Mary Barritt Taft

Mary Barritt Taft (1772–1851).
Memoirs of the Life of Mrs. Mary Taft, Formerly Miss Barritt.
Written by Herself.

London: Printed for, and sold by the author, 1827. (BRA0104)

Mary Barritt Taft was the outstanding woman evangelist of nineteenth-century England. Born in Lancashire, she and her older brother John were drawn to Methodist teachings at a young age, despite the objections of their father. At the age of seventeen she became active in her brother’s preaching circuit, Dover, and while working in support of other ministers she discovered that she had the ability to inspire congregations with her preaching. Joseph Benson, the President of the Methodist Conference, angrily advised several ministers to stop allowing her to preach in their pulpits, but they defended her, citing the strength of her spirit and the great crowds she was attracting. In 1802 she married Rev. Zacharias Taft, a Methodist minister, with whom she traveled and preached. The following year, in direct response to her work, severe restrictions on preaching by women were ratified at the annual Methodist Conference, held at Manchester:

Q.19. Should women be permitted to preach among us?

A. We are of the opinion that, in general, they ought not.  1. Because a vast majority of our people are opposed to it.  2. Because their preaching does not at all seem necessary, there being a sufficiency of preachers, whom God has accredited, to supply all the places in our connection with regular preaching.  But if any woman among us think she has an extraordinary call from God to speak in public, (and we are sure it must be an extraordinary call that can authorize it,) we are of the opinion she should in general, address her own sex and those only:  And upon this condition alone should any woman be permitted to preach in any part of our connection, and when so permitted, it should be under the following regulations: 1. They shall not preach in the Circuit where they reside, until they have obtained the approbation of the Superintendent and a Quarterly-Meeting.  2. Before they go into any other Circuit to preach, they shall have a written invitation from the Superintendent of such Circuit, and a recommendatory note from the Superintendent of their own Circuit.

With remarkable foresight, in 1799 Taft had expressed her hope that God would hasten the day when “the wonder will then be that the exertions of pious females to bring souls to Christ should ever have been opposed or obstructed.”