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Antoinette Brown and Olympia Brown

Today we will hear about two girls from long ago, who both had the last name of Brown. As you hear the story, see if you can notice other things they had in common, besides a name.

Let's go back in time together, about 200 years, to meet Antoinette Brown. When Antoinette was a young girl, her faith was important to her. The way she wanted to show her faith was to share it with other people and encourage them to live their faith, in their own way. She decided to become a minister. But she was told, "No, that is impossible." Because in those days in this country, there were no women ministers.

People laughed at Antoinette. They discouraged her. They told her she was being foolish and should give up this idea. But her mother supported her. Antoinette's mother pinned a white ribbon on her dress and said, "You can do it. I believe in you." When Antoinette Brown felt discouraged, she would touch the ribbon and remember that she had support.

There were many obstacles. Antoinette's family could not afford to send her to college. Antoinette touched the white ribbon. She found a job, and worked for three years until she could pay for college herself. She attended Oberlin College, the first U.S. college to admit women and blacks. Oberlin was proud to support people who others thought not worthy of college. But when Antoinette asked to enter a program to become a minister, Oberlin College said, "No. That's impossible." I bet Antoinette Brown touched her white ribbon then. She did not back down. Eventually, she entered the program, but once her studies were done, Oberlin College refused to grant her a degree. Do you think she touched her ribbon?

Antoinette found other people who supported her. Friends invited her to speak in public and in churches. She gave speeches for women's rights and other social justice causes and she inspired and supported many people even without being in a church. Seventeen years after her mother had pinned the white ribbon on her, in 1853, Antoinette was ordained. It is believed that she was the first woman ordained as a minister in our nation. She was a minister of a Congregationalist church, but she left it and became a Unitarian minister. She is one of our faith ancestors.

Reverend Antoinette Brown liked to give speeches to women in college. She remembered the obstacles she had faced to become a minister. She wanted to support young women with their goals, even when others might have said to them, "No. That's impossible." Becoming a minister had been one sign of Antoinette Brown's faith. Now, encouraging other young women who came after her was another.

One time, a young student invited Reverend Antoinette Brown to speak at Antioch College. The student's name was Olympia Brown. They shared the same last name, but they were not related to each other. Olympia Brown had never heard a woman minister before. Olympia told Antoinette that she wanted to be a minister, too. Like Antoinette, she wanted to live her faith by working to make the world a better place for all people. But, Olympia Brown had not been sure a woman could become a minister. People had said to her, "No. That's impossible."

Antoinette Brown gave Olympia Brown a white ribbon. Maybe she told her, "You can do it. I believe in you."

Olympia was ordained as a Universalist minister in 1863.

These two women were some of the first women ministers in our country. They are our faith ancestors. Like us, they had great hopes for the future. Like us, they accepted the mantle of faithful leadership. When we show these and other signs of our faith, we honor their memory and strengthen our connection to our UU legacy.

It takes courage to live your faith, day in and day out. It takes extra courage when people keep telling you the way you want to live your faith is wrong or impossible. How much courage did Antoinette Brown and Olympia Brown have?

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Last updated on Tuesday, July 9, 2013.

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