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The Widow, the Missionary, and the Prostitute

The Widow, the Missionary, and the Prostitute

(p.51) Chapter Two The Widow, the Missionary, and the Prostitute
Evangelical Gotham
Kyle B. Roberts
University of Chicago Press

This chapter discusses the emergence of evangelical activism in the generation following the American Revolution. New Yorkers depended on state-sponsored institutions, private associations, and denominational support to care for the destitute immediately after the war. Isabella Marshall Graham, a widow with young daughters, knew firsthand the privations facing the city's most vulnerable. She founded the Ladies' Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children, the city's first evangelical benevolent association, to provide temporal and spiritual support to keep these women in their homes. Ezra Stiles Ely recorded scores of encounters with almshouse residents and hospital patients. Through his published Journals, Ely provided a window into popular urban religiosity. His Journals also represent a deliberate effort to transform the responses of his evangelical readers to the city around them. The uncontested star of Ely's account was a young prostitute named Caroline. Together, Graham, Ely, and Caroline transformed how evangelical New Yorkers thought about the women and men outside of their meetinghouses and inspired a rising generation to attempt to convert the city following the War of 1812.

Keywords:   American Revolution, evangelical activism, Isabella Marshall Graham, Ezra Stiles Ely, New York City, urban evangelicalism, evangelicals

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