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Book of the Week — An Autobiography: The Story of the Lord’s Dealings With Mrs. Amanda Smith, the Colored Evangelist…

frontisportrait with signature
“I believe that God is honored as much when He tells me to do a thing and I obey, as when He says not to do it, and I obey.”

An Autobiography: The Story of the Lord’s Dealings With Mrs. Amanda Smith, the Colored Evangelist…
Amanda Smith (1837-1915)
Chicago: Meyer & Brother, Publisher, 1893
First edition
BV3785 S56 A3 1893

Amanda Berry was born into slavery in Maryland to parents who worked on adjacent farms.  Her father, Samuel Berry, bought first his and then his four children and wife’s freedom. Eight more children were born free to Smith’s parents in York County, Pennsylvania.

engraving Amanda Smith's father

Amanda Smith became a Methodist missionary. Religion played a key role in the lives of African-American women in the 19th century, helping to free them from male dominance with the proposition that they had divine protection as they sought liberation. Her first husband, Calvin Devine, died fighting in the Civil War. They had two children, one of whom, Mazie, grew to be an adult.

portrait of Marie Smith

Amanda married again, to James Smith, an ordained deacon in the Methodist Episcopal Church, in 1862. After her second husband’s death six years later, she preached in African-American churches in New York and New Jersey. She was met with resistance from African Methodist Episcopal pastors who felt it was not proper for a woman to preach or conduct church services. Undaunted by this prejudice, Smith became well-known in her own community and beyond. Smith traveled throughout England, India, and West Africa advocating for the education of girls and grown women. Her simple Quaker-like dress and bonnet (for which she was well-known and about which she tells a wonderful story) and a rich contralto singing voice brought her attention that her detractors could not circumvent. Her autobiography is filled with quotes from hymns. Upon her return from Monrovia, Liberia, in 1890, she established an orphanage and school for black children in Chicago. The school was granted a state charter and maintained as the only Protestant institution for children of color until 1918.

Her colleague, Bishop J. M. Thorburn wrote of Smith’s commanding presence in this book’s introduction, “I have never known anyone who could draw and hold so large and audience as Mrs. Smith.” Suffrage and temperance leader and friend, Frances Willard (1839-1898) encouraged her to write her autobiography. In a letter from London dated February 17th, 1893 Willard wrote: “Dear Sister: We learn that you are about to bring out a book containing your experiences of life which have been so varied and remarkable. We are glad of this, and confident that great good will come of it to all who read it, for your cheery Christianity bears the stamp that should become universal, and every fresh example helps to bring that day nearer.”

Illustrated with an engraved frontisportrait and twenty-five full-page engravings. Rare Books copy in publisher’s burgundy cloth, stamped pictorially in gilt with a portrait of the author, lettered in gilt on the spine, dark blue endpapers. Inscribed to “Mrs. Moxcey with kind regards Geo. F. Lyon” on the front free endpaper, and dated 1912. The signature could be that of Justice George Frances Lyon (1949-ca. 1925), who was a Supreme Court Justice between 1895 and his retirement in 1919 at the age of seventy.

“O, the patience and loving kindness of the Lord, so infinite in power and might, to bear with such cowards. How true the words of this song: —
Were it not that love and mercy in my Lord abide,
When my conscience is o’ertaken, where would I hide?
How could I live without Thee, Saviour and friend,
Thou art my only refuge, saved to the end.”

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