independent, intinerant evangelist from Whitby, England; travelled to the United States on a mission to join the fight against the exploitation of African slaves — to proclaim “the joyful tidings of salvation” to “Ethiopia’s children” living under “base tyranny” — the indigenous natives, & others marginalized [e.g., in prisons, almshouses, etc.] in the new Republic. In her An Account of Rose Butler (1819), written under the pseudonym of “Benevolus,” she also inveighed against the “immorality” of capital punishment.
Assured of her divinely appointed call to preach the Gospel, nevertheless, she constantly was confronted by malicious misogyny & vituperative censure, especially among the patriarchal established clergy. Even when she met with occasional approbation & acceptance, she found herself, for example, thrown into jail for holding a revival that New York City termed “inciting a riot.”
She crossed the Atlantic at least 7 times, travelling up & down the eastern seacoast from Rhode Island to South Carolina, presenting her cause to politicians & on plantations. On her first trip in 1802, after disembarking, she immediately travelled to Washington to seek an audience with President Jefferson, where she informed him of her anti-slavery views & intentions for ministry, especially among slave women.
On January 12, 1806 she became the first woman to speak in the in the newly constructed Hall of Representatives when she delivered a sermon. Jefferson & Vice President Aaron Burr were among those in a “crowded audience.” Sizing up the congregation, Ripley concluded that “very few” had been born again & broke into an urgent, camp meeting style exhortation.
Ripley preached in the chamber at a time when it was used frequently by itinerant missionaries & clergy from local congregations. Until the mid-19th century, the House Chamber was often utilized as a place of worship. Jefferson would often, through his two terms, ride a horse from the White House to the Capitol in order to attend church services in the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives, the Treasury Building, & the Supreme Court chambers continued to be used as churches until well after the Civil War & Reconstruction, with preachers of various denominations, including Roman Catholics, conducting services.
Although she drew from her Wesleyan background [she was the daughter of a Methodist lay preacher, who had accompanied John Wesley on preaching tours] & Quaker sentiments, she maintained no membership in any particular denomination, which afforded her the autonomy from denominational dictates. Her Wesleyan theology is reflected not only in her preaching about, but working for social justice; a doctrine of atonement which assumes universal salvation; the assurance of one’s salvation, & Wesley’s holiness doctrine of sanctification. Her “inner light” mystical experiences found resonance with her Quaker friends.
Ripley, Dorothy The Bank of Faith & Works United. Phila.: J. H. Cunningham, 1819
Everson, Elisa Ann “’A Little Labour of Love’: The Extraordinary Career of Dorothy Ripley, Female Evangelist in Early America,” PhD diss. Georgia State Univ., 2007
Smith, Margaret Bayard. Forty Years of Washington Society. Ed. Gaillard Hunt. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1906
Warner, Laceye Saving Women: Retrieving Evangelistic Theology & Practice Waco, TX: Baylor, 2007