Tribute to Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford
service and dramatic reading by the Reverend Kathy Duhon
collaboration with the Reverend Sarah Barber-Braun
Universalist Women’s Heritage Society
by the Connecticut Valley District
Unitarian Universalist Meeting of South Berkshire
General Assembly of the UUA, Rochester, New York, June, 1998
This dramatic reading
was written in 1996 and first performed in the fall of that year at a
worship service of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Pittsfield,
MA, by a group from the new congregation which Kathy was helping to
start in Great Barrington, the Unitarian Universalist Meeting of
South Berkshire. The reading takes about half an hour and requires
two or three meetings/rehearsals to prepare for it. A suggested order
of service follows.
Order of Service
“Man was not made
subject to woman, nor should woman be subject to man. Neither men’s
rights nor women’s rights should be considered, but human
rights,—the rights of each, the rights of all. Men and women
rise or fall together.” —Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford
“The Day Is Dawning,” a Universalist church school song
written by Phebe Hanaford sung to the tune, “Tramp, Tramp,
‘Tramp, the Boys are Marching”
the Sabbath School we come, thinking always, God, of thee,
the mansions thou’rt preparing far away,
our hearts are sometimes sad, as the sins of earth we see,
we’re hoping for the dawn of heaven’s day.
Sing, sing, sing, the day is dawning.
Cheer up, scholars, it will come,
And beneath the arch of heav’ n
All the world will yet be blest,
And the earth become once more an Eden-home.
we study of thy love, blessed Parent up above,
we hope the night of darkness will be o’er;
the truths we dearly prize, that our very hearts have stirred,
be spread from sea to sea, and shore to shore.
“Take from the past not its ashes but its fire.”
Phebe Ann Coffin
Hanaford Tribute: A Dramatic Reading
“Father! in this Sacred Hour,” written by Caroline
Atherton Mason for Phebe Hanaford’s ordination service sung to
the tune “Vienna,” # 111 in Singing the Living Tradition
In this sacred hour,
Thy grace our spirits dower;
Thine influence from above
our hearts with light and love.
Thy waiting handmaid stands,
blessings at Thy hands;
“Who shall speak for Thee?”
“Here am I—send me!”
sustain her, comfort, guide;
her on every side;
Thy truth inspire her tongue
Thy flock among.
with thine own power and might,
her earnest for the Right;
to do and brave to bear,
watching unto prayer.
her ministry shall be
and blessed, dear Lord, of Thee;
be given her, and Thy name
the glory and acclaim.
your heart cannot but dilate, and your affections widen, until the
divine expansion, like the ambient atmosphere, embraces every form,
which is acted upon by an immortal spirit.” — Judith
Characters in the order
of their appearance
Ann Coffin Hanaford (1829-1921)
Hibbard Hanaford, Phebe’s husband (1819- 1907)
Alcott Hanaford, her son (1849-1907)
Elizabeth Hanaford, her daughter (1854-1902)
E. Miles, her friend and companion (1838-1914)
Hanaford, Phebe’s great-granddaughter
Staging Notes: The
narrator will be at the podium to the far right and next to the
narrator, a musician who plays short phrases with simple melodies for
transitions between scenes. The narrator goes to the podium and
remains there, standing for the entire reading. The center of the
presentation area has three straight chairs, plus a rocker placed a
little forward and to the left. Just before the reading begins, Phebe
sits in the rocker, while Joseph, Howard, and Florence are seated in
the three straight chairs.
The narrator begins the
monologue and pauses when Joseph, Howard, and Florence are first
mentioned, allowing them to rise slightly in acknowledgment. As the
narrator concludes the introductory talk, Phebe and Joseph stand up
to do their dialogue, the musician playing a few notes of transition.
As their dialogue concludes, they freeze, and the narrator completes
the scene. The musician plays while Joseph sits down and Howard
stands up. Then the narrator begins the next scene. The same
procedure happens for Florence’s scene. At the end of the
narration of that scene, all three characters walk to the left where
they have seats waiting for them off to the side.
Then Phebe does her
monologue, sitting in her rocking chair, holding a pad of paper, and
writing with a quill pen. During the musical interlude after this
scene, Ellen, the Reporter, and Maria walk on to sit in the three
chairs next to Phebe. Ellen has a cane and comes on slowly. She sits
closest to Phebe, her chair having been pulled up toward the rocker.
The characters follow the same method for entering and exiting scenes
as in the first three dialogues, but all the scenes are done sitting
down, with Phebe in the rocker and the others trading in and out of
the seat next to Phebe. To take notes, the reporter has a pad of
paper that also has the reporter’s questions on it. At the end,
the musician plays a slightly longer tune (suggestion: a soulful
freedom song), and everyone, including the narrator, exits to the
Costumes: Long black
skirts or dresses for the women, suits for the men, except for
Howard, who has a collegiate-style sweater. Joseph might keep a hat
to his breast. Phebe has a wig, preferably with ringlets. Ellen and
Phebe have shawls. Ellen has a cane.
evening (or morning, as the case may be). We are here to present to
you a dramatic interpretation of the history of an outstanding early
Universalist minister, Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford. The authors have
endeavored to present an accurate portrayal of Phebe’s life,
wherever possible using the authentic words of the people involved,
from such sources as letters, articles, and books from the period.
Phebe Ann Coffin was
born in 1829 in Nantucket, Massachusetts. She was a descendent of the
pilot of the Mayflower. Born into a Quaker family, she was raised to
believe in the spiritual equality of men and women and the great
value of education. Phebe began reading at the age of three. She took
the temperance pledge at age eight and, at thirteen, published her
first poem after hearing anti-slavery speakers. At sixteen, she began
Phebe married Dr.
Joseph Hanaford in 1849, when she was 20 years old. He was ten years
older than she and a Calvinist Baptist. They had two children:
Howard, born in 1849, and Florence, born in 1854. In 1865, Phebe
began attending services at a Universalist church. This is what a
conversation between Joseph and Phebe might have sounded like in
received a letter from Rev. Foster today. It seems he wants me to
declare my religion. He cannot understand why I am associated with
the Universalist Church. He is asking me to answer questions about my
faith and practices, and he hopes I will give a negative reply.3
I cannot understand either, Mrs. Hanaford. Rev. Foster just wants to
ensure your salvation, and our Baptist church is the right place to
do that. He is concerned about you.
Phebe: He is
concerned, but I do not believe in his understanding of salvation any
more. I do not believe a loving God would punish us in Hell.
rising) How can you say that? Are you not fearful of damnation? You
are not just disagreeing with Rev. Foster or the Calvinist Baptist
faith—your views are completely different from Paul’s
doctrine. I do not like having to talk in this strain, but honesty
Phebe: God does
not condemn us. God is loving, and I agree with the Universalists
that no loving God would torture us in Hell. Do you think my
stepsister and stepbrother who have died are going to Hell? I suppose
the people in your church would. I do not. It is a consolation to me
to believe that they are with God.
Joseph: We do
not know who goes to Hell, but God knows who does not belong with Him
Phebe: Our views
are certainly different, and I find yours to be infuriating. Maybe
Rev. Foster is right, though. He is challenging me to decide, and so
I will. I am leaving your Baptist church. And since I am no longer as
comfortable with the Quaker faith I grew up in, I suppose I am truly
a Universalist. They talk sense there, and they give women a voice.
Hanaford, you will surely split this family in pieces. This is not
right. Think of how you did so well teaching Baptist Sunday School.
You even wrote The Best of Books and Its History from those
successful lectures. And you should think about the children. They
need their church.
children are my great joy, and I do think about them. Florence and I
have both already joined the Association of Liberal Ladies for
Benevolent and Useful Work at the Reading Universalist Church.4 I
want the children to know a loving God, not a punishing one. Yes, I
really do need to leave the Baptist church, and so do they.
obviously have diverse views on salvation and on the woman question.
You believe that anyone can go to Heaven and that women can say
anything they choose. This disrespect of the church and of society,
and of me as your husband, very much saddens me. I suffer more than
you know. (turns away)
we do have “irreparable conflict.” If I leave, you will
not have to suffer so. (turns away)
back) No, Phebe, please do not leave! We can work this out as a
1870, when Phebe accepted a call to the Universalist church in New
Haven, Connecticut, she and Joseph did separate, but they remained in
contact for many years.
1871, and Phebe is talking to her son Howard, who is home from Tufts
University in Medford, Massachusetts.
(standing) Howard, I am glad to hear that you are considering the
ministry. I just wish you would give Universalism a chance. I know I
came to it later in life, but it has been a constant joy for me. In
Universalism, there is a serene atmosphere of faith and hope but also
the encouragement of deeds of usefulness and benevolence.
Mother, you are preaching to me again. Congregationalism is so
similar. I wonder if I have inherited my commitment to ministry from
you. Anyway, I do not know any other men who follow in their mother’s
footsteps for their career—that ought to please you.
Phebe: Yes, I am
pleased, son. At least it will be easier for you as a man. Lately, I
have been having a difficult time in the Connecticut legislature. I
was so proud to become the first woman in the world, as far as I
know, to be a chaplain for a legislative body, but that is a group of
all men, who are not all of them ready to have a woman lead them in
prayer. I do not know if I will stay. Maybe just one more year.5
I do not know how you do it all. Maybe it would be better to let that
kind of frustrating work go so that you can do more writing and
writing is going well. They will publish my new book, The Life of
Charles Dickens, this month.6 I do love biography. It is the
personal side of history. But I do not know if I will ever exceed the
success that my Abraham Lincoln book had. What I would really love to
do is to write about important women, but I cannot imagine who would
publish such a book.
believe that if anyone can do it, it is you. When I finish seminary,
and I am prepared for ordination, I think we should surprise a few
people and have you do part of the service. After all, you are
certainly my idea of an important woman.
you, son. Just remember to pray and stay away from cider or wine.7
did go on to be ordained, and Phebe offered the ordaining prayer.
Later, she was the first woman to exchange pulpits with her own son.
One of her most significant books, the one she desired to write about
important women, was published in 1876. It was titled Women of the
Century and later revised as Daughters of America.
it’s 1876, and Phebe’s daughter Florence is to marry
Thomas E. Warner, with Phebe performing the ceremony. The talk the
night before between Phebe and Florence may have sounded like this:
(standing) Mother, I am so pleased that you will be doing the
standing) I do hope Thomas’s family is as liberal-minded as he.
Some would object to a woman minister, especially in a wedding
Florence: Do not
worry, Mother. People are finally beginning to understand that women
are equal. Your new book about the important women of the century
will help to educate people, and very soon we will have the right to
Phebe: We must
keep our hope, but now it is time for us to rejoin the dinner. I am
so proud of you, and we will have the most beautiful wedding
did officiate at her daughter’s wedding, a first. But women
were not allowed to vote in the United States until 1920, the year
before Phebe’s death, nearly 45 years later.
1890, Phebe has retired from the active parish ministry and is
spending more of her time in writing and organizational work. She
takes a leading role in numerous clubs, including SOROSIS, an
organization for women journalists, and she is quite active in the
women’s suffrage movement. Phebe is one of the key women
working with Elizabeth Cady Stanton on The Woman’s Bible.
Here is Phebe’s letter to Mrs. Stanton.
with writing pad and quill pen) “Dear Mrs. Stanton: — I
believe, as you said in your birthday address, that ‘women
ought to demand that the Canon law, the Mosaic code, the Scriptures,
prayer-books and liturgies be purged of all invidious distinctions of
sex, of all false teaching as to woman’s origin, character and
destiny.’ I believe that the Bible needs explanation and
comment on many statements therein which tend to degrade woman.
Christ taught the equality of the sexes, and Paul said: ‘There
is neither male nor female; ye are all one in Christ Jesus.’
Hence I welcome The Woman’s Bible as needed commentary
in regard to woman’s position.”9
year is 1914, and Ellen Miles, Phebe’s longtime companion and
co-worker in ministry, is dying. Phebe is in her eighties, and they
still live together in New York City. Phebe affectionately refers to
Ellen as “Nellie.”
Nellie, how will I go on? You have been my inspiration, my great
friend and my steady companion all these years. (puts hand on Ellen’s
Phebe! And you have had so much death these last few years. We have
said farewell to our friends Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B.
Anthony. It does not seem that there are many of us left, does it?
Phebe: No, all
the struggles we have been through together, all the work, and still
so much is unfinished. How could we still not have the vote?
Ellen: Phebe, I
will be gone soon, but we have had a good life together these 44
years. Not many married couples have been happy together so long.
Ellen’s hand) You have been my best friend and my constant
love. Our companionship has been like that of David and Jonathan in
the Bible. Remember, David said, “I grieve for you, my brother
Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was
wonderful, passing the love of women.”°
let us think of the good life we have shared. Do you remember when we
got away to the mountains and had that lovely retreat?
Phebe: Oh, yes!
We had no difficulties then—that was a great rest and renewal.
remember the poem you wrote for me. It touches my heart more than
David’s words. Could you read it to me now? I love it.
of my later years, whose tender love
Has filled my home with blossoms, sweet though late,
noble heart my spirit must approve,
As Duty’s path thou tread’st with willing feet:
welcome service, at Love’s bidding mine,
As these my rhythmic waifs are gathered now,
for a grateful tribute, and I twine
This simple wreath, dear Nellie, for thy brow.
may the waiting years for thee
Pour out a largess of such holy joy
earth shall seem the porch of heaven to be,
And songs of praise thy tuneful lips employ!
while eternal years shall onward roll,
Still may we share Love’s summer of the soul!
poem was published as a dedicatory sonnet at the beginning of Phebe’s
book, From Shore to Shore, published in 1870. Ellen died in
1914, and her newspaper obituary read: “. . .she [Phebe] and
Miss Miles formed a very intimate personal friendship which continued
without interruption so long as Miss Miles lived. She was a woman of
exceedingly kindly nature, conscientious in her life, strong in her
friendships, and inflexible in her sense of duty.” Perhaps
Phebe wrote the obituary. After Phebe’s death, a testimony was
read honoring their relationship at the fall meeting of SOROSIS, the
women’s journalist society.
is celebrating her 89th birthday with a gathering of friends. During
the festivities, she talks to a reporter about her life. This is a
reconstruction of the conversation between Phebe and the reporter who
wrote about the event.’2
(sitting) Rev. Hanaford, tell us about being the first woman minister
in New England.
Phebe: I am
proud of the fact that I was the first woman preacher, and I also
regret the fact. There should have been women preachers before my
time. It was not hard for me to feel equal to men in church because
that is the way I was raised in the Nantucket Society of Friends
where we all had equal voice.
do you feel is one of the most important things you have done?
Phebe: My work
since retiring from the ministry has been mostly devoted to changing
the laws so women have the right to vote. We do not have it yet as a
nation, but at least New York has finally let women vote. So, I rode
nine miles on bumpy roads just to vote. Voting was certainly one of
the most important things I have ever done. I have written much in my
life, but the importance of The Women’s Bible, to which
I contributed, for women’s spirituality, was truly monumental.
wrote 14 books. Which gave you the most pride?
Phebe: I am
proud of many of the books. Certainly Women of the Century:
Daughters of America was my strongest contribution. But I am also
very pleased by the book on George Peabody. I sent it to Queen
Victoria, and she sent back a letter of appreciation. I am just as
proud of some of my lesser-known work that was not as celebrated,
such as the poetry and articles I have written. For example, I wrote
an article about Joanna Quiner, a woman sculptor from Beverly, that
did honor to her art, and that makes us all proud as women.’3
us about some of the unusual things you have done as a woman.
able to officiate in the marriage of my daughter and participate in
the ordination of my son were both very unusual—the first times
for a woman that either has happened. I was involved in a very
unusual activity for a woman—I served on a jury. And it was an
all-woman jury for a woman who was being tried. I believe she was one
of the few women to get a truly fair trial.
have known many important people. They say you knew President
Phebe: I once
visited with him in his home when he was governor. We had a
difference of opinion, and I would not shake his hand, but he was a
big teddy bear and took both of my hands.
are you doing these days? Do you miss being a minister?
Phebe: I would
not take another pastorate, but my ministry continues. I might preach
again. I am working to have some books printed again. I still have
some contributions to make to this world. But right now, my
granddaughter will be upset if I don’t let you good folks have
some birthday cake and refreshments.
after this, Phebe moved from Pleasant Hill Farm in Basom, New York,
to live with her granddaughter, Dionis Warner Santee, in Rochester,
1919, just two years before Phebe’s death, and she is talking
with her great-granddaughter, Maria.
Grandmother, I cannot believe you are 90 years old! You are entering
Phebe: It has
been a long life, dear, and such a busy one. I found it very, very
quiet on the farm, after life in New York City, and all the places I
have been, and all the groups I have belonged to and friends I have
had. In Rochester, I still feel forlorn and lonely.
remember when you wrote to me that you did not like being “out
of the world in the bushes.” When are you ever going to be a
regular grandmother and settle down quietly?’4
Phebe: Well, I
have certainly never been quiet my whole life. They used to say my
voice was as big as my father’s, and he could be heard above
the waves; he was the one they counted on to shout out the warnings
for the ships. I guess my voice is big because I have been warning
people too, all my life. Free the slaves, let women vote. Takes a big
voice to be heard sometimes, you know. But a gentle voice, too. And a
careful wit! I miss being involved in the struggle and the work, and
I do miss the companionship.
Maria: I know,
Grandmother, but now is your time to rest.
Phebe: I am
grateful that you are concerned about my comfort and happiness. But
you should not rest, dear. There is still so much to be done!
Grandmother, I know.
died at the age of 92 on July 2, 1921. She is buried in Orleans
Cemetery, near Rochester, New York. Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford was an
important leader and minister in our religious tradition and remains
an inspiration to us today.
1. Phebe Ann Coffm
Hanaford Papers, Nantucket Historical Association.
2. Letter of Joseph
Hanaford, PACH Papers, NHA.
3. Foster letter, PACH
4. Records of the
Universalist Church of Reading, MA.
5. PACH letter to
Howard, PACH Papers, NHA.
6 Catherine F
Hitchings, “Universalist and Unitarian Women Ministers,”
Journal of the Universalist Historical Society, X, (1975), 81.
7.PACH letter to
Howard, PACH Papers, NHA. Phebe took the temperance pledge and served
as a temperance chaplain in Nantucket and Beverly.
marriage certificate, Jersey City, NJ.
9. Elizabeth Cady
Stanton, The Woman’s Bible. The Original Feminist
Attack on the Bible  (New York: Arno and the New York
Times, 1974), appendix.
10.° Ellen Miles
obituary, Waltham Daily Free Press Tribune, March 23, 1914.
11. Ibid. From Shore
to Shore by Phebe A. Hanaford (Boston: B. B. Russell, 1871).
12. undated clipping
from a Rochester, NY, newspaper. PACH Papers, NHA.
13. PACH, “Joanna
Quiner, A Biographical Sketch,” Essex Institute Historical
Collections (Salem, MA: The Essex Institute), xii, 35-45. In
1860, Joanna Quiner did a bust of Phebe which is now owned by the
Beverly, MA, Historical Society.
14 PACH letter to
Maria, privately owned.
Kathy Duhon and Sarah
Barber-Braun met in the fall of 1995 at the New England Gathering of
the Unitarian Universalist Association. The combination of their
shared interest in women’s history, Sarah’s passion for
Phebe Hanaford, and Kathy’s interest in writing brought them
together in collaboration for this project.
Sarah has done a great
deal of research and collected primary materials on the life and
ministry of Phebe Hanaford. Finding a means for sharing that
information brought forth the idea of a dramatic reading, appropriate
for worship services as well as for women’s history workshops
and other settings.
The Reverend Kathy
Duhon serves the Unitarian Universalist Meeting of South Berkshire.
She received her Master of Arts in Theological Ethics in 1985 and her
Master of Divinity in 1996, both from Andover Newton Theological
School. Kathy was ordained in April, 1998. She currently writes for
First Days Record.
The Reverend Sarah
Barber-Braun is a 1947 graduate of Radcliffe College and a 1984
graduate of the Thomas Starr King School for the Ministry. She has
devoted sixteen years of independent scholarship to the life and work
of Phebe Hanaford and, since 1995, has had access to papers held by
Hanaford’s great- great granddaughters. A founding member of
the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Heritage Society, she serves
as chair of its Continental Council. She is also Feminisms Section
Chair of Collegium, the association of liberal religious scholars.
Sarah is consulting minister of the First Universalist Church of
Southold, New York.