John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life - 1283 Bytes

John Wesley at age 48- 4041 Bytes

Women and Wesley's Times

   John Wesley received much of his early spiritual and academic training from his mother Susanna Wesley (below), who told him that he was "a brand plucked from the burning" and was to have a special vocation given by God when he grew up. Susannah was referring to his near death from burning when the parsonage home his family was living in went up in flames when he was a little boy.

Susanna Wesley - 7580 Bytes    In that Susanna was a strong, intelligent, spiritually mature woman may also be a reason why Wesley supported such women leaders in the Methodist movement. While John Wesley, for the most part, did not technically allow women to preach ("exhort"), he did recognize and encourage women to be leaders in a variety of ways.

    Though we may think of John Wesley as too conservative in his view of women's leadership, he was attacked from inside and outside of Methodism for his actions. In London, for example, some of Wesley's followers tried to exclude women from a number of the society's activities. Their actions infuriated Wesley, who told them that he did "exceedingly disapprove" of excluding women when the society met to pray, sing, and read the Scriptures.1 A clergyman accused Wesley of keeping women in Bristol so busy that they were not giving their families proper attention. "William Fleetwood dismissed the Methodists, or 'Perfectionists,' as he called them, as a group of 'silly Women.'... Such attacks were unfounded but the response of women to Wesley's liberating message was overwhelming indeed.2

   In his book John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life, Charles Yrigoyen, Jr., observes:

Mary Bosanquet - 9828 BytesMethodists flourished under the direction of class and band leaders, persons of spiritual strength and insight. Most of them were women! Among them were Sarah Crosby, Dorothy Downes, and Grace Murray, exemplary Christians whose witness persuaded many to accept God's grace and begin a new life....

   In effect, [Sarah Crosby, Mary Bosanquet (right), Hannah Harrison, Eliza Bennis, Jane Cooper, and others]... were engaged in preaching, and many people experienced conversion as a result of their testimony and proclamation of the gospel.... In 1787, despite the objections of some of the male preachers, he officially authorized Sarah Mallet to preach, as long as she proclaimed the doctrines and adhered to the disciplines that all Methodist preachers were expected to accept.[3]

   Methodist women of Wesley's day truly "offered them Christ" in a variety of ways.

More Information

§  A Moment With John Wesley, a skit by J. Ann Craig

§  Interactive Quiz: John Wesley and the People of His Day (women and men)

§  Mary Bosanquet Fletcher (1739-1814), one of the first deaconesses in Methodism

§  Jane Cooper: "My Jesus Is All in All to Me", a Methodist leader in 18th Century England

§  Grace Murray, Model Leader and John Wesley's True Love

§  John Wesley on Women Visiting the Sick, a statement in support of this ministry for women

§  On the Death of George Whitefield by Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784), includes a reference to Lady Huntington

§  Sarah Gwynne Wesley, musician and wife of Charles Wesley

§  Susanna Wesley and the Unauthorized Meetings, a story from J. B. Wakeley, Anecdotes of the Wesleys: Illustrative of Their Character and Personal History (19th century)

·         Charles Wesley's Epitaph for Susanna (1670-1742) from J. B. Wakeley, Anecdotes of the Wesleys: Illustrative of Their Character and Personal History (19th century)

Other Web Sites

§  ladyhuntington.gif - 11282 BytesEliza Bennis. Eliza Bennis was actively involved in the growth and maintenance of Methodism in Ireland and served as a spiritual adviser to many. She kept Wesley informed of Irish developments and maintained many dispirited missionaries by her sound and independent advice.

§  A Cluster of Stars - Pioneer Methodist Women by Revd. I. W. Willey, The Ladies' Repository, Volume 26, Issue 6, 1860. Stories about a number of the earliest Methodist women leaders. Part of the Making of America Project, University of Michigan.

§  Lady Selina Shirley Huntingdon (1707-1791) Lady Huntingdon (right) appointed the Rev. George Whitefield as one of her chaplains, established sixty-four Methodist meeting houses in England, and provided seminaries for the education of ministers to supply them.

§  Letter of John Wesley to Mary Bosanquet, June 13 1771

§  Letter of John Wesley to his wife Mary Vazeille, May 22 1752

§  The Religious Experience of Jarena Lee b. 1783 (Philadelphia 1836) Giving an account of her call to preach the gospel, revised and corrected from the original manuscript written by herself. Prepared as part of The Digital Schomburg, a project providing electronic access to collections on the African Diaspora and Africa from The New York Public Library.

§  Sources of Women's History in Methodism

§  Susanna Wesley, George Whitefield and an Early Methodist Controversy, Martha F. Bowden, Kennesaw State University, December 3, 1999



Mary Bosanquet Fletcher


Mary Bosanquet

   Mary Bosanquet has been called one of the first deaconesses in Methodism was born in Leytonstone, in Essex in 1739. She took seriously Wesley's preaching to "give all you can" using her own financial resources and her time to provide for persons in need. She became a class leader and then a preacher. In 1763, she and Sarah Ryan took charge of a large house in Leytonstone, her birthplace, which became a sanctuary for the most destitute and friendless people in London. The house became a school, orphanage, hospital, and half-way house all-in-one.

   In 1781, Mary married John Fletcher, who was John Wesley's designated successor. He died in 1785. For almost 30 years after her husband's death, Mary continued her ministry. She died on December 9, 1815.

Sources: Study Guide of John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life by Ruth A. Daugherty, pp. 117-118 and The Illustrated History of Methodism in Great Britain, America, and Australia by W. B. Daniel (New York: Methodist Book Concern, 1884), pp. 292-295.

Note: If you click on a picture, a larger one will appear.

For Further Study

§  Wesley and Women, an introduction and links to background about individual women in early Methodism

§  Letter of John Wesley to Mary Bosanquet, June 13 1771

John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life - 1283 Bytes

John Wesley at age 48- 4041 BytesJane Cooper
"My Jesus Is All in All to Me"

   Jane Cooper was a leader in early Methodism in England . Some of the men in the Methodist Society criticized her saying that she was stepping beyond her bounds as a woman: they felt she exhorted (preached) when speaking in public gatherings.

   John Wesley praised her as one was a fine example of Christian discipleship, going as far to say that "she was both a living and a dying witness of Christian perfection."

A Letter from Jane Cooper, January 15, 1762

Cover of Book She Offered Them Christ - 11894 Bytes   Went to Lon..n on Friday to the Meeting. Mr. M..d desired any to Speak who had not before declared the goodness of God. I was convinced I ought to Speak but fear'd I Sh..d bring a reproach upon the Cause of my foolishness. Was tempted to think I sh..d fall down in a fit if I began & that I knew not how to order my Speach aright. But the L..d said "take no thou..t how or what you shall Speak for in that hour it Shall be given you....

   ... I felt an awfull sense of God while Speaking & sat down with emotion that Spoak to my Heart, well don good & and faithful Servant. My Soul Sh..d suffer loss. I am content to be vile, let God be glorified & it sufficeth.

   The letter is in Sara Crosby, manuscript letterbook, 1760-1774, Perkins Library, Duke University , pp. 111-13. It is quoted in Paul W. Chillcote, She Offered Them Christ: The Legacy of Women Preachers in Early Methodism (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), p. 54. This book can be purchased from the Service Center. The price is $11.95; the order number is #2458.



John Wesley at age 48- 4041 BytesSermon 98 (text from the 1872 edition)

On Visiting the Sick

by John Wesley

   "I was sick, and ye visited me." —Matthew 25:36


  7. "But may not women, as well as men, bear a part in this honourable service?" Undoubtedly they may; nay, they ought; it is meet, right, and their bounden duty. Herein there is no difference; "there is neither male nor female in Christ Jesus."Indeed it has long passed for a maxim with many, that "women are only to be seen, not heard." And accordingly many of them are brought up in such a manner as if they were only designed for agreeable playthings! But is this doing honour to the sex? Or is it a real kindness to them? No; it is the deepest unkindness; it is horrid cruelty; it is mere Turkish barbarity. And I know not how any woman of sense and spirit can submit to it. Let all you that have it in your power assert the right which the God of nature has given you. Yield not to that vile bondage any longer. You, as well as men, are rational creatures. You, like them, were made in the image of God; you are equally candidates for immortality; you too are called of God, as you have time, to "do good unto all men." Be "not disobedient to the heavenly calling." Whenever you have opportunity, do all the good you can, particularly to your poor, sick neighbour. And every one of you likewise "shall receive your own reward, according to your own labour."

   8. It is well known, that, in the primitive Church, there were women particularly appointed for this work. Indeed there was one or more such in every Christian congregation under heaven. They were then termed Deaconesses, that is, servants; servants of the Church, and of its great Master. Such was Phebe, (mentioned by St. Paul, Rom. 16:1) "a Deaconess of the Church of Cenchrea." It is true, most of these were women in years, and well experienced in the work of God. But were the young wholly excluded from that service? No: Neither need they be, provided they know in whom they have believed; and show that they are holy of heart, by being holy in all manner of conversation. Such a Deaconess, if she answered her picture, was Mr. Law's Miranda. Would anyone object to her visiting and relieving the sick and poor, because she was a woman; nay, and a young one too? Do any of you that are young desire to tread in her steps? Have you a pleasing form, an agreeable address? So much the better, if you are wholly devoted to God. He will use these, if your eye be single, to make your words strike the deeper. And while you minister to others, how many blessings may redound into your own bosom! Hereby your natural levity may be destroyed; your fondness for trifles cured; your wrong tempers corrected; your evil habits weakened, until they are rooted out; and you will be prepared to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in every future scene of life. Only be very wary, if you visit or converse with those of the other sex, lest your affections be entangled, on one side or the other, and so you find a curse instead of a blessing.

   9. Seeing then this is a duty to which we are called, rich and poor, young and old, male and female, (and it would be well parents would train up their children herein, as well as in saying their prayers and going to church) let the time past suffice that almost all of us have neglected it, as by general consent. O what need has every one of us to say, "Lord, forgive me my sins of omission!" Well, in the name of God, let us now from this day set about it with general consent. And I pray, let it never go out of your mind that this is a duty which you cannot perform by proxy; unless in one only case, -- unless you are disabled by your own pain or weakness. In that only case, it suffices to send the relief which you would otherwise give. Begin, my dear brethren, begin now; else the impression which you now feel will wear off; and, possibly, it may never return! What then will be the consequence? Instead of hearing that word, "Come, ye blessed! -- For I was sick, and ye visited me;" you must hear that awful sentence, "Depart, ye cursed! -- For I was sick, and ye visited me not!"


Arrow Point Forward - 1205 Bytes

Susanna Wesley and the Unauthorized Meetings

by J. B. Wakeley, 19th Century Methodist Historian

Susanna Wesley - 11743 Bytes   While her husband was absent in London in 1711, attending Convocation, Mrs. Wesley adopted the practice of reading in her family, and instructing them. One of the servants told his parents and they wished to come. These told others, and they came, till the congregations amounted to forty, and increased till they were over two hundred, and the parsonage could not contain all that came. She read to them the best and most awakening sermons she could find in the library, talked to the people freely and affectionately. There meetings were held "because she thought the end of the institution of the Sabbath was not fully answered by attending Church unless the intermediate spaces of time were filled up by other acts of devotion."

   Inman, the Curate, was a very stupid and narrow man. He became jealous because her audience was larger than his, and he wrote to Mr. Wesley, complaining that his wife, in his absence, had turned the parsonage into a conventicle; that the Church was likely to be scandalized by such irregular proceedings; and that they ought to be tolerated no longer. Mr. Wesley wrote to his wife that she should get some one else to read the sermons. She replied that there was not a man there who could read a sermon without spoiling it.

   Inman, the Curate, still complained, and the Rector wrote to Mrs. Wesley that the meetings should be discontinued. Mrs. Wesley answered him by showing what good the meetings had done, and that none were opposed to them but Mr. Inman and one other. She then concludes with these wonderful sentences: "If after all this you think fit to dissolve this assembly do not tell me you desire me to do it, for that will not satisfy my conscience; but send your positive command in such full and express terms as may absolve me from all guilt and punishment for neglecting this opportunity for doing good when you and I shall appear before the great and awful tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Susanna Wesley holding a book - 11970 Bytes   Were not these the first Methodist meetings held by the Wesleys?

   Can we wonder that Isaac Taylor says that "the mother of the Wesleys was the mother of Methodism;" and that in her characteristic letter, when she said, "'Do not advise me, but command me to desist,'" she was bringing to its place a corner-stone of the future of Methodism."

   Who can tell the influence those meetings of their mother in the parsonage had upon John and Charles in future years, who were then little boys, and always present!

Arrow Point Forward - 1205 Bytes

Susanna Wesley's Epitaph