04 Apr

Anne M. Boylan, Sunday School: The Formation of an American Institution, 1790-1880 (1988)

Anne Boylan traces the formation of the Sunday School as an American institution from 1790 to 1880. Sunday School examines “the creation and evolution of Sunday schools in five evangelical Protestant denominations…and through the interdenominational American Sunday School Union [ASSU]” (1). Boylan argues that “Although now primarily an instrument of denominational education, the Sunday school became an American institution because it promised to fulfill the broad millennial expectations of evangelical reformers” (4). Sunday schools emerged as an institution in the 1820s as workers helped “transform the schools from a temporary expedient for teaching the poor reading and religion to a permanent means of religious training for all Protestant children” (21). This transformation enabled Sunday schools to prosper by “taking them out of competition with their weekday counterparts,” the common schools (59). Antebellum Sunday schools formed institutional networks, like the American Sunday School Union, to “remake society along evangelical lines” (60). By the 1880s, Sunday school convention leaders systematized the institutional networks along denominational lines. As an American institution, Sunday schools “represented effective ways of ordering indivual lives in an increasingly disorderly society.” Sunday schools “offered protection from individual and national chaos” and “were to play a crucial role by introducing children to evangelical Protestantism, training them in proper habits and values, and guiding them through the treacherous waters of adolescence” (169-170).

Sunday School is an important contribution to the study of voluntary associations and institutions in nineteenth-century America. Boylan suggests that “The importance of institutions in American history has long been the subject of scholarly contention” (1). Scholars have debated whether Americans are “rugged individualists” descended from Enlightenment ideology, or “a nation of joiners” committed to the Benevolent Empire (1-2). Boylan argues that scholars should understand the Sunday school movement as one of many institutions that “united disparate people in a shared Amerricanness” (3). Moreover, Sunday schools were a part of the emerging American middle-class vision “committed to an expanding free labor economy and a democratic state” that had close ties to “the urban mercantile and manufacturing economy” (3). Sunday schools endorsed “social control” in the sense that they transmitted to others the personal qualities that reformers “believed essential to individual and national progress” (3).

Boylan’s book shares similarities with others works about Sunday schools as institutions for social control and education. In The Shaping of Protestant Education (1966), William B. Kennedy examines how American Protestantism adopted “a general strategy of education that depended heavily upon the public school and alongside it utilized the Sunday school as the major church-related instrument for Christian education” (11). Similarly, in “In Every Destitute Place” (1973), Ralph Ruggles Smith examines how the ASSU developed the domestic Missionary program “whereby Sunday schools were brought to the American West and South” in an attempt to Protestantize and socialize American children.

Smith’s scholarship departs from Boylan’ work in its emphasis on the domestic Mission Program of the ASSU. Smith foregrounds the work of the ASSU in the West and South to highlight the rural nature and development of Sunday schools, and their relation to Westward expansion and slavery. Thus, Smith’s works focuses less on the urban, mercantile, and capitalistic nature of Sunday schools. It questions the capitalistic narrative of progress that is associated with industrialization and urbanization in the nineteenth century. Sunday schools were an important part of Northern urban life, the marketplace, and the free labor economy. But, they were as equally important in “civilizing” white children of the West and South, who were a part of agrarian and slave wage economies. By emphasizing the urban nature of Sunday schools, Boylan simplifies the nature of Sunday schools and the complex relationship created between Sunday schools, children, adults, race, class, and economy in different regions of the U.S.

Boylan and Smith also disagree over the extent to which Sunday schools taught American children how to read. Smith argues that “Thousands of children learned to read as a result of the American Union’s efforts, and thousands more could not escape from the religious beliefs inculcated by the Sunday School” (5). However, Boylan suggests that “By the late 1830s the various Sunday school unions had virtually ceased discussing the teaching of reading in the annual reports” (24). Boylan concludes, “Thus, although many rural and frontier schools continued to teach reading–and even writing and spelling–after the 1830s, these were seen as incidental, not essential, aspects of their mission” (25). Boylan dismisses the importance of reading in Sunday school, perhaps, because she privileges Northern, urban Sunday schools over rural schools. Moreover, Boylan ignores the Union Spelling Books and other books published by the ASSU that were intended to teach children to read. Perhaps, Boylan deemphasizes the importance of reading in Sunday schools in order to emphasize the shift in American Sunday school curriculum from a focus on reading and arithmetic to religion, morality, and social order.

Nevertheless, Boylan’s work is significant in that it considers the agency of individuals, particularly women and children, in Sunday schools. Boylan notes, “Not surprisingly, women responded with greater alacrity than men to this calling [as Sunday school teachers], a fact which reflects both their narrower social opportunities and their acceptance of the evangelical conception of womanhood” (101). Women as the arbiters of religion and society fulfilled their duties in educating American children. Thus, Boylan recognizes the agency of women in the Sunday school movement. However, in a strange twist, Boylan also dismisses women’s agency and the importance of women’s work in the Sunday schools. Boylan suggests “It comes as no surprise to find that women who dedicated themselves to Sunday school teaching did not join the ranks of reformers or feminist” (123). Women only played the roles that society allowed them as mothers, wives, and females in the education of children in Sunday schools. Boylan treats women as cogs in the machine of the Sunday school institution. The institution was intended to reform society and women played a role, but were not agents, in this process of reformation.

Sunday Schools is also noteworthy in that it recognizes children’s participation in Sunday schools. Boylan notes “For despite their numerical preponderance in the Sunday school and its existence for their benefit, children are often entirely missing from the institution’s chronicles” (156). Children influenced the institution as they demanded the preservation of rewards programs, and the continuation of special events and performances. The recognition of children’s agency in Sunday schools and mission programs is an important insight. Evens so, Boylan only discusses the agency of children and their participation in Sunday schools in a few paragraphs.

Boylan’s work is significant in that it urges scholars to examine the agency of women and children in Sunday schools. It is also important for its suggestions that Sunday schools were a part of a larger American institution designed to reform children for the progress of America as a Protestant and capitalist nation.

29 Mar

Jonathan Edwards, “Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God” (1741)

Edwards preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in June 1741 to his congregation in Northampton. Edwards delivered the sermon as the area revival in religion was building. The sermon became famous after Edwards delivered it at a meeting in Enfield, Massachusetts in July 1741. The sermon was meant to induce an awakening, or conversion experiences, among the community of Enfield. In the previous weeks, the itinerant preacher George Whitefield induced an awakening with his preaching in the neighboring town of Suffield. Area minsters were distressed that the same had not happened in Enfield. They set-up a preaching circuit among local pastors including Wheelock, Edwards, and Meacham to awaken Enfield and the other surrounding towns.

Edwards did not preach with dramatic gestures and theatrics like Whitefield. Nonetheless, Edwards’s sermon had a significant effect on the Enfield congregation. Before Edwards finished delivering the sermon, congregants moaned and cried out for their salvation. They feared going to hell and asked what they could do for Christ. At one point, Edwards asked the congregation for silence because its shrieks and cries filled the room. Edwards did not finish this sermon because he could not be heard over the audience’s shouting and crying.

Edwards delivered the sermon several times after the Enfield address as one of the standard sermons in his revival itineracy. In later versions of the sermon, Edwards appended six practical steps for seeking salvation. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is one of Edwards more infamous sermons. Its focus on hell to induce conversion leaves a sour taste in the mouths of many twenty-first-century Americans. Edwards’s focus on hell and death, however, were not unusual topics in the eighteenth-century. Edwards and other preachers found these topics effective for awakening souls to God. This sermon has been one of the most widely reproduced of Edwards’s sermons.  (See George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life, 219-224.)


“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” interpreted and applieed Deuteronomy 32:35, “Their foot shall slide in due time.” According to Edwards, “In this verse is threatened the vengeance of God on the wicked unbelieving Israelites, that were God’s visible people.” The verse related to the punishment and destruction of the Israelites for their sins. Edwards explained that this verse meant the Israelites were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction. The immanence of that destruction was of their own doing. They had not been destroyed already because God had not allowed it to happen yet. Edwards concluded as doctrine: “There is nothing that keeps wicked men, at one moment, out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.” Edwards proved this doctrine by reminding his audience of the omnipotent power of God, that men deserve to be cast into hell, and that men are already sentenced to hell. God was angry and displeased with those on earth as with those in hell. The only thing that saved men from hell in every moment was God’s restraint. The devil stood ready to seize them when God permited. The living were to have no security in the fact that there were no “visible means of death at hand.” There was no security in life. Men continued to reject Christ in their attempts to evade death and hell. But, no one could escape hell. “God has laid himself under no obligation by any promise to keep any natural man out of hell one moment.” Until men believed in Christ, God was under no obligation to save anyone from hell.

Edwards then applied this doctrine. He argued that “the use may be of awakening to unconverted persons in this congregation.” He urged people to recognize that “God holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked…you hang by a slender thread.” Edwards called the congregation to realize that the wrath of God was fierce and infinite, that congregants were always expose to this misery, and that this misery was eternal. He called the congregants to awaken to Christ in the hope of being spared from God’s wrath. Edwards called on the old as well as young women, young men, and children to awaken. He urged “God seems now to be hastily gathering in his elect in all parts of the land; and probably the bigger part of adult persons that ever shall be saved, will be brought in now in a little time, and it will be as it was on that great outpouring of the Spirit upon the Jews in the apostles’ days, the election will obtain, and the rest will be blinded.” Congregants were to make haste and seek Christ to “fly from the wrath to come.”

18 Mar

Helen Knight, The Missionary Cabinet (1847)

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) partnered with the Massachusetts Sabbath School Society to publish The Missionary Cabinet in 1847. This book provided a virtual tour of an actual room at the ABCFM headquarters in Boston that housed idols. The room, called the Cabinet of Curiosities, was open to the public. The book encouraged children to visit the Cabinet at the headquarters. For those who could not, the book served as a surrogate tour of the room and the idols in the cases.

"Interior View of the Cabinet," The Missionary Cabinet (Boston: Massachusetts Sabbath School Society, 1847), 2.

“Interior View of the Cabinet,” The Missionary Cabinet (Boston: Massachusetts Sabbath School Society, 1847), 2.

The Missionary Cabinet included an image of the Cabinet (Figure 1), which children could examine as they read. It depicts white, middle-class children and parents perusing idols. There is a long, rectangular table in the center of the room that holds plant and animal specimens in partitioned spaces. There are seven cases against the walls of the room that hold idols from South Asia, the Sandwich Islands, Africa, China, India, Syria, Russia, and Catholic Germany among other places.

The ABCFM opened the Cabinet in the mid-1830s in Boston. An 1838 letter from the ABCFM to missionaries in Hawaii documented the progress of the Missionary Room and the Cabinet. The letter noted, “You are aware that there is, in connection with the Missionary Rooms, a Cabinet of Curiosities, collected principally by the missionaries of the Board. It is open for public inspection, has excited considerable interest, and is daily visited.”[i] The popularity and notoriety of the Cabinet secured funds for building projects at the ABCFM. The Missionary House was expanded so that the Missionary Rooms and Cabinet could “enable us to arrange and exhibit the collection to greater advantage than we now can.”[ii] The Board requested missionaries to donate maps, drawings, missive publications, idols, images, weapons, decorations, coins, relics, and more from mission fields. Donors were to ensure that each article was “distinctly labeled with its name, and accompanied with a complete description,” and packaged carefully for shipment.[iii] Missionaries fulfilled the Board’s demand and packed the Cabinet with idols.

“God of the Sandwich Islanders,” illustration of an idol from The Missionary Cabinet (Boston: Massachusetts Sabbath School Society, 1847), 11

“God of the Sandwich Islanders,” illustration of an idol from The Missionary Cabinet (Boston: Massachusetts Sabbath School Society, 1847), 11

The Missionary Cabinet led children through a case by case examination of idols in the Cabinet. The first idol that children examined in the book was “God of the Sandwich Islanders” (Figure 2). This idol is also depicted in the frontispiece of the book in the first image above (Figure 1). It stands in the middle of the image, behind the table, and in profile view. The idol is “one they [the Sandwich Islanders] gave to the missionaries to bring home” after their conversion to Christianity.[iv] The author instructed children, “Come, let us look at it a little nearer. It has legs, arms, and a body, and a head and staring eyes, and a big mouth. It is quite erect, and looks a very little like the image of a man; and yet it does not look like a man, for no man was ever such a hideous object.”[v] The author also exclaimed, “This is a god!…It was a God of the Sandwich Islanders, a god to whom they used to pray and offer sacrifices.” The idol enticed devotees to “leave their old sick parents to die alone in the forest” and “bury their little sick babies in the mud.”[vi] Idols controlled the “heathen” and commanded them do wicked things. The images of idols in this book enticed children to learn about idols and foreign missions.

The Missionary Cabinet also provided a virtual tour of portraits of famous missionaries and ABCFM board members in the Committee Room. After the virtual tour, the author asks children, “when our fathers and mothers, and all the good people who give their money and their prayers to help send out the missionaries, are gone, who will then do it?” The author called children to the missionary cause. The Missionary Cabinet and the actual Cabinet of Curiosities at the ABCFM headquarters suggests that Protestant adults employed real-life idols to mobilize children for the missionary cause. The ABCFM hoped that if children viewed idols at the headquarters or in this book, they would support the Board and their missions.

[i] David W. Forbes (ed.), Hawaiian National Bibliography 1780-1900: 1831-1850 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998), 174.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Knight, The Missionary Cabinet, 18.

[v] Ibid., 10, 13.

[vi] Ibid., 10, 13.

18 Mar

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile, or Treatise on Education (1762)

 Rousseau published Émile, or Treatise on Education in 1762. This philosophical treatise traced the nature of education through Émile, a fictional man, from infancy to adulthood. This work was radical for its insistence on familial, child-rearing, educational, and religious reform. The most damning critiques of Rousseau’s treatise emerged from the Catholic Church. Rousseau insisted, contrary to his contemporaries, that a child’s religious education should not begin until late adolescence (15 to 20). Rousseau also suggested that children should come naturally to religion with free and skeptical minds. In eighteenth-century France, most genteel, male children began their religious education at the age of six or seven by rote memorization. Émile was banned in Paris and Geneva, and publicly burned the year it was published. Nevertheless, Émile was widely read and influenced educational reform in France after the revolution. Educational reformers (Basedow, Pestalozzi, and Froebel) adopted and adapted Rousseau’s ideas in Germany and Switzerland. By the late eighteenth-century, Americans employed Émile to discuss the differences in and values of men and women’s education in the United States.

Rousseau divided Émile into five books on education, which correspond to the five stages of human development: infancy, ages 5 to 12, ages 12 to 15, ages 15 to 20, and ages 20 to 25. Rousseau suggested that there was a sixth stage of development called the “Age of Happiness.” However, the treatise ended with the fifth stage in Book Five. Book Five (ages 20 to 25) also included Rousseau’s thoughts on the nature of education for women. Below I will outline Rousseau’s arguments about education.

Book One started with some general remarks on education. Rousseau argued that “education comes to us from” three teachers, or “nature itself, or from other men, or from circumstances.”[1] The education that Rousseau outlined is meant strictly to train men for manhood and their adult vocations. Education remained a male’s domain. Nevertheless, Rousseau emphasized an equality in male education that others had not broached. Rousseau suggested that “In the natural order of things, all men being equal, the vocation common to all is the state of manhood; and whoever is well trained for that, cannot fulfill badly any vocation which depends upon it…How to live is the business I wish to teach him.”[2] Education prepared men for their obligations to humanity as fathers, to society as producers of other good men, and to the state as citizens.[3] This emphasis on nature and man’s natural abilities made room for equality in male education. These ideas were harnessed during the French Revolution to create France’s first national system of education.

Book One suggested that the education of man begins in infancy with children’s bodies. Children’s bodies should be freed from swaddling so that their movements were not restricted. Restriction made children fussy, and hindered their experience of objects, people, and nature. Moreover, children should be breast-fed by their mothers, not nurses.  Breast-feeding children would reform the family by bringing mothers and children to love one another. According to Rousseau, breast-feeding was the “first duty” of mothers.[4] The reinstitution “of this one abuse would soon result in a general reform; nature would resume all her rights. When women are once more true mothers, men will become true fathers and husbands….. If mothers are not real mothers, children are not real children toward them. Their duties to one another are reciprocal, and if these be badly fulfilled on the one side, they will be neglected on the other side.”[5] Correcting the physical relations between mothers and children would aid in the reform of familial relationships and children’s education. Finally, adults should not force children to speak too early as there is a dissonance between children and adults languages that prohibited mutual understanding.

Book Two continued the argument about education through experience in infancy. Rousseau suggested that children should be allowed to play in the open air in order to enjoy life, experience pain and suffering, and calm their dispositions. Rousseau noted that as “soon as they can feel the pleasures of existence allow them to enjoy it; and at whatever hour God may summon them see to it that they do not die before they have tasted life.”[6] The traditional, eighteenth-century education of children bothered Rousseau because it restricted children’s bodily experiences of the natural world and made them like galley slaves. It also bothered him because it trained children in polite niceties that masked arrogance and classism. Rousseau suggested that “As for me, I would rather have Émile rude than arrogant; I would much rather have him say in making a request, Do this, than in commanding, I beg you. It is not the term which he uses that I care about but rather the meaning which he connects with it.”[7] Thus, Roseau outlined ways not to educate children in arrogance.

The education of children from ages 5 to 12 should not focus on teaching children languages or history because children are not able to fully form ideas and apply them to experience (i.e., teaching geography does not teach children how to get from one place to another; experience of traveling does). Children should not be forced to read or write. Rousseau criticized Locke for his emphasis on methods for teaching children to read (dice and cabinets).[8] Rousseau suggested that adults should read to children what interested them in order to cultivate a desire for reading, writing, and learning. The cultivation of the desire to learn was the best method for educating children. Children should also exercise so that the body and mind may move together to experience the world. Rousseau concluded, “In order to learn to think, we must then exercise our limbs, our senses, and our organs…Thus, so far is it from being true that the reason of man is formed independently of the body, it is the happy constitution of the body which renders the operations of the mind facile and sure.”[9] Rousseau outlined learning in terms of phenomenology: what men knew came from their bodily and sense experiences.

Rousseau also emphasized the importance of vision and learning to see for developing a reasoned mind: “Sight is the sense which is the most intimately connected with the judgments of the mind, it requires a long time to learn to see.”[10] Rousseau argued that children should learn to measure, judge, and estimate numbers, bodies, and heights by drawing. The experience of seeing and then drawing real object forms impressed Nature on children’s imaginations. Art cultivated knowledge through embodied experiences.  Rousseau suggested that “I shall discourage him [Émile] even from tracing anything from memory…for fear that substituting odd and fantastic forms for the truth of things, he lose the knowledge of proportions and the taste for the beauties of Nature.”[11] Like Locke, Roseau also encouraged children to learn by sleeping in different types of beds and experiencing different circumstances in order to accustom their bodies to different settings. These methods for educating children enhanced the physical senses of children so that their bodies and minds developed together. The physical, sensual experience of Nature molded children properly.

Book Three argued that after infancy children should learn a trade from the ages of 12 to 15. This stage was the most important in a child’s development because it was the “interval when the power of the individual is greater than his desires.”[12] Nature marked this period as “the period of labor, of instruction, and of study.”[13] Rousseau emphasized the education of children through bodily experience in this section by giving examples of Émile’s education at fairs and with jugglers.  Rousseau also warned against teaching children about instruments through books. Instruments “invented to guide us in our experiments and to supply the place of accurate sense-perception cause us to neglect the exercise of it.”[14] Rather, children could learn about instruments and the labor behind them by being employed in workshops. “Instead of making a child stick to his books, if I employ him in a workshop his hands labor to the profit of his mind; he becomes a philosopher, but fancies he is only a workman.”[15] Physical work enhanced the mind of children through direct experience. Work also taught children the differences between work and play, and what was useful and what was not.

The one book that children should read was Robinson Crusoe because it taught self-preservation and judgment through experience without the assistant of fellows and instruments. Children should not be taught about social norms and public opinion through books and teachers as these should be experienced directly. Rousseau also discussed the ability of men to be educated. He did not distinguish “class ranks or fortunes nor shall I distinguish them scarcely more in the sequel because man is the same in all conditions…. providing for them ought everywhere to be equal.” Rather, teachers should “Adapt the education of man to man and not to that which he is not.”[16] Dismissing class and requiring children to learn a trade was scandalous to the upper-classes. But, for Rousseau learning a trade and relying on one’s own labor and experience for education meant accessing a “rank which he cannot lose, a rank which will honor him as long as he lives.” Rousseau opposed Locke’s suggested trades for men, which appeared useless. Locke argued that men be embroiderers, gilders, and varnishers. Rousseau also opposed the professions of musicians, poets, and comedians. Education through labor and physical experience would raise children to a state of manhood. Training the body and senses trained the mind and judgment.

Book Four argued that between the ages of 15 and 20 children should be instructed in religious and moral education. This stage represented the second birth of children and “it is here that man really begins to live.”[17] This education centered on children’s relations with other men, not with things as before. Religious education controlled the passions by directing the love of self, which “regards only ourselves, [and] is content when our real needs are satisfied.”[18]  Love of self is far better than self-love, which makes comparisons and is never satisfied because it requires “that others prefer ourselves to them—a thing which is impossible.”[19] This stage is also the time to educate young men in “agreeable books,” “books of the ancients,” discussion, analysis of discourse, diction, and elocution. Languages should also be studied at this time, not so much for their own use but because they teach grammar in one’s first language.

Rousseau criticized Locke in this section for beginning education with the mind and then moving to the body. According to Rousseau, this propagated materialism. Children should not think about matter as Locke suggested, but rather they should experience matter. Thinking matter only leed children to think about the material world. Experiencing matter would lead children to think beyond matter to the spiritual world. Experiencing matter would lead children to a religious education and spiritual preparation. Without first knowing how to use the body, one could not think or reason properly in order to educate the soul. Only after the body is well-trained could one absorb religion education. The lover of the self is able to commune with God in finding supreme happiness.

Book Five examined the final stage of youth, the ages between 20 and 25, when men and women marry. This book is dedicated to the education of women. Rousseau argued that Sophie (Émile’s companion) ought to be a woman as Émile is a man. In a sense, Rousseau elevated notions about women’s ability to be educated. He suggested that women required education just as men required education. That is, “she should have whatever is befitting the constitution of her species and of her sex in order to fill her place in the physical and moral world.”[20] Rousseau went as far as suggesting some equality between the sexes:  “All that we know with a certainty is that the only thing in common between man and woman is the species, and that they differ only in respect of sex.” Similarly, Rousseau declared, “With respect to what they have in common they are equal, and in so far as they are different they are not capable of being compared.” [21]  Nevertheless, the law of Nature suggests that sex impacts one’s bodily, religious, and moral education: “it follows that they ought not to have the same education…following directions of nature they ought to act in concert, but they ought not to do the same things; their duties have a common end, but the duties themselves are different, and consequently the tastes which direct them.”[22] Women are to be educated because it is their duty to be mothers and to educate their male children. “Thus the whole education of women ought to be relative to men.”[23]

Women’s bodies should not be developed for strength in infancy like men. Instead, their bodies were to be developed for “personal charms.”[24] This development still included allowing female children to play and run like male children, to free their bodies from physical constraints, and to learn the accomplishments (singing, dancing, etc.) for amusement.[25] According to Rousseau, females were inclined to play more with dolls as fit their station as mothers. Females learned better through embroidery and lacework as these appeared useful and appealed to girls’ desire to adorn themselves. Young women must be taught restraint and duty. “They must early be trained to restraint to the end that it may cost them nothing and to conquer all their whims in order to subject them to the wills of others. If they wish always to be at work they must sometimes be compelled to do nothing.”[26] Like boys, girls were educated, though to a lesser degree, through “industry and talent which form taste.” Taste in turn formed the mind, which is “opened to ideas of the beautiful in all its forms and finally to the moral notions which are connected with it.”[27] Like young boys, girls were not capable of thinking about religion at a young age. In fact, they were not really capable of thinking about religion at all. When at the appropriate age, young girls should have the “religion of her mother, and every wife that of her husband. Even were this religion false, the docility which makes the mother and the daughter submit to the order of nature expunges in the sight of God the sin of error.”[28] Rousseau blamed coquetry in Catholic convents, and convents in general, for the decline in women’s behavior and duties. In doing so, Rousseau elevated Protestantism and its familial relations: “but it seems to me that in general Protestant countries have more family affection, more worthy wives, and more tender mothers than Catholic countries; and if this is true, we cannot doubt that this difference is due in part to the education of convents [i.e., where they let girls run free].”[29]

Some late eighteenth-century American Protestants embraced Rousseau’s plan for women’s education. They recognized the necessity of women’s education for educating male children who would become the leaders of the Republic. Scholars recognize this emphasis on women’s education in early America as the ideology of Republican Motherhood.

[1] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile, Or Concerning Education: Extracts Containing the Principal Elements of Pedagogy Found in the First Three Books (Heath, 1886), 14.


[2] Ibid., 12.

[3] Ibid., 22.

[4] Ibid., 16.

[5] Ibid., 18.

[6] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Rousseau’s Émile: Or, Treatise on Education (D. Appleton, 1909), 45–46.

[7] Ibid., 48.

[8] Ibid., 83.

[9] Ibid., 90.

[10] Ibid., 106.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 133.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 152.

[15] Ibid., 153.

[16] Ibid., 175.

[17] Ibid., 193.

[18] Ibid., 195.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., 259.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 261.

[23] Ibid., 263.

[24] Ibid., 264.

[25] Ibid., 271.

[26] Ibid., 268.

[27] Ibid., 273.

[28] Ibid., 276.

[29] Ibid., 284.

17 Mar

Jonathan Edwards, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (1737)

Following the Northampton and Connecticut Valley revivals of 1734 and 1735, rumors spread that the conversions had been sensationalized. Opponents of Edwards suggested that the overzealousness of participants was actually the work of Satan. To set the record straight, Benjamin Coleman requested that Edwards write an account of the revival to be distributed throughout New England.[1] Edwards’s account of the revival, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God, argued that there was nothing about “this great work of God” that was new or extraordinary except its universality. The awakening included men and women, young and old.[2] Edwards’s account particularly stressed the awakening of the young people. According to Edwards, “The young people also have been reforming more and more.”[3] Notably, “near thirty [youth] were savingly wrought upon [awakened] between ten and fourteen, and two between nine and ten, and one about four years old.”[4] God bestowed his grace on children just as easily as He bestowed it on adults. As evidence of the operation of God’s Spirit in the awakenings, Edwards included in this account the conversion narratives of Abigail Hutchinson, a woman who died young, and Phebe Bartlet, a four-year-old girl.[5] This review will only focus on Phebe’s narrative since it relates most closely to my other projects about children in religion.

Edwards relayed Phebe’s conversion narrative in A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God. Phebe’s parents had not talked to her about religion because they thought she was too young and “not capable of understanding.” Nonetheless, Phebe’s eleven-year-old brother “seriously talked to her about the things of religion” and she was “greatly affected.” Five or six times a day Phebe secretly prayed in a closet. One day while observing Phebe in the closet, Mrs. Bartlet heard Phebe say, “Pray, blessed Lord, give me salvation! I pray, beg, pardon all my sins!” When Phebe came out of the closet, she sat by her mother and cried. Mrs. Bartlet tried to comfort her, but Phebe began “wreathing her body to and fro, like one in anguish of spirit.” When asked what was wrong, Phebe shouted, “I am afraid I shall go to hell!” She began crying, but suddenly stopped, smiled at her mother, and exclaimed, “Mother, the kingdom of heaven is come to me!” Phebe explained to her mother how three passages from her catechism had come to her mind and enlightened her thoughts.[6]

Phebe returned to her closet, prayed, and on exiting declared, “I can find God now!” Phebe told her mother that she loved God “better than anything,” even her father, mother, and sisters. She was not even afraid of going to hell now. Phebe’s mother asked her if she thought God had given her salvation. Phebe replied, “Yes…Today.” For the rest of the afternoon, Phebe appeared “exceeding [sic] cheerful and joyful.” That evening she witnessed to a male cousin that “heaven was better than earth.” The next day Phebe resumed crying and her spirits were low. She explained to her mother and a neighbor that “she cried because she was afraid they [her sisters] would go to hell.”[7] Phebe urged her sisters to turn their hearts to Jesus that afternoon.[8]

After speaking with “a certain minister” [Edwards] on the Sabbath, “there appeared a very remarkable change in the child.” Phebe longed for the Sabbath so she could visit God’s house and hear Mr. Edwards preach. She also attended private religious meetings, prayed at home, and never missed her catechism before bed. Once, when she unknowingly stole Plums from a neighbor, Phebe was so overcome with her sin that she cried for “a considerable time” and formed an aversion to the fruit. Phebe appeared “greatly affected, and delighted with texts of Scripture.” She also continued to witness to her sisters. She said to her mother, “I told ‘em they must pray, and prepare to die, that they had but a little while to live in this world, and they must be always ready.” Phebe even encouraged her mother to pray with her sisters. By and by, Phebe “discovered an uncommon degree of the spirit of charity.” When a poor neighbor’s cow was lost, Phebe urged her father to either give the neighbor a cow, or allow him and his family to live with the Bartlets. Phebe also “manifested a great love to her minister.”[9]

While Phebe was hopefully converted, she proved humble when asked about her salvation. Edwards wrote “She sometimes appears to be in doubt about the condition of her soul, and when asked whether she thinks that she is prepared for death, speaks something doubtfully about it. At other times [she] seems to have no doubt, but when asked replies ‘Yes’ without hesitation.”[10] For Edwards, Phebe was a model convert because she recognized her sinful nature, feared punishment in hell, prepared to die, and loved God, Jesus, and her minister.

Although Phebe’s conversion narrative embodied Edwards’s theology of childhood, A Faithful Narrative was not widely published in America until the Second Great Awakening.[11] The unpopularity A Faithful Narrative was likely related, not to its grim view of the destiny of unconverted children, but to its inclusion of Abigail Hutchinson and Phebe Bartlet’s conversion narratives. Two of the three 1738 American printings of A Faithful Narrative included the 1737 preface written by Isaac Watts and John Guyse. The preface endorsed the Northampton and Connecticut Valley awakenings, but it also included a harsh critique. Watts and Guyse deplored Edwards’s inclusion of the narratives of Hutchinson and Bartlet. They suggested that Edwards “might have chosen others perhaps, of more significancy in the eyes of the world, than the woman [Abigail] and the child [Phebe] whose experiences he relates at large.” Of Phebe’s narrative Watts and Guyse wrote, “those who were present, and saw and heard such a remarkable and lasting change on one so very young, must necessarily receive a stronger impression from it, and a more agreeable surprise than the mere narration of it can communicate to others at a distance. Children’s language always loses its striking beauties at second hand.”[12] Phebe’s preparations for death and hell, and her yearning for God and her minister did not impress Edwards’s eighteenth-century critics. Phebe was too young to experience a hopeful conversion. She had not reached the age of reason and could not properly relate her account to others. Eighteenth-century adults, generally, accepted the age of reason to be no less than seven-years-old. Phebe’s mutterings were the incomprehensible musings of an irrational child.[13] Moreover, like Abigail, Phebe was a female. It was inappropriate for Phebe to witness to others and gain recognition for her piety.[14] This honor was reserved for men. Watts and Guyse relegated the conversion narratives of Phebe and Abigail to the recesses of the eighteenth century Protestant imagination.

[1] George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 172-73, 201-202.

[2] Jonathan Edwards and C.C. Goen (ed.), “A Faithful Narrative,” in The Great Awakening (Works of Jonathan Edwards Online Vol. 4), 160.

[3] Unpublished letter of May 30, 1735 from Edwards to Coleman, WJE Online, http://edwards.yale.edu.

[4] Edwards and Goen (ed.), A Faithful Narrative, 158.

[5] Ibid., 199-205..

[6] Ibid., 199-200.

[7] Ibid., 200-202.

[8] Ibid., 202-205.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Joseph A. Conforti, Jonathan Edwards, Religious Tradition, & American Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995), 45.

[12] Edwards and Goen (ed.), “Preface to the First Edition (London, 1737),” in The Great Awakening (WJE Online Vol. 4), 130-143.

[13] See Chamberlain, “Edwards and Social Issues,” 331.

[14] See Watts and Guyse’s critique of Edwards’s inclusion of Abigail Hutchinson’s conversion narrative in A Faithful Narrative in: Edwards and Goen (ed.), “Preface to the First Edition (London, 1737),” in The Great Awakening (WJE Online Vol. 4), 136.