Thursday, March 21, 2013

Antoinette Brown Blackwell


Antoinette Blackwell (1825-1921) was an American philosopher, but was also the first woman minister to be ordained in America. Blackwell wrote six philosophical works and preached into her nineties. She was also known for being a social activist for Women's rights, the Temperance movement, and Abolition movement. Blackwell's most influential work was The Philosophy of Individuality (1893). Due to her progressive work towards women's rights and her longevity, Blackwell was able to cast a vote in the Presidential election in 1920.

Blackwell was educated at the Oberlin Theology Program, but the school refused to grant her a ministerial license. She then found the Orthodox Congregationalist Church, which ordained her in 1852. It was after this time that Blackwell began advocating for women's rights, specifically for women to have the right to have paid work outside the home and also for women to have the right to publically speak. After marrying and having seven children, two of them dying at birth, Blackwell found herself spending much more time at home and having less time to spend preach. It was in her time spent at home that Blackwell began to focus more on philosophy.

After a nervous breakdown, Blackwell left the parish. This is when she began to work extensively on metaphysics. Her first philosophical work was Studies in General Science (1875), which explained mind and matter in a God created universe. Her second work was The Philosophy of Individuality, which concentrated on harmony between the particular and the absolute. As time passed, Blackwell returned to preaching, having changed to the Unitarian Church and still publishing philosophic works. Blackwell died in 1921 peacefully in her sleep.

Blackwell believed that understanding metaphysics was the most important aspect to studying philosophy and thought that logic was going to undermine the philosophical system. Her purpose in studying metaphysics was to connect the study of nature with the process of the universe. Blackwell also believed that truth was not "abstract or complicated, but simple and self-evident." (pg. 190) Also, Blackwell focused on perception and thought that perceptions and observations were truths; that 'falsehoods' were merely misunderstandings of observation or not fully understanding connections. Through her education in theology and philosophy, her beliefs were constructed around the idea that God was a Rational Designer. Similarly, that all living things were conscious, including plants and animals. Blackwell strongly believed in immortality and that it should not only be grounded in a belief in God, but also in scientific justifications. She thought that "as nature endured surface changes while in its basic underlying structure, the atom, did not change, so human beings grow and develop while the self remains immortal." (pg. 192) Aligning with her fight for women's suffrage, she believed that sexes were equal, but that for every 'advance' in a male trait, there was also an 'advance' in female traits.

Personal Response

Antoinette Blackwell has been the most interesting woman philosopher who I have read about thus far. It is astonishing that she was the first woman preacher in America. I also find it inspiring that she spent her entire life working for the women’s suffrage movement and at the age of 96 was able to vote in a Presidential election.  Having published six philosophical works on various subjects, being a preacher, a mother of five, and working well into her nineties is nothing short of amazing. To me it seems that Blackwell somewhat paved the road for the women philosophers who would soon follow her. Having made profound contributions to philosophy it is a little unsettling that her name has not come up in my education so far.


Chapter ? "..." by? in  A History of Women Philosophers: Modern Women Philosophers, 1600-1900 by Mary Ellen Waithe

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