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Amanda Smith, 1837-1915
An Autobiography: The Story of the Lord's Dealings with Mrs. Amanda Smith, the Colored Evangelist: Containing an Account of Her Life Work of Faith, and Her Travels in America, England, Ireland, Scotland, India, and Africa as an Independent Missionary
Chicago: Meyer & Brother Publishers, 1893.


Amanda Berry Smith was one of the few women evangelists to leave a personal account of her work. She was born to slave parents on January 23, 1837 in Long Green, Maryland. Her father, Samuel Berry, earned enough money through extra work to purchase freedom for himself, his wife, Mariam Matthews, and their five children. They moved to York County, Pennsylvania, where their home became a station on the Underground Railroad. There they had seven more children. Although Amanda Smith received less than three months of formal schooling, she learned to read and write with the help of her parents. She worked briefly as a washerwoman and maid to support her family before marrying Calvin M. Devine in 1854. He died as a Union soldier in the Civil War. She moved to Philadelphia in 1863 and married James H. Smith, a deacon in an African Methodist Episcopal church. Smith had two children by her first husband three by her second, but only one daughter, Mazie, survived childhood.

During her first marriage, Smith converted to Christianity. She became active in the Holiness movement, which urged all believers, regardless of their situation or status, to publicly share their faith. Smith was particularly attracted by the controversial principle of sanctification, the belief that purification from intentional sin is achievable through faith. Smith reports that she experienced sanctification in 1868. Following her second husband's death in 1869, Smith began preaching in churches and at Holiness camp meetings in New York and New Jersey, becoming a popular speaker to both black and white audiences during the 1870s. Although she was not ordained or financially supported by the AME Church or any other organization, she became the first black woman to work as an international evangelist in 1878. She served for twelve years in England, Ireland, Scotland, India, and various African countries.

In 1892, Amanda Smith returned to the United States and settled in Chicago where she continued preaching. In 1899, Smith opened a home for black orphans, later called the Amanda Smith Industrial School for Girls in Harvey, Illinois. She wrote a monthly newspaper, the Helper, which augmented her fundraising efforts for the school, and published her autobiography in 1893. She retired to Sebring, Florida in 1912, and died in March 1915.

Works Consulted: Andrews, William L., Frances Smith Foster, and Trudier Harris, eds., The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997; Garraty, John A. and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, vol. 20, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999; Harris, Sharon M., ed., Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 221: American Women Prose Writers, 1870-1920, Detroit: Gale Group, 2000; Melton, J. Gordon, Religious Leaders of America: A Biographical Guide to Founders and Leaders of Religious Bodies, Churches, and Spiritual Groups in North America, Detroit: Gale Group, 1999.

Monique Prince

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