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Sat, 05.28.1831

Eliza Ann Gardner, Religious Leader born

Eliza Ann Gardner

*Eliza Ann Gardner was born on this date in 1831. She was a Black abolitionist, religious leader, and women's movement leader.

Eliza Ann Gardner was born in New York City to James and Eliza Gardner. As a child, she moved with her family to Boston, where her father had a successful career as a shipping contractor. Their West End neighborhood was an important center of Boston's Black community and the abolitionist movement. The school she attended, the only public school for Black children in Boston at the time, was taught by abolitionists. Her parents were politically active, and the 20 North Anderson Street family home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. She was also a relative of W. E. B. Du Bois.

Gardner was a gifted student and won several scholarships, but she trained as a dressmaker because academic and professional opportunities for black women were limited. As a young woman, Gardner became active in her church and the anti-slavery movement while making her living as a dressmaker and later as keeper of a boarding house. As an activist, she knew and worked with many abolitionist leaders, including Frederick DouglassWilliam Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips.  

Meanwhile, she also taught Sunday school for the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, eventually being named Boston's Sunday school superintendent. In 1876 she founded the Zion Missionary Society in New England to raise funds to send missionaries to Africa. Gardner is referred to as the "mother" of the organization, later known nationally as the Ladies' Home and Foreign Missionary Society. Her fundraising efforts met with resistance in 1884, when members of the male-dominated AMEZ Church objected to creating a women's society.

At the church's quadrennial conference, Gardner successfully defended the role of women in the church:  I come from Old Massachusetts, where we have declared that all, not only men but women, too, are created free and equal...If you commence to talk about the superiority of men, if you persist in telling us that after the fall of man we were put under your feet and that we are intended to be subject to your will, we cannot help you in New England one bit.  She was instrumental in persuading the church to allow women to be ordained as ministers, urging them to "strengthen [women's] efforts and make us a power." 

In 1895, when female chaplains were a rarity, she served as the chaplain of the First National Conference of the Colored Women of America. She was a founding member of the Woman's Era Club of Boston, the city's first black women's club. She was involved in forming the National Association of Colored Women Clubs and was featured as an honored guest at their biennial convention in New York in 1908. She never married and had no children. Eliza Ann Gardner died on January 4, 1922. The Gardner Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church in Springfield, Massachusetts, is named in her honor.

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