Antoinette Blackwell

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Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell

Brief Biography:

Antoinette Louisa Brown was born in a log cabin in Henrietta, New York on May 20, 1825.  She was the seventh of the ten children of Joseph and Abby (Morse) Brown.  Her father was a farmer.  At the age of three, Antoinette began attending school in the local district.  In 1838 Antoinette began attending the Monroe County Academy and in 1840 she graduated at the age of 15.  After graduation Antoinette began to teach in the local schools before deciding in 1846 the she wanted to attend college.  Her father helped her financially and in 1846 Antoinette was accepted to Oberlin College, the only college in the country that admitted women at the time, into the Literacy course (non-degree) at a third year level.  Antoinette finished this course in 1847 and decided that she wanted to enter the Theology Department.  At the age of eight Antoinette had interest in becoming a minister.  She had been taught about religion in her Liberal Congregationalist family and her grandmother taught her of God's mercy.  By age nine Antoinette was officially accepted into her church.  This religious upbringing was the root of her interest in the Theology Program.  The college resisted but finally admitted her into the program. 

Antoinette endured many hardships while studying due to her being a woman.  She was continually reminded that the Bible did not approve of women speaking in church and she had to get permission to speak in class from her professor.  She also had to get permission from the Theological Literacy Society to present essays.  During her three years in the Theological Department, Antoinette became involved in women's rights, temperance and anti-slavery movements.  Beginning in 1847 at the start of her theological studies, Antoinette gave speeches on both temperance and women's rights.  In 1850 Antoinette finished her theological studies but she was not given a degree.  She was not allowed to graduate and she was not given her license to preach because she was a woman.  Later in 1878 Oberlin gave Antoinette an honorary Master of Arts degree and in 1908 they granted her an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.  After leaving Oberlin, Antoinette lectured and gave speeches on aspects of the reform movement in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New England and New York.  She gave speeches for women's rights and in 1853 she was appointed as a delegate for the World's Temperance Convention in New York City.  There she was shouted at and expelled because she was a woman.  On September 15, 1853 Antoinette Brown was ordained by New York as the pastor for the First Congregational Church in Butler and Savannah.  This made her the first female minister of a recognized denomination in the United States.  November 15th of the same year she officiated at a marriage.  This same year she signed the "Just and Equal Rights of Women," a call and resolutions for the Women's Rights State Convention. 

As Antoinette had been taught of the mercy of God but not of eternal punishment, her exposure to liberal Unitarian theology led her to rethink her beliefs.  After ten months in her parish, Antoinette Brown resigned from the church in Butler claiming poor health.  She returned home briefly to recuperate and then spent the year of 1855 doing volunteer work in the prisons and slums of New York City.  During this time she began writing a series of newspaper articles which were later published in her Shadows of Our Social System (1856).  On January 24, 1856 Antoinette Louisa Brown married Samuel Charles Blackwell at her home in Henrietta.  They had met in 1853 while she was a minister in Butler.  Blackwell was a real estate dealer and hardware salesman as well as an abolitionist.  They had seven children, two dying in infancy.  Of the five surviving children, one became a Methodist minister, two doctors and one an artist and art teacher.  Samuel approved of Antoinette's lecturing and agreed to help look after the children so that she could continue her lecture tours.  Antoinette did not approve of divorce, even if the husband was a drunkard.  She felt that the couple could have legal separation but not divorce and she opposed Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton on this issue in 1860 at the National Woman's Rights Convention.  During her marriage, Antoinette continued to attend conventions of the American Woman Suffrage Association, the National Woman Suffrage Association and in 1888 she was elected as a delegate to a hearing of the International Council of Women. 

She struggled to combine her activist actions and her marriage, but she continued to push for women's equality and their right to vote.  To stay home with her children Antoinette began to write books.  She wrote articles for Woman's Journal and Studies in General Science in 1869, a compilation of essays that she had written throughout a decade.  She wrote The Sexes Throughout Nature in 1875, responding to Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species and The Physical Basis of Immortality in 1876.  By 1881 Antoinette Brown Blackwell was one of few women to be a member in the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  In 1878 she applied to the American Unitarian Association and was accepted as a minister and by 1879 she decided to preach occasionally and continue lecture touring.  Samuel Blackwell died in October of 1901.  In 1902 Antoinette joined the board of directors for the New Jersey Woman Suffrage Association (NJWSA).  She helped establish the All Souls Unitarian Church in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1903 and she served as pastor emeritus from 1908 until her death.  In 1908 the NJWSA asked her to write to President Theodore Roosevelt for him to support the federal suffrage amendment and in 1916 she became the NJWSA president.  On November 2nd, 1920 Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell was one of the few remaining pioneer suffragists who voted in the first nationwide federal election open to women.  She died on November 5th, 1921 in Elizabeth, New Jersey at the age of 96.  She was cremated. 

Brief Bibliography:

Boyer, Paul S.  Antoinette Brown Blackwell (1825-1921).  August 6 2004.  Online.  October 25 2004 <>

Britton, Mary.  Antoinette Brown Blackwell Brochure.  September 2003.  Online.  October 25 2004                 <>

Cody, Loretta.  Antoinette Brown Blackwell.  1999.  Online. October 25 2004 <>

Deutscher, Penelope.  "The Descent of Man and the Evolution of Women," Hypatia 19.2 (Spring 2004): 35-55.  Online.  26 Oct 2004 <>

Encarta.  Antoinette Blackwell.  N.d.  Online.  October 25 2004 <>

Encyclopedia Britannica.  Women in American History:  Blackwell, Antoinette Louisa Brown.  1999.  Online.  October 25 2004 <>

Gring-Pemble, Lisa M.  "Writing Themselves into Consciousness: Creating a Rhetorical Bridge  Between the Public and Private Spheres," Quarterly Journal of Speech 84.1 (1998):  41-61.  Education Centre Library.  America:  History and Life.  Nipissing Library, North Bay, ON.  26 Oct. 2004 <>.

Koymasky, Matt and Andrej.  Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell.  March 14 2004.  Online.  October 25 2004 <>

Macdonald, JoAnn.  Antoinette Brown Blackwell.  1999-2004.  Online.  October 25 2004 <>

National Women's Hall of Fame.  Women of the Hall:  Antoinette Blackwell.  N.d.  Online.  October 25 2004 <>

Rochester Regional Literacy Council.  Western New York Suffragists:  Antoinette Louisa Brown Blackwell.  2000.  Online.  October 25 2004. <>

Social Reformers:  Antoinette Brown Blackwell.  N.d.  Online.  October 25 2004 <>

Unitarianism in America:  Antoinette Brown Blackwell.  N.d.  Online. October 25 2004 <>

Willson, Lawrence.  "Ladies at the Escritoire American Letters III," Hypatia 19.2 (Spring 1991): 303-320.  Online.  26 Oct 2004 <>

Women's Project of New Jersey.  Antoinette Brown Blackwell.  2001.  Online.  October 25 2004. <>

Primary Sources:

Blackwell, Antoinette Louisa Brown.  The Physical Basis for Immortality.  New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1876.

Blackwell, Antoinette Louisa Brown.  The Sexes throughout Nature.  New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1875.

Blackwell, Antoinette Louisa Brown.  Studies in General Science.  New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1869.

Blackwell, Antoinette Louisa Brown.  The Making of the Universe.  Boston, Massachusetts: The Gorham press, 1914.

Blackwell, Antoinette Louisa Brown.  The Philosophy of Individuality.  New York: G.P. Putnam and Son, 1893.

Blackwell, Antoinette Louisa Brown.  The Social Side of Mind and Action.  New York: The Neale Publishing Company, 1915.

Blackwell, Antoinette Louisa Brown.  The Island Neighbors.  New York: Harper & Brothers, 1871.

Blackwell, Antoinette Louisa Brown.  Sea Drift.  New York: J.T. White & Co., 1902.

Secondary Sources:

Crazen, Elizabeth.  Antoinette Brown Blackwell, a Biography.  Old Westbury, New York: Feminist Press, 1983.

Lasser, Carol and Marlene Deahl Merrill.  Friends & Sisters:  Letters Between Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown Blackwell, 1846-93.  Chicago: University of Illinois, 1987

Munson, Elizabeth and Greg Dickinson.  "Hearing Women Speak:  Antoinette Brown Blackwell and the Dilemma of Authority," Journal of Women's History 10.1 (1998): 108-126.  Education Centre Library.  America:  History and Life.  Nipissing Library, North Bay, ON.  26 Oct. 2004 <>.

Available Images

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  APBlackwell.jpg (32249 bytes)Antoinette Blackwell  


Prepared by Rebecca Russell (2004)

Nipissing University
Contact:  Professor Ann-Barbara Graff
Department of English Studies
Last modified: October 12, 2004