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Women of the Hall

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Year Honored: 2000
Birth: 1847 - Death: 1919
Born In: , England
Died In: ,
Achievements: Humanities
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Anna Howard Shaw

Reverend Doctor Anna Howard Shaw, minister, physician, ardent feminist, and masterful orator, worked to improve individual morality through her ministry, tried to improve society by moving into the temperance and suffrage movements, and finally campaigned vigorously for the League of Nations to promote world peace. Essentially self-taught, Shaw's first career, to help support her family, was as a frontier school teacher. Her father having let the family down on several occasions, at the age of twelve Shaw had to assume the burden of the survival of her semi-invalid mother and her siblings. From this experience, Shaw developed both a low opinion of men's abilities and an ambition to excel in a man's world, passions that helped shape her career. After the Civil War, she was able to move into the home of a married sister and attend high school. She became active in the Methodist church, preaching her first sermon when she was twenty-three and becoming a licensed to preach a year later. In 1873, she entered Albion College, paying for her two years of education there by preaching and giving lectures on temperance. In 1876, she left Albion to attend Boston Theological Seminary. Upon graduation, in 1878, as the only woman in her class, she took charge of a church in East Dennis, Massachusetts, but the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church refused her application for ordination because she was a woman. It also took steps to revoke her preaching license. Finally, in 1880, Shaw convinced the Methodist Protestant Church to grant her ordination so she could administer the sacraments and continue her ministry in East Dennis. In addition to ministering at two churches, Shaw earned a medical degree from Boston University in 1886. However, she never practiced medicine. Instead, she resigned her pastorates in 1885 to take up the banners of temperance and women's suffrage. From the 1880s until her death in 1919, Shaw worked at the grass roots level throughout the country to achieve women's suffrage. For a few years she headed the Franchise Department of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. In 1904 she became president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. During World War I, Shaw turned her attention to foreign affairs. She became chair of the Woman's Committee of the United States Council of National Defense, coordinating women's contributions to the war effort. For this work, in 1919 she became the first woman to earn the Distinguished Service Medal. At the end of the war, at the request of President Woodrow Wilson and former President William Howard Taft, she lectured in the United States and Europe in support of world peace and the League of Nations. It was during one of those speaking tours that she fell ill and died in July, 1919, at the age of seventy-two. While Shaw died just before the Women's Suffrage Amendment was ratified, she fulfilled her vision of success: "Nothing bigger can come to a human being than to love a great cause more than life itself."
Additional Sources:

Conway, Jill K., editor. Written by Herself: autobiographies of American women: an anthology. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.

Pellauer, Mary D. Toward a Traditon of Feminist Theology: the religious social thought of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Anna Howard Shaw. Brooklyn, NY: Carlson, 1991.

Merriam, Eve, editor. Growing up female in America; ten lives. Barden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1971.

Compiled with Alice Stone Blackwell and Lucy Elmina Anthony. The Yellow Ribbon Speaker: Readings and Recitations. Boston: Lee and Shepard; New York: C.T. Dillingham, 1891.

Shaw represented in: Biographical Papers 1830-1961, ca. 75 items and 6 v. University of Michigan, Bently Historical Library, Michigan Historical Collections. Ann Arbor, Michigan.