The American Abolitionist website describes Parker Pillsbury as “an outspoken abolitionist orator, editor and author.”
This feisty preacher, who was born in Hamilton, Massachusetts of a wealthy and philanthropic family, started out a a farmer and waggoner, although after joining the Congregational Church around 1835, he took up theology and followed his vocation in ministry.
Pillsbury graduated from New Hampshire’s Gilmanton Theological Seminary in 1838, then took up a post in a church in London, New Hampshire.
On New Year’s Day, in 1840, Parker Pillsbury married his sweetheart, Sarah H. Sargent; the couple produced one daughter, Helen. All his life, he struggled to secure a balance between his work and his wife and daughter.
Sex and Gender Roles Affect Men as well as Women
Throughout history, many men have assisted women’s struggle for equality. Victorian women, for example, were expected to sacrifice their right to education, their property rights, and the basic right to personal liberty.
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The feminist movement in America began a little earlier than it did in England, around 1848, and some men began to realise that restrictive sex and gender roles were as counter-productive for men as they were for women. Men’s participation in the feminist cause was a vital element of the progression of women’s rights and feminist principles.
Pillsbury Attacks His Church
Unfortunately, Parker Pillsbury’s views began to conflict severely with those of his church. This was as a result of a visiting Quaker who converted Pillsbury into becoming an abolitionist. The American Feminist Movement, and the Civil Rights Movement, were closely related and interactive – and Pillsbury became a committed pro-feminist.
Parker Pillsbury vented his ire on his church for its tolerance of slavery, says the Worcester Women’s History Project, by accusing the Congregational ministers of being “guilty of the sin of conniving at American slavery.” Furiously, the church authorities withdrew his licence to preach in 1840.
This did not prevent Parker Pillsbury, together with Stephen S. Foster, from turning up at the church to try to coerce the congregation to rebel against the pro-slavery authorities. The two men partnered each other in pursuit of the abolition of slavery and social reform, and they travelled and lectured widely.
In spite of his spirited rejection of American complicity towards slavery, Pillsbury gained a reputation for his passive, non-resistance even when dealing with crowds that showed violence toward him. In addition, Pillsbury joined the Executive Committee of the New Hampshire Non-Resistance Society but never swerved from his support of the noted abolitionist, John Brown, (1890-1910) even after the Harpers Ferry raid, for which Brown paid with his life.
The Harpers Ferry Raid
The Harpers Ferry raid was instigated by John Brown on 16 October, 1859 when Brown and his supportive band of abolitionists converged on the town of Harpers Ferry.
The abolitionists managed to capture some important citizens, and they seized weapons from the arsenal, but the raid didn’t work out for them. They expected help from the local slaves, and believed that the weapons seized would assist them in achieving a successful outcome.
However, the local militia men were more than up to the challenge, and captured and killed a number of the rebels. John Brown himself was captured, tried for treason against the state of Virginia, (as well as for murder and insurrection) and he was hanged on 2 December, 1859. Brown was twenty years old.
Pillsbury’s Pro-feminist Achievements
In addition to his many achievements and reforms relating to abolitionism, including his strong support for Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and a trip to Great Britain in 1854 as an emissary from the American Anti-Slavery Society, Parker Pillsbury actively campaigned for women. One of his campaigns focussed on women physicians. According to Sue Young Histories in the article, Parker Pillsbury 1809-1898, he was also particularly interested in promoting homeophathy.
In 1865, Pillsbury helped to create the constitution of the feminist American Right Association. He became vice-president of North Hampshire Woman Suffrage Association. During 1868 and 1869, he helped edit “Revolution,” a weekly journal, with the famous feminist reformer and pioneer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Parker Pillsbury also supported the Free Religious Association, and continued to preach to its various societies in New York, Michigan and Ohio.
Parker Pillsbury: Memoirs and Legacy
The title of Parker Pillsbury’s memoirs has a strong biblical allusion: “Acts of the Anti-Slavery Apostles, 1883.”
Eventually, male feminism morphed into the consciousness raising and rebellion against traditional male stereotypes (e.g. men must be tough, men must not cry) that rose during the second wave of feminism in the 1970s, causing a further blurring of gender roles that began, all that time ago, during the American Civil War.