guests of the First Congregational United Church of Christ on East Fulton Street got a lesson Friday night on Antoinette Brown Blackwell's life and struggles.

Blackwell was the first woman minister ordained in the United Sates and a noted figure in the women's rights movement of the 19th century. She also was a colleague of Susan B. Anthony and Johnstown's Elizabeth Cady Stanton during the suffrage movement.

Brown was portrayed Friday night by historical actor Betty Miller of Henrietta, Monroe County, who was dressed in period costume. Miller has acted in historical and biblical dramas for 42 years, but said she finds Brown Blackwell, who she has portrayed since 1984, to be her favorite persona.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Edward J. Hunt

Betty Miller of Henrietta, Monroe County, portrays Antoinette Brown Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to be ordained as a minister, Friday night at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Gloversville.

"She was quite ahead of her time," Miller said.

She said in the mid-1800s, it was considered "scandalous" and "positively disagreeable" for a woman to speak in public, let alone preach to a congregation.

Brown Blackwell attended Oberlin Collegiate Institute in Ohio, where she studied and graduated from the theology course. Because she was a woman, she was not listed as a graduate of theology in 1850 and not granted a license to preach. To earn a living, she traveled a lecture circuit, speaking of temperance and women's rights and met Anthony and Stanton during this time.

She came to a tiny congregation in South Butler, near Rochester, and impressed with her oratory, and was invited to be the pastor for the congregational church there. She was ordained as a minister Sept. 15, 1853.

Over her lifetime, Brown Blackwell published nine books, covering such topics as gender equality, philosophy, poetry, immortality and human nature.

In 1920, at the age of 95, she was the last of the original leaders of the suffrage movement still alive to vote for the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. She died the next year.

Miller said, "Rev. Brown Blackwell was a thoroughly modern woman for 19th century standards who inspired many women in her day, and even today."

Edward J. Hunt covers rural Fulton County and southern Hamilton County news. He can be reached at



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