Dorothy Ripley

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Dorothy Ripley
Dorothy Ripley

Died1831 (aged 64)

Dorothy Ripley (1767–1831)[1] was a British evangelist who came to America in 1801 and died in 1831 in Virginia. She was a Quaker by confession, though she had been raised a Methodist.

Ripley traveled thousands of miles in both the United States and Britain on the camp meeting circuit. She was an effective evangelist. Ripley also ministered to many of the disenfranchised, including the Oneida people, men and women in prison, and especially African slaves in the American South. She was self-published six times, with three of her books receiving a second printing. Ripley crossed the Atlantic at least 9 times, most of those times traveling alone. At her death, one newspaper wrote in her obituary that she was “perhaps the most extraordinary woman in the world.”[2]

Early life[edit]

Ripley was born in the city of Whitby, in England. Her father, William was a close associate of John Wesley. Wesley called William "a burning and shining light."[citation needed] William was working with Wesley at a time when Wesley was encouraging women to become preachers. William desired that his child was going to be a preacher, even before he knew her gender. He encouraged her toward that vocation for as long as he was alive. Ripley’s father died in her teen years, leaving the family in difficult financial straits. They suffered a number of other setbacks, including the loss of family members to early death, and a landslide which destroyed their family home. These incidents had a profound impact on her.

Believing that she was called to Christian ministry, and not wanting to be tied down by the responsibilities of marriage, Ripley chose to remain unmarried.

Work as an Evangelist[edit]

Dorothy traveled, engaging in itinerant preaching in the United States. She spent a great deal of time in New York, South Carolina and Georgia.

Ripley faced many challenges, including the hostility of both men and women toward female preachers. She was accused of being a lewd woman for allowing herself to be viewed publicly as a spectacle. A few of Ripley's opponents also accused her of prostituting herself, as she did not have an income as a means of regular support; her first years as a missionary were funded entirely by donations from people who believed in her ministry. This practice explains the title of her second book, The Bank of Faith and Works United. Ripley persevered, and often ended up winning over her opponents through the effect of her preaching upon large crowds.

Ripley felt sympathy from childhood for the slaves in America. On arriving in 1801 for her first trip in America, she gained an audience with Thomas Jefferson in order to ask for his permission to minister to slaves, preach to slave owners, and to found a school to educate freed slaves. During the meeting she rebuked the President for his slave ownership. She declared that she was particularly concerned for the African women who were being exploited by their slave owners. She secured the "approbation" of the President for her work. When in the South she ministered directly to African slaves, and told slave-owners that they ought to give up their slaves.

Ripley also preached in many African-American churches. She preached for Rev. Absalom Jones' church on one occasion, and for Rev. Richard Allen on another. Allen had been very hesitant to permit Ripley to preach at his church in 1802, but was convinced by some of his members to allow her to do so. Later, Ripley would be one of the speakers, with Rev. Allen and several other male preachers, in 1818.[clarification needed] It is quite possible that with Ripley's example before him, Rev. Allen felt comfortable ordaining Jarena Lee in 1819.

In January 1806, Ripley preached at a church service held inside the United States Capitol building. She was the first woman to do so, and only one other woman received this honor (Harriet Livermore). The event was attended by President Thomas Jefferson.

Ripley assisted Hugh Bourne in starting Primitive Methodism. With Lorenzo Dow and Bourne she preached an itinerant circuit in England. The revival services these three conducted brought many people into Primitive Methodist circles.

In 1830 Ripley led a revival that featured three other female preachers, including Watkins,[clarification needed] Nancy Towle and Ann Rexford.

Relationship with the Quakers[edit]

Attracted to the Quakers, Ripley began to attend their meetings. She identified closely with their doctrine of inner guidance by the light. Ripley loved the Society of Friends, but that love was not always mutual. She applied for membership with them three times, but they repeatedly refused. Several Friends privately supported Ripley financially, believing she was legitimately called by God to preach. David Sands and Priscilla Hanna Gurney were notable Quakers who gave Ripley a great deal of personal and practical support.

Relationship with the Methodists[edit]

Ripley was raised as a Methodist, and most of her theological understanding reflected that background. Ripley was exposed to many famous Methodists in her early life. Her father hosted John Wesley at his house on several occasions. With him came his traveling group of women preachers, including Sarah Crosby and Mary Bosanquet.

Ripley also met Bishop Francis Asbury who greatly encouraged her in her preaching. She associated with many other famous Methodists, including Bishop Whatcoat, Ruth Watkins and Hugh Bourne. Ripley also traveled extensively with Lorenzo Dow while doing a preaching tour in Britain with Bourne. That tour included a stay in a prison for a night when she and the eccentric Dow were arrested.

Publishing career[edit]

Ripley published five books:The Extraordinary Conversion and Religious Experience of Dorothy Ripley (1810); The Bank of Faith and Works United (1819); An Account of Rose Butler (1819); Letters Addressed to Dorothy RIpley (1807), which included a book of poems called An Address to All Difficulties; and the memoir and collected notes of her father. She published all of these at her own expense. The first three received a second printing. Ripley used the proceeds to fund her continued itinerant preaching ministry.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Religion and the Federal Government, from the Library of Congress
  2. ^ Christian Advocate and Journal and Zion’s Herald , Feb. 10, 1832


  • Christian Advocate and Journal, and Zion's Herald. 10 February 1832. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  • Everson, Elisa Ann (2007). 'A Little Labour of Love': The Extraordinary Career of Dorothy Ripley, Female Evangelist in Early America (Dissertation thesis). Georgia State University.
  • "Religion and the Federal Government, Part 2". Library of Congress.
  • Warner, Laceye C. (2007). Saving Women: Retrieving Evangelistic Theology and Practice. Waco: Baylor University Press.