Partner Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford
Mount Feake Cemetery, Waltham, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA
Ellen E. Miles (March 1, 1834 – March 28, 1914) was a writer of hymns and Phebe Ann Coffin Hanaford's longtime companion and co-worker in ministry. They lived together in New York City until Miles' death. This is a transcript of an article which appeared on the New York Times on January 22, 1905:
A pleasant room, with quaint and shining crystal-knobbed furniture, with ferns at windows, a shaded lamp on the centre table. Ellen
E. Miles. the writer of hymns, sewing carpet rags for charity close to the lamp, big variegated balls near by and filling a basket at her feet, and Phebe A.
Hanaford, pastor of the Universalist Church and President of women's clubs, idling: hands folded, resting a while in the evening of her life.
This was the scene upon which The Times reporter entered. She put some questions relative to the life of the woman pastor. "I'm afraid I am too tired to talk tonight." smiled Mrs. Hanaford.
The writer of hymns looked up from her carpet rags.
"Talk," she urged. "She has come all the way in the cold. If you don't talk, I will" she threatened.
"What happened when you first began to preach?" asked the Times reporter, encouraged somewhat. "Did they persecute you in the name of God? Did they throw things at you?"
"Tell her," said the writer of hymns, "how they bore you up in their arms, like the precious thing you are; and always have been."
"Ellen!" reproached Mrs. Hanaford. Then. "I see,"' she added "If this is to be told correctly I must tell it myself."
Then she began to teil how she had come of a Quaker family, where all her life she had heard the women talk in the congregation, where more women talked than men. How Lucretia Mott, whose sweet old fashioned picture hung above the mantel in the pleasant room, was her ancestress. How she was descended, too, from Degory Priest, one of the twenty nine signers of the Mayflower compact, the first expression of true republican principles in the world, and had thus come naturally by her tendency to preach right living and the Gospel.
"Tell how you are the fourth woman in the world to be ordained," prompted the writer of hymns, "and the first in New England."
"Antoinette Brown Blackwell," began Mrs. Hanaford, "was the first woman in the world to be ordained. She was ordained in New York. The second was the Rev. Olympia Brown, also from New York State. The third was the Rev. Augusta T. Chapin, New York. She is the only woman in the world who has received the degree of Doctor of Divinity. The fourth to be ordained was myself, in New England. at Hingham, Mass., in the year '68. Eight men and one woman ordained me. That woman was the Rev. Olympia Brown. At my ordination services the hymns were written for me by women. One was written for me by Julia Ward Howe, who is one sot my dearest friends, the other ..."
Here she waved her hand toward Ellen E. Miles, who looked up again from her carpet rags.
"I wrote the other," she nodded.
"She wrote the other," said Mrs. Hanaford.
"Tell how you ordained your own son," once more prompted Ellen E. Miles, "and afterward exchanged pulpits with him. Tell how you assisted at the marriage service of your daughter. Tell how for fifteen years you preached, rain or shine, without missing a sermon, without taking a vacation, without going to England, Italy. or France, as men preachers do. Tell how you were one of the first women Chaplains In the Legislature of Connecticut."
"It was before the Capitol was moved from New Haven," resumed Mrs. Hanaford. "I served as Chaplain in the Legislature in 1870. Then again in 1872. I was paid just as men Chaplains were. (this proudly). My check was sent me. I am the only woman minister also who ever gave the charge at the ordination of a man minister, the occasion being the ordination of the Rev. W. G. Haskell, in Marblehead. Mass."
"Was there no objection to you among the moe?" questioned the reporter. "Was there no feeling against this usurpation of their territory?"
"Some little," replied Mrs. Hanatord quietly. "I was sent one Summer to occupy the pulpit of a minister who was away on his vacation. He complained bitterly. Since then, however, his views have broadened. He is now President of a theological school in which women are received and ordained. Tufts College, Boston."
"Yes, I had considerable opposition to overcome, how that I recollect. I remember once I was sent to the garden of Maine to take charge of a pulpit over Sunday. I was to spend the day and night with some parishioners at a private house. When I arrived I was put into a cub and driven to the hotel.
"It suited me very well. If I had gone to the house I should have been obliged to talk, to entertain, to make myself agreeable. As it was I had my time to myself and my work before I preached my sermon.
"When I entered the church and walked to the pulpit I saw a couple sitting not far away.
"One could see by their dress and manner that they were well-to-do-that they were wealthy, in fact. You may say what you please, but it is wealth that gives the advantage of education and culture, of refinement. All these constitute leadership in Church or State. Wealth is not to be despised, since it gives such advantages.
"They looked earnestly at me, these two, throughout my sermon. When it was finished, they came up to me and congratulated me upon it. Then they asked me to go with them to their house. They insisted, taking me with them in their carriage, going to great pains to make me comfortable, lighting a cheerful fire in my room when I got there, and making much of me.
"They were the couple who refused to receive me, who had had me sent to the hotel. The husband particularly was deeply opposed to a woman preacher. Still, he felt it to be his duty to go to the church, to hear me preach, to see what I looked like, and how I conducted myself. When he had seen and heard his opposItion to me was ended."
The writer of hymns glanced at her proudly, then at the reporter as if to say: "And do you wonder?"
"The decree of St. Paul that women should keep still tongues in the congregation," mused Mrs. Hanaford, "retarded the progress of woman for centuries, but not for all time. She has risen now to take her place in the world and the Church. In the world you know yourself what excellent work of every description the women are doing. You know their clubs, their charities. In the Church, well, in the Universalist Church alone there are sixty women pastors. In other churches I do not know their number, but there are quite as many, if not more. The world is not hurt by the preaching of women," she finished, "nor evee will be."
"On the contrary," softly said Ellen E. Miles, "it is purified."
Hanaford wrote a poem for Miles:
To Ellen Miles
Friend of my later years, whose tender love
Has filled my home with blossoms, sweet though late,
Whose noble heart my spirit must approve,
As Duty’s path thou tread’st with willing feet:
Thy welcome service, at Love’s bidding mine,
As these my rhythmic waifs are gathered now,
Calls for a grateful tribute, and I twine
This simple wreath, dear Nellie, for thy brow.
Soul-sister! may the waiting years for thee
Pour out a largess of such holy joy
That earth shall seem the porch of heaven to be,
And songs of praise thy tuneful lips employ!
Then, while eternal years shall onward roll,
Still may we share Love’s summer of the soul!
The poem was published as a dedicatory sonnet at the beginning of Hanaford’s book, From Shore to Shore, published in 1870. Ellen died in 1914, and her newspaper obituary read: “. . .she [Hanaford] and Miss Miles formed a very intimate personal friendship which continued without interruption so long as Miss Miles lived. She was a woman of exceedingly kindly nature, conscientious in her life, strong in her friendships, and inflexible in her sense of duty.” Perhaps Hanaford wrote the obituary. After Hanaford’s death, a testimony was read honoring their relationship at the fall meeting of SOROSIS, the women’s journalist society.
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