DAUGHTERS OF LIGHT by Rebecca Larson


Quaker Women Preaching and Prophesying in the Colonies and Abroad, 1700-1775
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Wonderfully researched and written history of 18th-century Quaker women preachers. Because Quakers held to a doctrine of Christ’s “Inward Light,” which dwelt in all people, women as well as men, were viewed as potential instruments for the divine. As Quakerism became more established in England and America, the informal exhortations of the 17th century gave way to a more permanent network of “public friends” who traveled abroad and preached Quakerism’s message. Women were a part of this spiritual elite, and Larson, who has a doctorate from Harvard, eloquently demonstrates the surprising influence women “ministers” wielded. Larson has narrowed her study to the approximately 1,500 English and American Quaker women in the 18th century who traveled across the Atlantic to preach and help establish Quaker meetings. In an era when few women wrote and only a scant handful were published, these women saw their sermons and tracts reach an eager transatlantic audience. When women scarcely traveled much distance beyond their hometowns, Quaker women with a “concern” for a particular destination journeyed thousands of miles through dangerous conditions to preach before mixed audiences. Believing that they were called of God to preach, they were absent from husbands and young children for years at a stretch. Larson shows that these preaching women were not simply novelties; they exerted real power over the direction of the midcentury Quaker Reformation. When the movement threatened to wax soft in the face of religious toleration and material prosperity, female Friends encouraged a return to the strict tenets of early Quakerism. Women ministers demanded a retrenchment of dress, a renewed commitment to pacifism, and a universal abolitionist stance when such opinions were unfashionable among successful Quakers. And the female reformers won. Largely because of their persistent message, colonial Friends renounced politics and slaveholding, and settled into Quakerism’s now familiar trajectory of quiet activism and social justice. One of the best books ever on women and Quakerism. (25 illustrations)

Pub Date: Aug. 20th, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-43762-2
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999