“And why should it be thought impossible, heterodox, or improper for a woman to preach?
seeing the Saviour died for the woman as well as for the man. If the man may preach, because the Saviour died for him, why not the woman? seeing he died for her also. Is he not a whole Saviour, instead of a half one?” – Jarena Lee (B.1783-?)
Born free in Cape May, New Jersey, on 11 February 1783, Jarena Lee became both the first African American woman to write an extended account of her own life and the first African American woman whose right to preach received official acknowledgment from church authorities.
Jarena Lee was a 19th-century African-American woman who left behind an eloquent account of her religious experience. She was also the first woman authorized to preach by Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1819. Despite Allen’s blessing, Lee continued to face hostility to her ministry because she was black and a woman. She became a traveling minister, traveling thousands of miles on foot. In one year alone, she “travelled two thousand three hundred and twenty-five miles, and preached one hundred and seventy-eight sermons”. Lee’s importance is threefold. First, she exemplifies the 19th-century American religious movement’s focus on personal holiness and sanctification. Second, she left a detailed account of her life of faith that serves as a valuable primary source. Third, she became an eloquent witness to her faith and a pioneer for women seeking license to preach in the Methodist traditions.