The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 99, July 1995 - April, 1996

The Meaning of Participation: White Protestant
Women in Antebellum Houston Churches
ANGELA BOSWELL*
ON SEPTEMBER 27, 1846, THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF HOUSTON,
Texas, "unanimously resolved that a letter of dismission be granted
to our beloved Sister Ruer that she may join the congregation to which
her husband [belongs] in conformity with the ecclesiastical duty ... and
that Brother Hadley write her that letter."' This sentiment is typical of
the records of not only the First Baptist Church at this time, but also of
two other of Houston's first churches: the First Presbyterian Church and
Christ Church (Episcopal). Organized religion in nineteenth-century
Houston reinforced society's expectations of women. As in other South-
ern states, Texas women were expected-and expected themselves-to
live up to the ideal of "True Womanhood" and to exemplify the virtues
of "piety, purity, submissiveness[,] and domesticity."2 Sister Ruer, as a
beloved church member, exhibited piety and purity; in marrying, she
displayed desire for domesticity; and by joining the church of her hus-
band, she demonstrated submissiveness.
What is atypical about this resolution is finding such an explicit recog-
nition of the church's affection for a woman-or, for that matter, any
recognition of women. As in most of the nation, women composed the
majority of the membership at all three Houston churches." However,
* Angela Boswell is currently a Ph.D. student studying Southern and women's history at Rice
University.
' Minutes of the First Baptist Church of Houston, Texas, Apr. 1841-July 1861, p. 25, located
at the First Baptist Church of Houston (cited hereafter as First Baptist Minutes). The minute
records after July 1861 through the beginning of the twentieth century have been destroyed by a
flood.
2 Barbara Welter, "The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820o-1860," American Quarterly, XVIII
(Summer, 1966), 151, 152 (quotation), 153-174. For a historiographical discussion of the use
of separate spheres and the ideal of true womanhood as an analytical tool, see Linda K. Kerber,
"Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman's Place: The Rhetoric of Women's History,"Journal of
Amencan History, LXXV (June, 1988). Kerber points to a "third stage in the development of the
metaphor of separate spheres" where the "sphere was socially constructed both for and by
women" (p. 18). This study agrees with that analysis.
s With the exception of the first two years of the Presbyterian church, in which there were six
men and five women, women outnumbered the men in all three churches, often by a two-to-one

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 99, July 1995 - April, 1996. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101217/. Accessed July 11, 2014.