A Tribute to Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford
A worship service and dramatic reading by the Reverend Kathy Duhon
in collaboration with the Reverend Sarah Barber-Braun
Unitarian Universalist Women’s Heritage Society
Presented by the Connecticut Valley District
and the Unitarian Universalist Meeting of South Berkshire
at the General Assembly of the UUA, Rochester, New York, June, 1998
This dramatic reading was written in 1996 and first performed in the fall of that year at a worship service of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Pittsfield, MA, by a group from the new congregation which Kathy was helping to start in Great Barrington, the Unitarian Universalist Meeting of South Berkshire. The reading takes about half an hour and requires two or three meetings/rehearsals to prepare for it. A suggested order of service follows.
Suggested Order of Service
“Man was not made subject to woman, nor should woman be subject to man. Neither men’s rights nor women’s rights should be considered, but human rights,—the rights of each, the rights of all. Men and women rise or fall together.” —Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford
Opening Hymn “The Day Is Dawning,” a Universalist church school song written by Phebe Hanaford sung to the tune, “Tramp, Tramp, ‘Tramp, the Boys are Marching”
To the Sabbath School we come, thinking always, God, of thee,
And the mansions thou’rt preparing far away,
And our hearts are sometimes sad, as the sins of earth we see,
But we’re hoping for the dawn of heaven’s day.
Chorus: Sing, sing, sing, the day is dawning.
Cheer up, scholars, it will come,
And beneath the arch of heav’ n
All the world will yet be blest,
And the earth become once more an Eden-home.
As we study of thy love, blessed Parent up above,
Oft we hope the night of darkness will be o’er;
And the truths we dearly prize, that our very hearts have stirred,
May be spread from sea to sea, and shore to shore.
Cha1ice Lighting: “Take from the past not its ashes but its fire.” —Anonymous
Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford Tribute: A Dramatic Reading
Closing Hymn: “Father! in this Sacred Hour,” written by Caroline Atherton Mason for Phebe Hanaford’s ordination service sung to the tune “Vienna,” # 111 in Singing the Living Tradition
Father! In this sacred hour,
With Thy grace our spirits dower;
Let Thine influence from above
Fill our hearts with light and love.
Lo! Thy waiting handmaid stands,
Asking blessings at Thy hands;
Saying, “Who shall speak for Thee?”
Saying, “Here am I—send me!”
Oh! sustain her, comfort, guide;
Compass her on every side;
Let Thy truth inspire her tongue
Ministering Thy flock among.
Clothed with thine own power and might,
Make her earnest for the Right;
Strong to do and brave to bear,
Ever watching unto prayer.
So her ministry shall be
Owned and blessed, dear Lord, of Thee;
Souls be given her, and Thy name
Have the glory and acclaim.
“A Universalist, your heart cannot but dilate, and your affections widen, until the divine expansion, like the ambient atmosphere, embraces every form, which is acted upon by an immortal spirit.” — Judith Sargent Murray
Characters in the order of their appearance
Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford (1829-1921)
Joseph Hibbard Hanaford, Phebe’s husband (1819- 1907)
Howard Alcott Hanaford, her son (1849-1907)
Florence Elizabeth Hanaford, her daughter (1854-1902)
Ellen E. Miles, her friend and companion (1838-1914)
Maria Hanaford, Phebe’s great-granddaughter
Staging Notes: The narrator will be at the podium to the far right and next to the narrator, a musician who plays short phrases with simple melodies for transitions between scenes. The narrator goes to the podium and remains there, standing for the entire reading. The center of the presentation area has three straight chairs, plus a rocker placed a little forward and to the left. Just before the reading begins, Phebe sits in the rocker, while Joseph, Howard, and Florence are seated in the three straight chairs.
The narrator begins the monologue and pauses when Joseph, Howard, and Florence are first mentioned, allowing them to rise slightly in acknowledgment. As the narrator concludes the introductory talk, Phebe and Joseph stand up to do their dialogue, the musician playing a few notes of transition. As their dialogue concludes, they freeze, and the narrator completes the scene. The musician plays while Joseph sits down and Howard stands up. Then the narrator begins the next scene. The same procedure happens for Florence’s scene. At the end of the narration of that scene, all three characters walk to the left where they have seats waiting for them off to the side.
Then Phebe does her monologue, sitting in her rocking chair, holding a pad of paper, and writing with a quill pen. During the musical interlude after this scene, Ellen, the Reporter, and Maria walk on to sit in the three chairs next to Phebe. Ellen has a cane and comes on slowly. She sits closest to Phebe, her chair having been pulled up toward the rocker. The characters follow the same method for entering and exiting scenes as in the first three dialogues, but all the scenes are done sitting down, with Phebe in the rocker and the others trading in and out of the seat next to Phebe. To take notes, the reporter has a pad of paper that also has the reporter’s questions on it. At the end, the musician plays a slightly longer tune (suggestion: a soulful freedom song), and everyone, including the narrator, exits to the left.
Costumes: Long black skirts or dresses for the women, suits for the men, except for Howard, who has a collegiate-style sweater. Joseph might keep a hat to his breast. Phebe has a wig, preferably with ringlets. Ellen and Phebe have shawls. Ellen has a cane.
Narrator: Good evening (or morning, as the case may be). We are here to present to you a dramatic interpretation of the history of an outstanding early Universalist minister, Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford. The authors have endeavored to present an accurate portrayal of Phebe’s life, wherever possible using the authentic words of the people involved, from such sources as letters, articles, and books from the period.
Phebe Ann Coffin was born in 1829 in Nantucket, Massachusetts. She was a descendent of the pilot of the Mayflower. Born into a Quaker family, she was raised to believe in the spiritual equality of men and women and the great value of education. Phebe began reading at the age of three. She took the temperance pledge at age eight and, at thirteen, published her first poem after hearing anti-slavery speakers. At sixteen, she began teaching.’
Phebe married Dr. Joseph Hanaford in 1849, when she was 20 years old. He was ten years older than she and a Calvinist Baptist. They had two children: Howard, born in 1849, and Florence, born in 1854. In 1865, Phebe began attending services at a Universalist church. This is what a conversation between Joseph and Phebe might have sounded like in 1866.2
Phebe: I received a letter from Rev. Foster today. It seems he wants me to declare my religion. He cannot understand why I am associated with the Universalist Church. He is asking me to answer questions about my faith and practices, and he hopes I will give a negative reply.3
Joseph: Frankly, I cannot understand either, Mrs. Hanaford. Rev. Foster just wants to ensure your salvation, and our Baptist church is the right place to do that. He is concerned about you.
Phebe: He is concerned, but I do not believe in his understanding of salvation any more. I do not believe a loving God would punish us in Hell.
Joseph: (voice rising) How can you say that? Are you not fearful of damnation? You are not just disagreeing with Rev. Foster or the Calvinist Baptist faith—your views are completely different from Paul’s doctrine. I do not like having to talk in this strain, but honesty demands it.
Phebe: God does not condemn us. God is loving, and I agree with the Universalists that no loving God would torture us in Hell. Do you think my stepsister and stepbrother who have died are going to Hell? I suppose the people in your church would. I do not. It is a consolation to me to believe that they are with God.
Joseph: We do not know who goes to Hell, but God knows who does not belong with Him in Heaven.
Phebe: Our views are certainly different, and I find yours to be infuriating. Maybe Rev. Foster is right, though. He is challenging me to decide, and so I will. I am leaving your Baptist church. And since I am no longer as comfortable with the Quaker faith I grew up in, I suppose I am truly a Universalist. They talk sense there, and they give women a voice.
Joseph: Mrs. Hanaford, you will surely split this family in pieces. This is not right. Think of how you did so well teaching Baptist Sunday School. You even wrote The Best of Books and Its History from those successful lectures. And you should think about the children. They need their church.
Phebe: The children are my great joy, and I do think about them. Florence and I have both already joined the Association of Liberal Ladies for Benevolent and Useful Work at the Reading Universalist Church.4 I want the children to know a loving God, not a punishing one. Yes, I really do need to leave the Baptist church, and so do they.
Joseph: We obviously have diverse views on salvation and on the woman question. You believe that anyone can go to Heaven and that women can say anything they choose. This disrespect of the church and of society, and of me as your husband, very much saddens me. I suffer more than you know. (turns away)
Phebe: Perhaps we do have “irreparable conflict.” If I leave, you will not have to suffer so. (turns away)
Joseph: (turns back) No, Phebe, please do not leave! We can work this out as a family.
Narrator: In 1870, when Phebe accepted a call to the Universalist church in New Haven, Connecticut, she and Joseph did separate, but they remained in contact for many years.
Narrator: It’s 1871, and Phebe is talking to her son Howard, who is home from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.
Phebe: (standing) Howard, I am glad to hear that you are considering the ministry. I just wish you would give Universalism a chance. I know I came to it later in life, but it has been a constant joy for me. In Universalism, there is a serene atmosphere of faith and hope but also the encouragement of deeds of usefulness and benevolence.
Howard: Oh, Mother, you are preaching to me again. Congregationalism is so similar. I wonder if I have inherited my commitment to ministry from you. Anyway, I do not know any other men who follow in their mother’s footsteps for their career—that ought to please you.
Phebe: Yes, I am pleased, son. At least it will be easier for you as a man. Lately, I have been having a difficult time in the Connecticut legislature. I was so proud to become the first woman in the world, as far as I know, to be a chaplain for a legislative body, but that is a group of all men, who are not all of them ready to have a woman lead them in prayer. I do not know if I will stay. Maybe just one more year.5
Howard: Mother, I do not know how you do it all. Maybe it would be better to let that kind of frustrating work go so that you can do more writing and lecturing.
Phebe: The writing is going well. They will publish my new book, The Life of Charles Dickens, this month.6 I do love biography. It is the personal side of history. But I do not know if I will ever exceed the success that my Abraham Lincoln book had. What I would really love to do is to write about important women, but I cannot imagine who would publish such a book.
Howard: I believe that if anyone can do it, it is you. When I finish seminary, and I am prepared for ordination, I think we should surprise a few people and have you do part of the service. After all, you are certainly my idea of an important woman.
Phebe: Thank you, son. Just remember to pray and stay away from cider or wine.7
Howard: Yes, mother.
Narrator: Howard did go on to be ordained, and Phebe offered the ordaining prayer. Later, she was the first woman to exchange pulpits with her own son. One of her most significant books, the one she desired to write about important women, was published in 1876. It was titled Women of the Century and later revised as Daughters of America.
Narrator: Now it’s 1876, and Phebe’s daughter Florence is to marry Thomas E. Warner, with Phebe performing the ceremony. The talk the night before between Phebe and Florence may have sounded like this:
Florence: (standing) Mother, I am so pleased that you will be doing the ceremony.
Phebe: (also standing) I do hope Thomas’s family is as liberal-minded as he. Some would object to a woman minister, especially in a wedding service.
Florence: Do not worry, Mother. People are finally beginning to understand that women are equal. Your new book about the important women of the century will help to educate people, and very soon we will have the right to vote.
Phebe: We must keep our hope, but now it is time for us to rejoin the dinner. I am so proud of you, and we will have the most beautiful wedding tomorrow.
Florence: Thank you, Mother.
Narrator: Phebe did officiate at her daughter’s wedding, a first. But women were not allowed to vote in the United States until 1920, the year before Phebe’s death, nearly 45 years later.
Narrator: By 1890, Phebe has retired from the active parish ministry and is spending more of her time in writing and organizational work. She takes a leading role in numerous clubs, including SOROSIS, an organization for women journalists, and she is quite active in the women’s suffrage movement. Phebe is one of the key women working with Elizabeth Cady Stanton on The Woman’s Bible. Here is Phebe’s letter to Mrs. Stanton.
Phebe: (sitting with writing pad and quill pen) “Dear Mrs. Stanton: — I believe, as you said in your birthday address, that ‘women ought to demand that the Canon law, the Mosaic code, the Scriptures, prayer-books and liturgies be purged of all invidious distinctions of sex, of all false teaching as to woman’s origin, character and destiny.’ I believe that the Bible needs explanation and comment on many statements therein which tend to degrade woman. Christ taught the equality of the sexes, and Paul said: ‘There is neither male nor female; ye are all one in Christ Jesus.’ Hence I welcome The Woman’s Bible as needed commentary in regard to woman’s position.”9
Narrator: The year is 1914, and Ellen Miles, Phebe’s longtime companion and co-worker in ministry, is dying. Phebe is in her eighties, and they still live together in New York City. Phebe affectionately refers to Ellen as “Nellie.”
Phebe: (sitting) Nellie, how will I go on? You have been my inspiration, my great friend and my steady companion all these years. (puts hand on Ellen’s shoulder)
Ellen: Dearest Phebe! And you have had so much death these last few years. We have said farewell to our friends Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. It does not seem that there are many of us left, does it?
Phebe: No, all the struggles we have been through together, all the work, and still so much is unfinished. How could we still not have the vote?
Ellen: Phebe, I will be gone soon, but we have had a good life together these 44 years. Not many married couples have been happy together so long.
Phebe: (takes Ellen’s hand) You have been my best friend and my constant love. Our companionship has been like that of David and Jonathan in the Bible. Remember, David said, “I grieve for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”°
Ellen: Phebe, let us think of the good life we have shared. Do you remember when we got away to the mountains and had that lovely retreat?
Phebe: Oh, yes! We had no difficulties then—that was a great rest and renewal.
Ellen: I remember the poem you wrote for me. It touches my heart more than David’s words. Could you read it to me now? I love it.
Phebe: Of course, dear.
To Ellen Miles
Friend of my later years, whose tender love
Has filled my home with blossoms, sweet though late,
Whose noble heart my spirit must approve,
As Duty’s path thou tread’st with willing feet:
Thy welcome service, at Love’s bidding mine,
As these my rhythmic waifs are gathered now,
Calls for a grateful tribute, and I twine
This simple wreath, dear Nellie, for thy brow.
Soul-sister! may the waiting years for thee
Pour out a largess of such holy joy
That earth shall seem the porch of heaven to be,
And songs of praise thy tuneful lips employ!
Then, while eternal years shall onward roll,
Still may we share Love’s summer of the soul!
Narrator: The poem was published as a dedicatory sonnet at the beginning of Phebe’s book, From Shore to Shore, published in 1870. Ellen died in 1914, and her newspaper obituary read: “. . .she [Phebe] and Miss Miles formed a very intimate personal friendship which continued without interruption so long as Miss Miles lived. She was a woman of exceedingly kindly nature, conscientious in her life, strong in her friendships, and inflexible in her sense of duty.” Perhaps Phebe wrote the obituary. After Phebe’s death, a testimony was read honoring their relationship at the fall meeting of SOROSIS, the women’s journalist society.
Narrator: Phebe is celebrating her 89th birthday with a gathering of friends. During the festivities, she talks to a reporter about her life. This is a reconstruction of the conversation between Phebe and the reporter who wrote about the event.’2
Reporter: (sitting) Rev. Hanaford, tell us about being the first woman minister in New England.
Phebe: I am proud of the fact that I was the first woman preacher, and I also regret the fact. There should have been women preachers before my time. It was not hard for me to feel equal to men in church because that is the way I was raised in the Nantucket Society of Friends where we all had equal voice.
Reporter: What do you feel is one of the most important things you have done?
Phebe: My work since retiring from the ministry has been mostly devoted to changing the laws so women have the right to vote. We do not have it yet as a nation, but at least New York has finally let women vote. So, I rode nine miles on bumpy roads just to vote. Voting was certainly one of the most important things I have ever done. I have written much in my life, but the importance of The Women’s Bible, to which I contributed, for women’s spirituality, was truly monumental.
Reporter: You wrote 14 books. Which gave you the most pride?
Phebe: I am proud of many of the books. Certainly Women of the Century: Daughters of America was my strongest contribution. But I am also very pleased by the book on George Peabody. I sent it to Queen Victoria, and she sent back a letter of appreciation. I am just as proud of some of my lesser-known work that was not as celebrated, such as the poetry and articles I have written. For example, I wrote an article about Joanna Quiner, a woman sculptor from Beverly, that did honor to her art, and that makes us all proud as women.’3
Reporter: Tell us about some of the unusual things you have done as a woman.
Phebe: Being able to officiate in the marriage of my daughter and participate in the ordination of my son were both very unusual—the first times for a woman that either has happened. I was involved in a very unusual activity for a woman—I served on a jury. And it was an all-woman jury for a woman who was being tried. I believe she was one of the few women to get a truly fair trial.
Reporter: You have known many important people. They say you knew President Theodore Roosevelt.
Phebe: I once visited with him in his home when he was governor. We had a difference of opinion, and I would not shake his hand, but he was a big teddy bear and took both of my hands.
Reporter: What are you doing these days? Do you miss being a minister?
Phebe: I would not take another pastorate, but my ministry continues. I might preach again. I am working to have some books printed again. I still have some contributions to make to this world. But right now, my granddaughter will be upset if I don’t let you good folks have some birthday cake and refreshments.
Narrator: Soon after this, Phebe moved from Pleasant Hill Farm in Basom, New York, to live with her granddaughter, Dionis Warner Santee, in Rochester, New York.
Narrator: It’s 1919, just two years before Phebe’s death, and she is talking with her great-granddaughter, Maria.
Maria: (sitting) Grandmother, I cannot believe you are 90 years old! You are entering another decade!
Phebe: It has been a long life, dear, and such a busy one. I found it very, very quiet on the farm, after life in New York City, and all the places I have been, and all the groups I have belonged to and friends I have had. In Rochester, I still feel forlorn and lonely.
Maria: I remember when you wrote to me that you did not like being “out of the world in the bushes.” When are you ever going to be a regular grandmother and settle down quietly?’4
Phebe: Well, I have certainly never been quiet my whole life. They used to say my voice was as big as my father’s, and he could be heard above the waves; he was the one they counted on to shout out the warnings for the ships. I guess my voice is big because I have been warning people too, all my life. Free the slaves, let women vote. Takes a big voice to be heard sometimes, you know. But a gentle voice, too. And a careful wit! I miss being involved in the struggle and the work, and I do miss the companionship.
Maria: I know, Grandmother, but now is your time to rest.
Phebe: I am grateful that you are concerned about my comfort and happiness. But you should not rest, dear. There is still so much to be done!
Maria: Yes, Grandmother, I know.
Narrator: Phebe died at the age of 92 on July 2, 1921. She is buried in Orleans Cemetery, near Rochester, New York. Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford was an important leader and minister in our religious tradition and remains an inspiration to us today.
1. Phebe Ann Coffm Hanaford Papers, Nantucket Historical Association.
2. Letter of Joseph Hanaford, PACH Papers, NHA.
3. Foster letter, PACH Papers, NHA.
4. Records of the Universalist Church of Reading, MA.
5. PACH letter to Howard, PACH Papers, NHA.
6 Catherine F Hitchings, “Universalist and Unitarian Women Ministers,” Journal of the Universalist Historical Society, X, (1975), 81.
7.PACH letter to Howard, PACH Papers, NHA. Phebe took the temperance pledge and served as a temperance chaplain in Nantucket and Beverly.
8. Florence’s marriage certificate, Jersey City, NJ.
9. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Woman’s Bible. The Original Feminist Attack on the Bible  (New York: Arno and the New York Times, 1974), appendix.
10.° Ellen Miles obituary, Waltham Daily Free Press Tribune, March 23, 1914.
11. Ibid. From Shore to Shore by Phebe A. Hanaford (Boston: B. B. Russell, 1871).
12. undated clipping from a Rochester, NY, newspaper. PACH Papers, NHA.
13. PACH, “Joanna Quiner, A Biographical Sketch,” Essex Institute Historical Collections (Salem, MA: The Essex Institute), xii, 35-45. In 1860, Joanna Quiner did a bust of Phebe which is now owned by the Beverly, MA, Historical Society.
14 PACH letter to Maria, privately owned.
Notes on the Authors
Kathy Duhon and Sarah Barber-Braun met in the fall of 1995 at the New England Gathering of the Unitarian Universalist Association. The combination of their shared interest in women’s history, Sarah’s passion for Phebe Hanaford, and Kathy’s interest in writing brought them together in collaboration for this project.
Sarah has done a great deal of research and collected primary materials on the life and ministry of Phebe Hanaford. Finding a means for sharing that information brought forth the idea of a dramatic reading, appropriate for worship services as well as for women’s history workshops and other settings.
The Reverend Kathy Duhon serves the Unitarian Universalist Meeting of South Berkshire. She received her Master of Arts in Theological Ethics in 1985 and her Master of Divinity in 1996, both from Andover Newton Theological School. Kathy was ordained in April, 1998. She currently writes for First Days Record.
The Reverend Sarah Barber-Braun is a 1947 graduate of Radcliffe College and a 1984 graduate of the Thomas Starr King School for the Ministry. She has devoted sixteen years of independent scholarship to the life and work of Phebe Hanaford and, since 1995, has had access to papers held by Hanaford’s great- great granddaughters. A founding member of the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Heritage Society, she serves as chair of its Continental Council. She is also Feminisms Section Chair of Collegium, the association of liberal religious scholars. Sarah is consulting minister of the First Universalist Church of Southold, New York.