Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Reverend Anna H. Shaw 1841 ~ 1919

 


Reverend Anna H. Shaw

Mrs. Anna H. Shaw was born in New Castle-on-Tyne, England, on the fourteenth of February, 1847. Her descent is interesting as illustrating the force of heredity. Her grandmother refused to pay tithes to the Church of England and year after year allowed her goods to be seized and sold for taxes. She sat in the door knitting and denouncing the law while the sale went on in the street. Her granddaughter evidently inherited from that heroic ancestor her sense of the injustice of taxation without representation.

Mrs. Shaw's parents came to America when she was four years old, and after living four years in Massachusetts they moved to the then unsettled part of Michigan where the young girl encountered all the hardships of pioneer life. She was, however, a child of strong individuality and those pioneer days were an inspiration to her. She may be said to have been self-educated, for her schooling consisted in making herself master of every book and paper that fell in her way. At fifteen years of age she began to teach, remaining a teacher for five years. When about twenty-four years old, despite her descent from a family of English Unitarians, she became a convert to Methodism and joined the Methodist Church.

Her ability as a speaker was soon recognized, and in 1873 the District Conference of the Methodist Church in her locality voted unanimously to grant her a local preacher's license. This was renewed annually for eight years. In 1873 she had entered Albion College, Michigan, and in 1875 she entered the theological department of the Boston University, from which she graduated with honor in 1878. She worked her way through college and while in the theological school she was constantly worn with hard work, studying on weekdays and preaching on Sundays. At length when her health was becoming seriously impaired a philanthropic woman offered to pay her the price of a sermon every Sunday during the remainder of her second year if she would omit the preaching and take the day for rest That help was accepted and afterwards when Miss Shaw was earning a salary and wished to return the money she was bidden to pass it on to aid in the education of some other struggling girl, which she did. She often says that when she was preaching those Sundays while in college she never knew whether she would be paid with a bouquet or a greenback.

After graduation she became pastor of a church in East Dennis, on Cape Cod, where she remained seven years. She had been asked there merely to supply their pulpit until they secured a regular minister, but they were so well satisfied that they made no further effort to obtain a pastor and for six years she preached twice every Sunday in her own church in the morning; and in the afternoon in the Congregational Church. During her pastorate in East Dennis she applied to the New England Methodist Episcopal Conference for ordination, but though she passed the best examination of any candidate that year, ordination was refused her on account of her sex. The case was appealed to the general conference in Cincinnati in 1880 and the refusal was confirmed.

Miss Shaw then applied for ordination to the Methodist Protestant Church and received it on the twelfth of October, 1880, being the first woman to be ordained in that denomination. But her remarkable mind was never satisfied, and she sought still further to break down the limitations sex had placed upon her, so she supplemented her theological course with one in medicine and receiving the degree of M.D., from the Boston University. But becoming more and more interested in practical reform she finally resigned her position in East Dennis and became a lecturer for the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association.

After entering the general lecture field and becoming widely and favorably known as an elegant speaker on reform topics^ she was appointed national superintendent of franchise in the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Soon after, however, at the urgent request of leading suffragists, she resigned this office and accepted in place that of national lecturer for the National American Women's Suffrage Association, of which, in 1892 she was elected vice-president at large.

Her old parishioners at times have reproached her for no longer devoting herself to preaching the Gospel but she replies that in advocating the franchisement of women, the temperance movement and other reforms, she is teaching applied Christianity and that she exchanged the pulpit where she preached twice a week for the platform where she may preach every day and often three times on Sunday.

She is indeed one of the most eloquent, witty and popular speakers in the lecture field. Her face is very beautiful, even in its aging lines, and she is possessed of the most remarkable personal magnetism, a magnificent voice and great power of pointed argument. Much of her strength and force and thought of expression are believed to result from the experiences of her pioneer life in Michigan, and her power of moving audiences from the touch of humanity which came to her while practicing medicine in the city of Boston. She is believed to be the first woman to have the double distinction of the titles Reverend, and M.D. Her family were opposed to her studying for the ministry, on the ground that she would be a disgrace to them if she persisted in such an unheard of coarse but it may be added that her career has effectually reconciled them to that "disgrace."

Dr. Shaw has spoken before many state legislatures and several times before committees in both houses. Her appearance in Washington as presiding officer of the Woman's Suffrage Convention in 1910 made many converts to the cause of equal suffrage from the ranks of national legislators. In appearing before the joint committee of senators and representatives and in the open-air meetings, in which she was the moving spirit on this occasion, her splendid characteristic of keen humor and ready wit enabled her to carry her points where logic alone would have failed.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.

 

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