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The Contribution of Women in Early Pentecostalism.
By Des Cartwright, Greenock, Scotland

A paper given at the Society for Pentecostal Studies Conference, Gaithersburg, Maryland November 15th 1985.

Modern Pentecostalism arose out of several streams of thought that were brought on tap during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Though its taproot goes back to the New Testament it drew its inspiration from several different sources. The Holiness Movement, 1 both in Britain and in the USA, helped many to think on the deeper aspects of Christian experience. The language that the advocates of holiness began increasingly to use, and in particular their use of the phrase “ the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” helped to provide the vocabulary for emerging Pentecostalism.

There was an increasing interest shown in miraculous healing in answer to prayer and the laying on of hands. This was seen in the ministry or Dr A .J. Gordon, Dr William Gentry, 2 John Alexander Dowie, 3 and Dr A. B.Simpson.4 Many of those who were associated with Dowie’s Zion work joined the new Pentecostal groups. So also did many from the Christian and Missionary Alliance work of A. B. Simpson.5

There was also a greatly increased interest in the subject of Revival. This was particularly noticeable following the Welsh Revival of 1904-05. All of these factors have been examined in recent years and their relative importance has been assessed. In addition, the diverse subjects and disciplines of history, linguistics and sociology have been called upon to explain the Pentecostal phenomena. Social deprivation and psychological hang-ups or even racial tension have been offered as explanations of the most remarkable and rapid increase in the growth of the Christian Church that has taken place. There may be some truth in some of these explanations, but for those who are guided by Scripture, “ Suddenly from heaven” offers a better answer.

There seems to be one area that has escaped attention and that is the very important and significant part that women have played at key points in the early history of Pentecostalism. It is to this area that I now turn.

This present study is not offered as an essay in Feminism, for which I have neither the qualifications nor the space. What I want to do is to record, in an exploratory way, the hitherto unnoticed, but critically important part that women played in the early history of Pentecostalism. In that history, women played formative roles both as protagonists and antagonists. Women like Mrs Jessie Penn-Lewis, author of War on the Saints (1912), and Ada Habershom, author of The Strong Man Spoiled were some of the strongest opponents of Pentecostalism.

In the past revival movements, some women played their part (as for example in the Salvation Army or amongst the Methodists).6/7 In this their role was largely supportive. In Pentecostalism in the early period it appears to me that it went much further. My research seems to indicate that women were an integral part of the narrative and that without them we might speculate that the Pentecostal revival might never have taken place. Pentecostalism might glory in the fact that it had no “ Founding Father” (a debatable point), but it did have many nursing mothers who kept it alive in its infant years.

All that I am doing here is relating the sequence of events and what amounts to an almost prophetic succession whereby the gift of the Spirit fell upon one after another. In an almost unbroken line it is possible to trace this story. At most of the critical points, women played a significant part.

As far as the Early Church was concerned, women played a more important part in the life of the Church than have generally been supposed. They may not have been Apostles (though some would contend that Junia of Romans 16:7 was one such, though the evidence is not convincing) but they were certainly used in the area of prophecy. Phillip had three daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9). The church at Caesarea must have been quite a lively place.

In the partnership of Priscilla (or Prisca), the lady was perhaps the most important member. She is usually placed first (Acts 18:8, Romans 16:3, 2 Timothy 4:9). The revisers of the Western Text found it necessary to change the order and thus a number of respectable commentators can speak of the “ anti-feminism” tendency of the Western Text.8

Montanism, at least in its earliest form, at the middle of the second century, gave more than a little place to the prophetical ministry of women. Two of its three “ pillars” were women. Prisca and Maximilla were two of its most important members in the early period. The disapprobation of the movement because of the prominence these women were given is undeserved. Modern studies have tended to see the movement in a more favourable light.9

During the outbreak of speaking in tongues that occurred in the West of Scotland in the nineteenth century and subsequently in London, women were the first to experience glossolalia. Mary Campbell (Mrs W. R. Caird) spoke in tongues near Gairloch on the Clyde a few miles from Glasgow. On the other side of the river at Port Glasgow, the brothers, James and George McDonald were also convinced that the miraculous gifts had been restored to the Church. George, however, did express the strong conviction:

It is manifest from Scripture that no female can possess the power of imparting the gifts of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands; it is in the highest office of the Church, belonging exclusively to apostles, and one of their signs. The man as the head of the woman exclusively possesses the gift, to manifest his superiority: the gift of prophecy is next in order, and to this the woman is called.

He went on to declare:

I could seek no plainer proof of the devil’s work that any female presuming to speak of imparting gifts by the laying on of hands.10

The first appearance of these gifts in London was in a private house during a time of prayer for the General Assembly. Again it was a lady, Emily Cardale who was involved. At first things were confined to house prayer meetings, but after a short time, Edward Irving, in whose congregation they occurred, permitted them to be brought out into the open.

The first manifestations had taken place in the home of John Bate Cardale and Mrs Cardale had been the first one to speak in tongues. She had accompanied her husband during a three-week visit to the West of Scotland. At the time most of the party were Anglicans. Shortly after the first manifestation, a similar incident took place at the breakfast table in Edward Irving’s home at 13 Judd Place (opposite the present entrance to Euston Station). The speaker was Miss Emily Cardale, who David Brown described as, “ a sweet, modest young lady.”11

These manifestations were confined to the early Morning Prayer meetings or to other small gatherings for a time but at the morning service on Sunday, October 16th 1831, Miss Hall, governess in the family of Spencer Percival, eldest son of the late Prime Minister, was so overcome during the service that she hurried into one of the side rooms of the church. She could be clearly heard in the body of the church as she burst forth in a torrent of tongues. It caused considerable excitement in the services that were very crowded at the time. In the afternoon Irving stated that he could no longer forbid speaking in tongues in the church. In the evening there were several manifestations. Within a short time Regent Square Church was once again the talk of the town.

Women were to play only a very minor part in the subsequent development of the Catholic Apostolic Church. Edward Irving’s life might have been very different if he had taken more notice of some of the women in his circle rather than giving so much attention to those prominent laymen who eventually turned that body in another direction. It is one of those “ ifs” of history. What would have happened if he had married Jane Walsh rather than Isabella Martin? In 1834, Jane said that if they had married there would have been no tongues. If iron sharpens iron, then the marriage of Edward Irving and Jane Walsh would have produced more than a few sparks; would it not have lit a fire in Jane also?

The first person to speak in tongues in connection with the present day Pentecostal outpouring was thirty-year old Agnes N. Ozman who was a student at Charles F. Parham’s Bible School in “ Stone’s Folly” mansion, Topeka, Kansas. This was the first day of the new century (though there are some problems with the various accounts).12 The newspapers of the period expressed some interest, but they soon found things of greater importance and the matter of speaking in tongues was dropped from public interest for a few years until it was revived again in the events surrounding the Azusa Street outpouring in April 1906.

During the summer of 1905, Charles Parham held a series of meetings in Houston, Texas. Amongst those who were attracted to these meetings were two people who were to play an important part in the spread of the Pentecostal message. The first was a thirty-five year old black man, William Joseph Seymour. The other was Lucy Farrow, leader of a small holiness mission. Seymour joined the Bible School that Parham began in December 1905. During the daytime the two men went out preaching in the streets of the city. When Parham went to Kansas on a preaching mission he took Lucy Farrow with him and she looked after his children. During their absence, William Joseph Seymour took charge of her Holiness Mission.

During the Fall of 1905, Neely Terry, a visitor from Los Angeles was staying in Houston. She visited Lucy Farrow’s Mission and was favourably impressed by its temporary leader, William Seymour. When she returned to Los Angeles, she told some of her friends about him. Julia W. Hutchins led these friends and they were members of the second Baptist Church. A small group led by Mrs Hutchins was forced to leave the Baptist Church for accepting and propagating holiness teaching. This was early in 1905. They sought fellowship with a few others from time to time and during the summer months they held tent meetings. With the onset of the colder weather, they had to move indoors and they found accommodation in the home of Richard and Ruth Asbury at 214 North Bonnie Brae Street.

The house in Bonnie Brae Street became crowded and a small mission at 9th and Santa Fe was taken over. Julia Hutchins led this. As the work showed every sign of growing they began to look round for a regular pastor. It was at this point that Neely Terry remembered William Seymour and they sent him money for the train fare inviting him to preach for them. In Houston Charles Parham also gave him money to help him on the four-day journey.

En route to Los Angeles, Seymour stopped off at Denver, Colorado, at the home that was run by Alma White, leader of the Pillar of Fire work. Four years later, Mrs White wrote “ Demons and Tongues,” which contained a hostile and totally undeserved caricature of Seymour. Her husband, Kent White, joined the Pentecostals and was baptized in the Holy Spirit on July 7th 1910.1313 He joined the Apostolic Faith Church in Bournemouth and spent the next few years in Canada and the United States.

Mrs White continued her opposition to Pentecostalism and there were some interesting words exchanged in the English press when Aimee McPherson was in Britain at the same time as Mrs White.

When Seymour arrived in Los Angeles in February 1906, he began his ministry in the Santa Fe Mission. The found that his ministry very acceptable until he began to preach from Acts 2:4. He again identified the experience of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues (as he had been taught by Charles Parham). That was too much for Mrs Hutchins and the next time he came along to preach he found the door had been padlocked. Not only was the preaching place closed, but also Seymour was without accommodation.

Edward Lee, janitor of a bank on 7th and Spring, opened his home for William Joseph Seymour. Lee had been seeking for the baptism of the Holy Spirit for some time. During the period that Seymour was staying with them, Ed Lee had a vision in which he saw the apostles, Peter and John, and heard them speak in tongues. When the vision was at an end, Lee was shaking all over. In the meantime, the group who had been turned out of the mission by Mrs Hutchins returned to the Asbery home at 214 North Bonnie Brae Street. One evening, Seymour laid hands on Ed Lee that he might receive the Spirit; the only response was that Lee fell into a trance which caused his wife considerable alarm. She calls an abrupt end to the proceedings.

It was at this time that Seymour got in touch with Lucy Farrow and J A Warren who were in Huston. He sent the train fare and asked them to come and help him in the work in Los Angeles. Mrs Farrow’s ability for inducing or encouraging ‘ glossolalia’ was well known (she had spoken in tongues in the Parham home for the first time).14

The next significant date was Monday April 9th. Ed Lee was ill and he asked Seymour to lay hands on him and pray for his recovery. Seymour laid hands on him and he was healed. Lee asked Seymour to lay hands on him again that he might receive the Spirit. Seymour did as he was asked (though at the time he did not have the experience himself).15 and Ed Lee burst forth in tongues. It was 6 p.m. The two men walked the short distance to the Asbury home where the regular prayer meeting was held at 7.30.

Seymour took charge of the meeting and after a number had prayed and a few had given testimonies, Seymour began to speak. Once again he took his text from Acts 2. He was now able to tell them what had taken place a short time before. Ed Lee started to give his testimony, when suddenly; lifting up his hands in the air he burst forth once more in a torrent of tongues. This drove the entire company to their knees. Seated at the piano Jennie Evans Moore also fell to her knees. She also found herself, together with half a dozen others, speaking in tongues.

Jennie Evans Moore had been a member of Joseph Smale’s New Testament Church. Smale had visited Wales during the Welsh Revival and on his return to the First Baptist Church in Los Angeles he helped to encourage an expectation of revival. Some of the more enthusiastic members soon left along with Smale and founded the New Testament Church. Jennie Evans Moore lived in her own home at 217 North Bonnie Brae Street. She was the first woman to speak in tongues in Los Angeles. On May 13th 1908 she married William Joseph Seymour. Ed Lee performed the ceremony.

Meetings were transferred to the former African Methodist Episcopal Church at 312 Azusa Street. During the next few days as they were renovating the lumber store the first convert was recorded. One of the women who were cleaning the building had one of the workmen down on his knees and he was soundly converted before the place was opened.

On Easter Sunday morning (April 15th) Jennie Evans Moore took the Asbery’s to Smale’s church. After the sermon, when Smale invited testimonies. Jennie took the floor and told the congregation what had taken place in the Asbery home and in Azusa Street. She then spoke in tongues and the awed congregation heard Ruth Asbery give the interpretation.

On Tuesday a reporter from the Los Angeles Times visited Azusa Street. On the following day the paper carried the report of this visit. The same paper led with a report of the San Francisco earthquake that resulted in the death of 10,000 people.

On Thursday, Frank Bartleman was in Peniel Hall where the building was shaken by a further tremor. Within a short time Azusa Street was crowded. Sometimes there were up to 800 inside with a further 400-500 outside. Many of the most influential workers who were associated with Azusa Street were women. Florence Crawford, Clara Lum, Rachel Sizelove and others.

Workers from Azusa Street went out to all parts of the United States and missionaries sailed to the four corners of the globe.

The first Apostolic Faith magazine of September 1906, and subsequent issues, helped to carry the message far and wide. The first issue was read in New York by the English-born Norwegian Methodist minister, Thomas Ball Barratt, who was in America collecting funds to support his City Mission in Christiania (Oslo). He had been in America since November 1905. The visit was not a financial success. After reading the paper Barratt wrote to the leaders of the Azusa Street work and Mrs Ida May Throop signed the first letter of reply. Subsequent letters encouraged him to seek a deeper experience.

Barratt had made up his mind to return to Europe but was persuaded to stay in New York. He was introduced to some of those who had been in the Azusa Street meetings and who were en route to Africa on missionary service. One of the ladies introduced him to her friend Miss Maud Williams (Mrs Haycroft) who had been baptised in the Spirit in Canada.16 This lady was holding meetings at 250, 14th Street, New York. Barratt went to her meeting for the first time on November 15th. It was at that meeting that he spoke in tongues for the first time. The group were given notice to quit on the following day. They moved on to 40th Street between 8th and 9th.

Also present was another Methodist preacher, Robert Brown. He stayed in New York where together with his wife Maria (nee Burgess) they went on to establish Glad Tidings Hall. Robert died in 1948 but Marie lived on until she was 90 and she remained active in the work of God to the end.

T. B Barratt returned to Norway in December 1906. The Holy Spirit was outpoured in a spectacular way in his assembly and considerable interest and the Christian press showed not a little opposition. Amongst those who showed a great interest was English Anglican minister, Alexander A Boddy of Sunderland. Boddy visited Norway and he invited Barratt to come to England and hold meetings in his church.17

The meetings in Sunderland began on the last day of August 1907. During a period of seven weeks seventeen were baptised in the Holy Spirit. We do not know all of their names but most of those that have been recorded were women. These included Boddy’s two daughters, Nary and Jane and his wife Mary.18

It is interesting to note the smallness of the numbers. It is also worth noting that Mrs Boddy was absent for the first ten days of Barratt’s visit. She came into her Pentecostal experience on September 11th. Her Husband did not receive until after Barratt had gone home. Before long Mrs Boddy was laying hands on men and women and many of them received a Pentecostal experience as a result.

Two of these were to play a very important part in Pentecostal history.

The Experience of Smith Wigglesworth is described in a letter that Alexander Boddy wrote to T B Barratt on October 29th 1907:

A prominent worker from Bradford mightily baptized today. Glory! Mrs Boddy laid hands on him here at the vicarage19.

G R Polman from Holland testified:

On 4th June 1908, while in Sunderland at the Pentecostal Conference, I myself received the baptism of the Holy Spirit while dear Pastor and Mrs Boddy laid hands on me.20

In Britain, the first person to speak in tongues was Mrs Catherine S Price, wife of a London Bank Manager.21 This was in January 1907, many months before Barratt arrived. A number of other women occupied important places in the early history of British Pentecostalism. Mrs Eleanor Crisp and Mrs Lydia Walshaw were well known workers. Mrs Margaret Cantel, daughter of Mr Fielding, one of Dowie’s elders from Zion City, opened a home in Highbury New Park, London in 1912. It was at this home that many Pentecostal visitors and missionaries found a haven.22

In the group of churches to which I belong (The Elim Pentecostal Church founded by George Jeffreys in 1915) women were included as full members from the beginning in the Elim Evangelistic Band.23 They included Margaret Montgomery Streight, a lady with a very remarkable gift of the word of knowledge, and Adelaide Henderson who later became Missionary Secretary for the Elim Church. However, a few years later, when new Rules were introduced and many of the ministers were ordained again, none of the ladies were ordained though those who remained still exercised their duties as ministers in charge of churches. They were permitted to conduct weddings, funerals and baptismal services if a suitable male substitute could not be found!

Later still when other rules were introduced, the ministers wife was not even permitted to sit on the platform unless she was taking part in the meeting.

Pentecostalism had gone a long way in a short time, but many of the women were given fewer places than they deserved. In the beginning men and women were given equal status. At the start Pentecostalism was multi-racial, cross-cultural and both men and women were allowed to develop their full potential through the Spirit. The full potential of Pentecostalism (and its glory) is to be seen not in the narrowness of its structures but in its freedom and flexibility.

Though I have spoken selectively of the role of a limited number of women in early Pentecostalism, I believe that a number of tentative conclusions may be drawn.

In the beginning women were actors rather than reactors. They were particularly successful in helping others into a Pentecostal experience. In Pentecostalism women found release for natural and emotional needs that had been suppressed in most traditional churches. God-given gifts were allowed to develop their full potential.

As the emerging groups developed their organisational structures, women were given a lesser role. Behind the scenes some of them continued to exert considerable influence but in public at least, they assumed a more submissive position. Thus Pentecostalism lost one of its special features: It has yet to be restored.

End Notes
1 Vinson Synan, The Holiness Pentecostal Movement in the United States, Eerdmans, 1971. Jack Ford, In the Steps of John Wesley, Nazarene Publishing House, Kansas City, 1968.

2 The Word, Edited by Dr William Gentry, Chicago, Vol. 1, 1899-Vol.15 No.12, December 1913.
Gentry practised as a physician until July 1896. He set up a Healing Home. There are interesting references to meeting places in this neglected periodical. The name “ Assemblies of God” is used in early issues. The writer has found no references to this periodical but some are in private hands in the U.K.

3 Phillip Lee Cook, Zion City, Illinois: Twentieth-Century Utopia, University of Colorado PhD. 1965. [Syracuse University Press, 1996]. Gordon Lindsay, John Alexander Dowie. Christ For the Nations Dallas, Texas, 2nd ed. 1980. See also, Leaves of Healing, Vol. 1-18. Chicago, John Alexander Dowie, 1894-1902. Zion City: Zion Publishing House, 1903.

4 A B Simpson, The Four-Fold Gospel, Alliance Press, New York, 1890.

5 Robert Mapes Anderson, Vision of the Disinherited, Oxford University Press, 1979, p.172, etc.

6/7 G Elsie Harrison, Son to Susanna, Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1937. Maldwyn Edwards, Family Circle, Epworth Press, 1949,pp.46-86. Leslie F Church, More About Early Methodist People, Epworth Press, “ Women Preachers,” pp.136-176.

8 C S C Williams, Alterations to the Text of the Synoptic Gospels and Acts, Blackwell, Oxford, 1951, pp.54-82. See also; New Testament Criticism; Its Significance for Exegesis, Essays in honour of Bruce Metzger, Ed. Eldon Jay Epp and Gordon D Fee, Oxford, 1981. Bruce M Metzger et. el. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, UBS, 1971. Notes on Acts 17: 12; 18:26.

9 Maurice Barnett, The Living Flame, Epworth Press, London, 1953.

10Robert Norton, Memoirs of James and George MacDonald, London, 1840, pp.230-231.

11David Brown. “Personal Reminiscences of Edward Irving” in The Expositor, Third Series, Vol. vi (1888) pp.216-228; 257-273. Brown was Irving’s assistant in London between 1830 and 1833. Later in life he became the Principal of the Free Church College, Aberdeen. Another little noticed account is given in John Hare’s, Regent Square: Eighty Years of a London Congregation, Revised Edition, James Nisbet, London, 1899.

12 Agnes Ozman, “ Where the Latter Rain Fell,” The First one to Speak in Tongues, The Latter Rain Evangel, Chicago, Vol. 1. No. 4, p.2. January 1909. At the time that she wrote the article Miss Ozman was working as a “Missionary” at the Gospel Tabernacle, Lincoln, Nebraska.

13 Kent White, The Word of God Coming Again, Winton, Bournemouth, 1919.

14 Douglas Nelson gives the best account. For Such a Time as This: The Story of Bishop William Joseph Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival. A Search for Pentecostal/Charismatic Roots. Birmingham Ph. D. May 1981, p. 363. See EPTA Bulletin lV, No.1 1985, pp.13-16. For all its merits, Nelson sometimes fails to give credit to others in his desire to reinstate Seymour. He ignores the interview with Mac E Jonas in Vinson Synan’s, Aspects of Pentecostal Charismatic Origins, Logos, 1975, p.134. If Seymour did not speak in tongues until after April 12th, then Lucy Farrow may well have more to do with this than in commonly supposed. See Frank Bartleman, Azusa Street, Logos, 1980, p.62.

15 Apostolic Faith, December 1906, p.1. This says that two workers came before Seymour received and Lucy Farrow is singled out as having received earlier.

16 T B Barratt, When the Fire Fell; An outline of my life, Oslo, 1927, pp.135-136. Elim Evangel, London, Vol. LX, No.1, January 1928, p.10. Apostolic Faith, December 1906, p.3.

17 Martin Robinson, The Charismatic Anglican: A Comparison of the Life and Work of Alexander A Boddy (1854-1930) and Michael C Harper, Birmingham Ph. D. 1976.

18 Charles Clark Pioneers of Revival (8). When the Fire Fell in Sunderland, Renewal 29 Oct./Nov., 1970, pp., 20-25. Apostolic Faith, No. 11, October 1907/Jan., 1908, p.1.
19 Boddy to Barratt. Original in Oslo University in Barratt’s Journal. See Elim Evangel, 64. No.3. January 15th, 1983, p.6.
20 Gerrit Polman, Pentecost in Holland, Latter Rain Evangel, February 1910, p.5.

21 Desmond Cartwright, Echoes from the Past, Elim Evangel, January 8th 1983,p.6. Text of a lecture given at the European Theological Conference in Leuven, Belgium. “ From the Back Streets of Brixton to the Royal Albert Hall: British Pentecostalism, 1907-1928”.

22 The Overcoming Life, Ed. Harry E Cantel, Islington. Vol.1. No. 1. January 1909. Vol. 2. No. 7. July 1910. Harry Eugene Cantel died on August 21st 1910 aged 44. Confidence, Sunderland, September 1910, pp.204-207. No. 73 Highbury New Park was opened on October 2nd 1912. It was here that Donald Gee went to his first Pentecostal meeting. He was baptised in the Spirit in the same place. Donald Gee, The Pentecostal Movement, 1941, p.88-93. At the home Gee wrote in the Visitors’ Book, “ Here I received my Pentecost.”

23 Desmond Cartwright, The Great Evangelists: The Lives of George and Stephen Jeffreys, Marshall Pickering, Basingstoke, 1986.