Room for all people
Explore Wesley and the equal treatment of women
There were very little opportunities and freedoms for women in the 18th century compared with life today. Social convention and class largely determined a woman’s prospects in life. When a woman married all that she owned became the property of her husband and any children she bore to him were legally his. Marriage was the only respectable outcome for women, as a life of singleness often brought destitution without the financial support of male family members.
John Wesley thought very highly of women and encouraged them to bear an equal part in sharing the gospel. Wesley objected to men describing women as ‘agreeable playthings’, to be seen and not heard. He called this the ‘deepest unkindness’ and ‘horrid cruelty’. John Wesley spoke out against the oppression of women and this ‘vile bondage’. He celebrated women as image bearers of God, equal candidate for immortality. These Christian values and the experience of his upbringing in Epworth with his mother Susanna made a significant impression on him. However his marriage to Mary (Molly) Vazeille was an unhappy one and the pair eventually separated.
John Wesley acted on his beliefs by employing a housekeeper at his ‘new room’. A housekeeper in the 18th century was a well respected role; a keeper of the keys, the housekeeper would be trusted with managing the affairs of the household. In 1743 John Wesley asked Sarah Perrin to become the housekeeper because he wanted someone who could also lead class groups and encourage good behaviour. He asked her to ensure that people behaved appropriately in the chapel and put her in charge of selling the books that he and Charles wrote.
We can assume that the thoughts, beliefs and actions of Wesley and other Methodist preachers would have had an impact on the way women were treated in Methodist circles. Sadly, much of the written material we have access to today has been penned by men. However, there is one story which stands out amongst others and that is the story of Sarah Ryan, another housekeeper at the New Room. John Wesley saw in her a potential that no one else did and she proved an excellent housekeeper. She rejoiced in a new lifestyle that was, in her words, ‘full of light, joy, love and holiness’. Discover her full story within the museum.
Sarah Crosby (1729-1804), Sarah Ryan (1724-1768), and Selina Countess of Huntingdon (1707-1791), among others all became prominent figures in the Methodist movement. There have since been countless women through the centuries of different cultures, ethnicities, and languages from around the world who have made their mark on Methodism. As society has developed and changed over the years, so to have the opportunities and freedoms for women. There still remain topics for question and debate and there are certainly many more stories which remain unseen or unheard.
"Not just informative but engaging and thought-provoking" - Museum visitor
Highlights from the Shop
Women, Preachers, Methodists, Edited by John Lenton, Clive Murray Norris, and Linda A. RyanThis book was published in 2019 to commemorate the 350 th anniversary of the birth of Susanna Wesley. Its chapters include the life and work of Susanna Wesley, mother of John and Charles, and the often hidden histories of female preachers in the 18 th and 19 th centuries. The book also tackles the challenges faced by women in the Methodist Church today. A valuable publication in highlighting and celebrating the voice and contribution of inspirational women through the ages.
Susanna Wesley, Mother of Methodism by Mary GreethamThis booklet was written in 1988 when Mary Greetham and her husband were Wardens at the Old Rectory in Epworth, the birthplace of John and Charles Wesley. This book offers a clear introduction to the life and influence of Susanna Wesley, who is known as the ‘Mother of Methodism’. Susanna was a remarkable woman and her devotion to faith and learning paved the way for John and Charles’ ministry.
Susanna WesleyNotebooks and mugs available in the shop
Seniors (65+) £6
Children (5-16) £4
Children (under 5) Free
Carer of disabled visitor Free
1 adult and up to 3 children £10
2 adults and up to 3 children £15
Additional children - £2 per child
Tickets are valid for one year, and include a free audio guide. Please note, these prices will be subject to review in 2021.
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Methodist Women in Britain
Methodist Women in Britain (MWiB) is a self-financing volunteer-run charity within the Methodist Church in Britain. They aim to bring women together, encouraging one another to know Christ and to make him known. They encourage, resource and train Methodist Church women, equipping them to participate more fully in the wider church and in society. They also connect women in Britain with women overseas, working in partnership with others to raise awareness of and act upon issues of social justice around the world.Visit their website
International Women's Day
Join the #choosetochallenge for a gender equal world. Save the date of 8th March to celebrate the lives and achievements of all the women you know./p>Discover more resources and information
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