Women of the South

Women of the South
Created by Dorothy Emerson and Janet Bowering,
Unitarian Universalist Women’s Heritage Society Worship Service
General Assembly 2000, Nashville, Tennessee

Opening Words:Frances Ellen Watkins. Unitarian (1825-1911)
We come, but not to celebrate,
Amid the flight and whirl of years,
The deeds of heroes, on whose brows
Are laurels, drenched with blood and tears.
Not yet to tell of wondrous deeds
Performed on fields of bloodless strife;
But of the lonely precious things,
That bless and beautify our life. (1)

Chalice Lighting
We light our chalice today in honor of women of the South who showed great courage in bringing the good news of Unitarianism and Universalism wherever their life paths led. We would do well to do likewise.

Please join in the chalice lighting words—the motto of the Unitarian
Universalist Women’s Heritage Society—which you will find printed in your program:
The flame of our heritage lights the way to our future.

Opening Hymn: Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Unitarian (1911)
The author of the words of our opening hymn and our opening and closing words is Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Frances grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, a free African American born in 1825 when slavery was not only legal but very much the practice. Although orphaned at age 3, she was raised by her uncle in an articulate and well-respected family.

Early on she realized that her personal survival and well-being was
inextricably linked with that of the larger society. She believed that confrontation, not silence, was the way to mental, if not physical, health. When the Fugitive Slave Law put her in danger of being captured and taken into slavery, she began her career as a lecturer for the Maine Anti-Slavery Society.

A member of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, Frances Harper became not only the most popular African American writer of the 19th century, but also one of the most important women in United States history.
Let’s sing her “Songs for the People.” (2)

Reading: Athalla Lizzie Johnson Irwin, Universalist (1862-1915J
Athalia Lizzie Johnson from, daughter of a Baptist minister, was born in 1862 in Eldorado, Arkansas. When she moved to Columbia, South Carolina, after her marriage, she became friends with the circuit-riding Universalist minister, the Rev. Quillen Shinn. This friendship changed her life. Not only did she convert to Universalism, she became a minister and circuit rider herself, traveling through the South and serving churches in Pensacola, Florida, and Little Rock, Arkansas, and later in Riverside, California, where she moved to be near her daughter.

She writes about her conversion to Universalism in a poem entitled “From Gethsemane to Heaven.” Here are excerpts from that poem.
I. Gethsemane [Written in 1898 between twelve and one o’clock at night on the day of the author’s self-ordered release from membership in the Baptist church, because of her desire to be honest to herself and the church.]
Misdeed, was it, to tear myself away
From faith no longer mine? How could I stay?
What care you now for heaven or for hell,
So long as conscience tells you all is well?..

II. Heaven [Nearly five years later, on the day of her ordination to the Universalist ministry.]
Upon thy holy altar consecrated now,
In meekness and in love, I humbly bow.
Interpreter of life I fain would be,
And all things are possible to Thee.(3)

For our service today, we have invited a few women from the past to speak to us of their faith and work and the importance of liberal religion in their lives. We’ll begin with Universalist women. Our first guest is Julia Kent Outlaw, from the eastern part of North Carolina.

Julia Kent Outlaw (1824-1894)
I am Julia Outlaw and I have spent my life sharing my belief in the good news of Universalism wherever I could gather a group to hear it. My husband Bryan is a farmer, and we had six children. When we lived in Duplin County, North Carolina, at the crossroads known as Outlaws’ Bridge, I started a Sunday School with fourteen pupils. This was in 1869, and the terrible war between the states had only been over for a scant five years. If ever people needed to hear that there was a loving God, it was then. The land was devastated, and we had little left in the way of goods or household possessions–and food was mainly what we could grow for ourselves. But I had my faith to share and “it was wonderful to see the children’s faces light up when I could clear the mist from any passage of scripture.”

Many of our neighbors, especially those in the Baptist church, disagreed with my teaching. They told the children that they always were opposed to fishing and hunting on Sundays, but that they would much prefer to have them engage in that than to attend Mrs. Outlaw’s Sunday School!

However, success crowned our efforts, and our little school grew until we had sixty members. At least 100 have been connected with it over the years, and eventually I know a church will be founded there. If only we could have regular preaching, Universalism would spread its message of hope and love throughout the area.

We have had help in the form of gifts—between 60 and 70 dollars worth— from church friends up north and words of encouragement for all of our work. I have always felt that my teaching of the young women in particular had to remind them of their own worth as persons and encourage them to get the best education possible.

I have reminded them even as I grew older that they needed to have choices. I told them to think ahead. It would be easy to see that their brothers would inherit the farm, and then, if they didn’t marry, they would have nothing to call their own. I told them, “You could live out your life like a hired hand on your family’s home farm. But you get yourself an education, and you’ll have some choices!” And you know, a gracious number of them did. The girls from my Sunday School, they went to college, and they became teachers. Yes—I taught them, and they gave of their own gifts in return.

Narrator/Host: To Julia Kent Outlaw we say:
Response: Thank you for inspiring and empowering us to seek and follow our common call.

Narrator/Host: Now let me introduce to you Hannah Jewett Powell, who lived and worked for many yeas in the western part of North Carolina.

Hannah Jewett Powell (1866-194
I am the Rev. Hannah Jewett Powell. I was born in 1866 in a lumber camp in
Clinton, Maine. We were very poor, but I was determined to get an education and
become a minister. I managed to attend Colby College and the divinity school at
Tufts College and was ordained to the Universalist ministry in 1899 in Waterville,

For the next 22 years I served a number of small parishes in Maine. Then, in 1912, I was appointed by the Women’s National Missionary Association to work in the mountains of North Carolina, in a place called Inman’s Chapel. It was isolated and beautiful, and the people were proud and a bit wary of strangers from “up north.”

But they were eager to have Universalism preached again in their small church, which James Anderson Inman had built in 1868 with his own hands. Though poor in material goods, they welcomed my ideas for night school classes for adults and an eight-week summer school. Within three years I had persuaded the Universalist women’s national organization that it would be a great blessing to have a real house near the chapel for our activities as well as a dwelling for the minister. And so we built Friendly House, a modern, seven-room bungalow with a large room over the garage for dances, socials, lectures, and even movies! We had classes in woodworking, sewing, weaving, health, and home care.

Friendly House became a true center of community with many people sharing their skills and helping with the upkeep. I found another source of help on my visits to Universalist churches in the eastern part of North Carolina. There were an unusually large number of young women who were school teachers— thanks in part to the advice of Aunt Julia Outlaw. I persuaded many of them to spend several weeks during their summer vacations in our beautiful mountain valley, helping with our summer programs.

In addition, we opened a dispensary in a quaint old log cabin up the hill from the house. It was equipped as a first aid station and there were regular visits by a registered nurse. And so we had the means to care for people, body, mind, and soul.

I have been richly blessed. I was fifty-five years old when I found my great challenge here in North Carolina, and I have had twenty fruitful years in this place.

Let me end with a story. When I first came here, “Uncle Ballou,” one of Father Inman’s sons, confronted me with a list of scriptural texts against women preaching. I sat down and made another list which at least evened things up. When Uncle Ballou came to die—though he had not been a follower—he said, “Turn my body over to the undertaker. The rest of me I leave to God and Miss Powell. She will know what to do with it.”

Narrator/Host: To Hannah Jewett Powell we say:
Response: Thank you for inspiring and empowering us to seek and follow our common call.

Narrator/Host: Let us welcome Annie Bissell Jordan Willis, who joins us now from Virginia.

Annie Bissell Jordan Willis (1893-1977)
My name is Annie Willis, but I was born Annie B. Jordan. My father, Joseph Fletcher Jordan, was a convert to Universalism after hearing Rev. Quillen Shinn preach. My father had a year of training at the Theological School at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, and was ordained a minister in March 1904.

Then in April, we came to Suffolk, Virginia, where a school for Negro children had been established by Universalists in 1894 and a church in 1891. Both were in need of strong leadership, and my father preached in the church and taught in the school. My mother Mary and I helped in the school, which had only a few pupils when we came there.

My father started publishing a weekly paper, “The Colored Universalist,” and we all set to work at expanding and improving the school. (The building had been constructed and dedicated in 1897.)

By 1913 there were 218 pupils and four teachers. There were grades one through eight, and we later added a ninth grade, since there was no high school that black pupils could attend. My mother and I were both teachers, along with two and sometimes three others. The church, too, was growing slowly, and we had a Sunday School of 52 pupils.

Then in 1916, my mother died, and I tried to be even more support for my father. The General Sunday School Association of the Universalist Church took over funding for the school and raised $1050 for us, but that didn’t go very far, for we now had 300 students, and the building was filled over capacity.

It was a busy time and we knew we were doing much-needed good work. I knew each pupil by name. We started each day with a song and prayer, and I could generally tell why a student was absent—often due to working in the field at peanut harvesting time, for most depended on the nearby Planter’s Peanut factory to provide jobs and to buy their crops.

In 1929 my father died, and I became principal, working with four other teachers. The school was renamed Jordan’s School. But I couldn’t keep the church going too, without my father, and so it closed in 1930. Soon after, the denomination had to cut our funding because of the great depression—but we never turned a child away even when they could no longer pay the five-cents-a-week fees. And we didn’t let them go hungry either. Somehow we managed so that they each had at least a glass of milk and a sandwich at noon.

In 1939 the school became a social work project with a kindergarten and a prenatal and well-baby clinic, plus clubs for older children and a Parents’ League and counseling services.

We no longer taught the eight grades, for by the end of World War II, public schools were more open to black children. But we saw so much work still to do. Education was to be their defense in a world that was not very welcoming. We at Jordan had a reputation which meant that the Suffolk police declared that juvenile crime was low in our area because of the influence of our school. After all, by now we had served three generations in the community.

We had sent out into the world: trauma surgeon, L.D. Britt; Suffolk’s vice mayor, Moses Riddick; Circuit Court Deputy Clerk, Eula Williams; and teachers, lawyers, beauticians, electricians, and preachers. Our school gave them a solid sense of who they were. I loved them—everyone—and I think they knew it. I have been so lucky in my life work.

Narrator/Host: To Annie B. Willis we say:
Response: Thank you for inspiring and empowering us to seek and follow our common call.

Narrator/Host: And now let me introduce Mary Slaughter Scott from Alabama.

Mary Slaughter Scott (1900-1973)
I am Mary Slaughter Scott. I was born in the year 1900 in Camp Hill, a small town in the southeast part of Alabama. I was christened Mary Frances Slaughter, at Liberty Universalist Church in Camp Hill, a congregation founded in 1846 by my great- grandparents. They had come there from Georgia, and their Universalist heritage was probably from the Liberty Universalist Church of Feasterville, South Carolina, one of our earliest churches, founded in 1777. My parents were farmers, as were most of the church members.

When I was growing up, Camp Hill was the largest Universalist church in the South. I remember that we had over two hundred in the church school. I was an active part of that church, and I probably would have become a Universalist minister had I been born thirty years earlier or later.
As it was, I attended Judson College in Alabama, taught school for a year, then prepared at Tufts College to be a Religious Education Director, and then at St. Lawrence to be a “Minister’s Assistant.”

I worked for a year as Director of Religious Education at the Universalist Church in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and then to my great joy became a Field Worker for the Universalist General Sunday School Association. In that position I traveled all over the country helping local churches with their religious education programs. I especially enjoyed it when I was able to visit our churches in the South, but my work covered all parts of the country.

It was difficult in some places to convince people that the church’s program for young people was important. Many congregations had built lovely sanctuaries and parish halls, but had made no provision for children’s classrooms. In Wausau, Wisconsin, I observed that “the grownups had built themselves a beautiful church.” Soon after my visit they added a wing for religious education!

I’m grateful for the opportunity to help spread Universalism, especially to young people.

Narrator/Host: To Mary Slaughter Scott we say:
Response: Thank you for inspiring and empowering us to seek and follow our common call.

Narrator/Host These are just a few of the women who have given life to Universalism in the South. We celebrate these and all Universalist women who’ve gone before us to show us the way to live our religion wherever our life paths may lead.

Song ”The One’s Who’ve Gone Before Us,” by Done Elizey Blesoff ©1975 or “We Are Dancing Sarah’s Circle,” Singing the Living Tradition #212

Also with us today are Unitarian women who will share with us their stories of life in the South and how their faith led them to their life’s work. Let me introduce to you Laura Matilda Towne from South Carolina.

Laurie Matilda Towne (182-1901)
I am Laura Matilda Towne. Although I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I consider myself a Southerner, because I have lived here most of my life. My family were members of the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia and I was inspired by the Rev. William Henry Furness to become an abolitionist.

Near the beginning of the Civil War, Northern forces blockaded the Confederate coast and captured Port Royal Sound. The wealthy cotton growers abandoned their lands and the people they had held as slaves. In a project known as the Port Royal Experiment, Northern doctors and teachers were called to the Sea Islands to help them create new lives as free men and women. I was thirty-six years old when I arrived in the spring of 1862, and I never left, except for occasional visits to the North.

In the Fall of 1862, my dear friend and life-long companion, Ellen Murray, arrived, and together we established Penn School. A few years later, we bought Frogmore, an abandoned plantation, where we set up our home and where we love to garden and swim in the surf.

St. Helena Island is about fifty-six square miles and supports six thousand inhabitants, mostly African Americans. I began my work here by visiting people in their homes. They were worn down from overwork and being in slavery. Despite their miserable living conditions, they had a strong spirit of life that I knew would help them survive and flourish, now that the chains of slavery were lifted from their necks. My training in homeopathy helped them deal with some of the poor health conditions they suffered.

Once they got the idea of what education could do for them, they were eager to learn and grateful for the opportunity our new school provided them. The school has grown, and in 1870 we began training teachers for service elsewhere on the islands. Many of our own students have become teachers, and we are now teaching the children and grandchildren of our original students.

Some of the white folks who visit us think it’s strange that all our friends here are black, but for us it is the most natural thing in the world. I actually forget these people are black, and it is only when I see them at a distance and cannot recognize their features that I remember it. These are my people now, and St. Helena is my home.

Narrator/Host: To Laura Matilda Towne we say:
Response: Thank you for inspiring and empowering us to seek and follow our common call.

Narrator/Host: Another Northerner who devoted her life to educating people in the South is Abby A. Peterson, who came to live and work in North Carolina after her husband died. Let’s welcome her now.

Abby A. Peterson (1919)
My name is Abby Peterson, the widow of Ellis Peterson who was a teacher and school principal as well as assistant professor at Harvard and, for 27 years, a member of the Board of Supervisors of the Boston Public Schools.

We lived in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, and were active in the Unitarian Church there. I served on the board of The National Alliance of Unitarian and Other Christian Women, and as a result I became interested in the Alliance’s efforts to keep alive the work which we had started—to build churches and schools in isolated sections of eastern North Carolina.

They sent me there in 1900 to help select a site, and as a result of my visit a small chapel was built at Shelter Neck in the “Watha” area of Pender County. It was dedicated November 16, 1900, by Dr. Samuel Eliot of Boston and Mrs. B. Ward Dix, our National Alliance president, from New York City.

Perhaps because of my part in all this, I’ve felt close to Shelter Neck, and when my dear husband died in 1904, I felt that here in North Carolina was a fine place for me to practice my religion and to demonstrate my support for our work and for the people who live here.

I was then just forty-eight years old, and my sons had embarked upon their own ways and lives. Working here at Shelter Neck and at our sister school nearby in Swansboro, I could serve the church which was so important in my life.

I persuaded two young women to come along with me as teachers and together we established a firm footing for the instruction that Ellen Crehore had been doing for the past two years. We eventually developed far more than a basic elementary school for boarding day students.

Students worked in the garden and orchard, took part in musical and dramatic presentations, and gained a practical education. We held an annual Farm Festival with demonstrations on better farming methods and on preserving foods as well as on child health and nutrition.

Whether it was a fruit and vegetable exhibition or an historical pageant or simply clean-up week, people in the surrounding area came to us for leadership and for help, as well as using the school buildings to house the activities. And of course there was our church—the lovely little chapel, the first Unitarian Church built in North Carolina, where we held services regularly, usually with a resident minister.

I have had the role of hospital nurse, physician, housekeeper, and minister, as well as dispensing general advice and acting as listener and confidante. Ours was more than just an academic institution. The Shelter Neck Industrial School was a strong force in the whole area, bringing not only knowledge but wider understanding and a vision of new possibilities to far more people than just our students.

My own life has been very full these last fifteen years and I realize that I was indeed blessed to have the opportunity for such fulfilling work put before me.

Narrator/Host: To Abby A. Peterson we say:
Response: Thank you for inspiring and empowering us to seek and follow our common call.

Narrator/Host: And now, in a somewhat different vein, Lizzie Crozier French joins us from Knoxville, Tennessee. Instead of telling us about her life, she’s going to repeat for us part of what she said back in 1912 to a meeting of the Tennessee Bar Association. As you will recall, this takes place eight years before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution, acknowledging women’s right to vote. Her work for suffrage helped Tennessee become the deciding state to ratify the amendment, in August 1920.

Lizzie Crozier French (1851-1926)
We want to put Tennessee among the progressive states, and one very important factor, gentlemen, is to not alter simply law concerning women, but to take the whole bunch and burn it up, and begin over again!!!

That might be a big task. I don’t believe it is as big as to alter one and then another. For several years I have been studying this subject as President of the Tennessee Federation of Women’s Clubs, which is not unanimously in favor of women’s suffrage, but is in favor of having just laws for women. Delineator Magazine is investigating laws concerning women, and puts Tennessee at the bottom as doing justice to women.

I once had the pleasure of listening to a lecture by Judge Ingersoll before the Ossoli Circle, and he said that the common law of England in regard to married women was equal to the assertion that man and wife were one, and that one was the man. And Blackstone in his Commentaries, says that a mother is entitled to no power, but only to reverence and respect! Tennessee laws agree that a mother has no power….

Now, I want to speak about desertions of wives and children. All our charity organizations have to meet this thing of non-support and desertion. Your laws have protected men by giving them all the property of rich women, but have never protected women and punished men for desertion and non-support. We want mothers made equal guardians of their children. We don’t ask that women shall have more rights; we just ask that they shall be equal.

Now as to the laws about women holding office… . At one time, a notary public was not regarded as one who held an office. I don’t know what you gentlemen think about it, but it looks to me that it is hardly more of an office than washing dishes. A notary public only swears people to an oath, and it seems to me women might do that. But when it was found that notary public was an office, the court decided women could not hold it. Why should not a woman stenographer working in one of your offices be a notary public? Why should they want to deprive her of making that small fee to add to her small income? I leave that to the committee you’re going to appoint to answer, for I have never been able to answer.

And those school laws of 1907! The state of Tennessee—this progressive state that is going to be—puts in a clause that the county boards shall be composed of voters, legalized voters, so women are forbidden to be on boards of education. You are very much surprised that you find that Tennessee’s illiteracy is emormous. It does not surprise me, for a state that will not make use of its educated women to improve its schools will never get out of the bottom of the line of illiteracy. So I wish you would look into that school law, and see that women are allowed on school boards.

I know I am at the end of my time—not at the end of my subject if I had all day to talk to you. But at the end of your patience, I want to speak to you about a law made last year. You know that even a woman’s wages have not been hers, and when she had a bad husband—men are not all perfect—he would get her wages and use them all for drink and she was left without any.

Now our legislature has made a law that any woman who will sign a paper saying that she is dependent upon her labor for the support of herself and her child—and she has to bring in the child—then an employer must p pay her wages to anybody else. They mean her husband, but they are afraid of hurting his feelings. Now see what difficulty that puts a woman in. She has to sign a paper which disgraces her husband. You have contributed a great deal to family disharmony in this state by such a law. Uh, I mean the legislature, not you.

Why shouldn’t a woman’s wages be her own, whether she has to support herself and children or not? We should have a law that a woman’s wages belong to her, and are nobody else’s. Gentlemen, I want you to see that that law is changed.

I have not asked for anything radical. I have simply asked you to appoint a committee that will investigate all these laws, and will recommend to the legislature such legislation that will put Tennessee in the column of those states that are generous and just to women.
I thank you very much for giving me this time. (4)

Narrator/Host: To Lizzie Crozier French we say:
Response: Thank you for inspiring and empowering us to seek and follow our common call.
Narrator/Host: That same spirit of justice drove our final guest to work for civil rights and to protect the environment. Let me introduce to you Verda Elvira Dowdie Home from Alabama.

Verda Elvira Dowdie Home (1905-1987)
I’m Verda Home, originally from Utah but now from Fairhope, Alabama. The blue crab brought me to the South. I fell in love here and this is now my home. After graduating from the University of Utah, I was doing graduate work at the University of Minnesota, when I came to Gulf Shores, Alabama, to study the blue crab. That was where I met my husband.

The three passions of my life are the environment, social justice, and Unitarian Universalism.
I helped found the Alabama Conservancy and Bartram Trails, and I’ve been an active member of the Audubon Society and other environmental preservation groups. I love the woods of Alabama and spend as much time there as possible pursuing my interest in botany and biology.

Being a liberal in my part of the South hasn’t always been easy. That’s why I founded the Unitarian Fellowship in Fairhope in the early 1950’s. I’ve been active in state, regional, and national Unitarian, and later Unitarian Universalist, affairs. I even served on the board of the ULI Service Committee.

I’ve also been active in the League for Women Voters and Common Cause. And I participated in civil rights marches in the 1960s. That participation cost me my job as a biology researcher at the University of South Alabama. But I’m a firm believer that structural changes must be made in our political system in order for environmental and social change to be possible.

As a teacher at a private progressive school in Fairhope, called The School of Organic Education, I’ve been able to share with my students my love of nature and scientific truth. It is my fervent hope to inspire others to continue the work for environmental and social justice.

Narrator/Host: To Verda D. Home we say:
Response: Thank you for inspiring and empowering us to seek and follow our common call.

Narrator/Host: I want to thank all of these women for joining us here today. Your stories inspire us to continue the work you have begun, to hold on when times are tough, and to welcome the future, knowing there is a life to be led, a path to follow.

Today we have met only a few of the notable Unitarian, Universalist, and UU women from the South whose lives inspire and empower us to seek and follow our call. I invite you now to think of other notable UU women from the South and to say aloud their names.

Narrator/Host: To all of you we say:
Response: Thank you for inspiring and empowering us to seek and follow our common call.

CLOSINGSONG—”Look to the Women,” by Ruth Pelham or “Standing Before Us,” by Carole Etzler Eagleheart (available from the UU Women’s Heritage Society)

CLOSING WORDS— Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Unitarian (1825-1911)
Oh, sisters, kind and loving,
When your gifts to me shall tell
Of the hours swiftly passing,
May I learn to use them well.
And write upon them records
For the brighter world above,
Of a life endowed with power,
And transcribed with deeds of love.5

And now, as we extinguish this chalice, this symbol of the common spirit that calls us forward in our lives, may its light go with us to illuminate the path ahead. May the flame of our heritage light the way through whatever present challenges we face that we may truly live lives endowed with power and transcribed with deeds of love.


This service was created by Dorothy Emerson and Janet Bowering, with additional resources provided by Sarah Barber-Braun, Faith Grover Scott, Jean K. Lacey, Frank Laraway, Richard D. Home, Carol Simmons, and the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Heritage Society. Many thanks to all!

For tape and music information about “The Ones Who’ve Gone Before” contact: Dorie Ellzey Blesoff, Phone: 312-816-5299 e-mail: dorie@nullgroupro.com

“Look to the Women” is recorded as “Look to the People” on Under One Sky (Gentle Wind, tape/CD) and Look to the Peoplei (Flying Fish, tape). These recordings may be ordered from Ruth Peiham, P0 Box 6024, Albany, NY 12206, Phone: 518-462-8714

1 Frances Watkins Harper, “For the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the ‘Old Folks’ Home,” Annual Report for the Home for the Aged and Infirm Colored People, 1889, 13-14.
2 Smith Foster, ed., A Brighter Coming Day: A Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Reader (NY:
Feminist Press, 1990), 3-4.
3 Athalia L. J. Irwin, “From Gethsemane to Heaven,” Bouquet of Verses (Privately printed, 1905), 9-14.
4 ‘In Jean K. Lacey, “Mrs. French Speaks to the Tennessee Bar Association,” play performed at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, Aug. 26, 1995.
5 Frances Watkins Harper, “To White Ribbons of Maine Who Gave to Me Their Blessed Gifts,” Christian Recorder, Dec. 15, 1890.