Missionaries and Preachers: Antebellum Religion from New York City to the South Seas

Center for American History and Culture Programs
Women and Gender Seminar
Friday, October 26, 2012

3 pm to 5 pm

B-82

Panelists: Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, University of Michigan and Kyle Roberts, Loyola University Chicago

“Mormons in the South Seas: Masculinity, Marriage, and the Imperial Politics of Domesticity in Nineteenth-Century Tahiti”
Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, University of Michigan

In 1844, Benjamin F. Grouard and Addison Pratt arrived in Tahiti as Mormon missionaries. This paper uses a gendered lens to explore how their advocacy of a masculinity disconnected from family life challenged the emphasis of Protestant missionaries on the nuclear family. Unlike Protestant missionaries, Grouard and Pratt left their wives in the United States and lived amongst the native communities among whom they proselytized. The American identity of Mormon missionaries would mean that debates about manhood would become bound in international politics and maneuvers to gain control over the islands. The French were seeking to take control of the island just as the Mormon missionaries were arriving in Tahiti. French, British, and American officials sought to assert their sovereignty in the region and protect their commercial interests. Ideas about sexuality, family, and masculinity became a currency through which individuals could prove their fitness to govern and participate in imperial politics.

“The Missionary and the Prostitute: Ezra Stiles Ely and the Changing Face of Urban Evangelicalism”
Kyle Roberts, Loyola University Chicago

Social activism has long been considered a hallmark of evangelical religion. Evangelical activism made an indelible mark on antebellum New York City in the form of massive publishing houses, ships remade into mission chapels, and packed temperance and anti-slavery meetings. Such, however, was not always the case. Ezra Stiles Ely, a young minister who arrived in New York on the eve of the War of 1812, was dismayed by evangelical New Yorkers’ tendency to avoid engagement with the wider city, and he set out to convince them of their responsibility to convert their neighbors. Ely used his encounters in urban public institutions—the almshouse and the hospital—to illustrate the problems of the modernizing city. No resident more shaped his understanding than Caroline, a young prostitute. Ely wrestled with his feelings for Caroline, and ultimately recorded them in his published journals to articulate a vision of and justification for a more engaged urban evangelicalism. But it was Ely and Caroline’s personal experience that revealed the opportunities and challenges of early national New York.

Commentator: Catherine Brekus, University of Chicago

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