Eliza Ann Gardner is the reason the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church has been ordaining women since 1898. This underground railroad conductor, mother of missionaries, and revolutionary always called it like she saw it, and that is what makes her my shero of the week.
Born free in New York state on May 28, 1831, Eliza was raised in Boston by abolitionist parents who were possibly related to W.E.B DuBois. Regardless of family connections, being raised by two well-known abolitionists certainly had its benefits — Eliza had the opportunity to discuss the issues of the day with great minds like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, William Lloyd Garrison, and Frederick Douglass. It’s no surprise that Eliza went on to become a feminist and abolitionist icon herself.
Like many Black women today, Eliza was capable and highly intelligent but denied access to opportunity because of her race and gender. Instead of going to college or getting married straight out of high school, Eliza forged her own path, becoming a savvy businesswoman who worked as a dressmaker and owned a boarding home. This is just one of the many ways she bucked the conventions of her day.
Eliza was also very active in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, where she began teaching Sunday School in 1865. She refused to allow the Black men of the church to dismiss and overlook her capacity in the way that white men dismissed and overlooked theirs. Gardner believed that women’s contributions and leadership were central to the future of the church and ‘the cause of the colored race.’
In what may have been the greatest flex of the 19th century, Gardner spoke out against misogynoir at AME Zion church’s 1884 General Conference, telling men if they persisted in their idea of male supremacy, the women of Boston “cannot help you in New England one bit.” Gardner told the assembly to “strengthen women’s efforts and make us a power!”
The church said Amen.
With their hands finally untied, Gardner and the other ladies of the church became a force to be reckoned with. By the mid-1880s, Gardner was the city of Boston’s Superintendent of Sunday School, a position that historically had always been held by a man. She organized other women of the church to work as fundraisers to help build new AMEZ churches, bring in new ministers, and fund foreign and domestic mission work.
In 1876, Eliza went on to found the Zion Mission Society in New England, which would become the Ladies Home and Foreign Missionary Society, one of the oldest Black organizations of its type.
Miss Gardner also founded the Woman’s Era Club of Boston, the largest social club for colored women in New England and one of the largest and most influential in the country.
Feminist abolitionists like Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin and Maria Baldwin worked with Gardner to bring together over 25 colored women’s social clubs in 1895 to form the first National Conference of Colored Women in America.
Gardner served as the convention's chaplain, even though it was nearly unheard of for women to hold church power in that way at the time.
Eliza Ann Gardner continued to be a voice for change for women and Black people until her death at the age of 91 in the year 1922. Five years before Eliza went on home to be with Jesus, she was asked to speak at an event commemorating the 54th volunteer infantry regiment, the group of soldiers the movie Glory was about. This is what she said:
“as there was no victory without us in the past, so there will be none without us in the future.”
Truer words were never spoken. Rest in Power Eliza.
This Day in History Class Podcast https://play.acast.com/s/this-day-in-history-class/e9859cf8-4795-11ea-b80a-132bdb459628
Connectional Ally Council-- Saluting Our Heritage http://connectionallaycouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/CLC-SaluteToOurHeritage.pdf
Eliza Ann Gardner (U.S. National Park Service)
Remembered as someone "pointed and convincing in speech, winning in manner, [and] overpowering in appeal," 1 community…
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