For Mariet Hardy Freeland faith fueled social action. Her passion for sharing Christianity extended beyond simply converting an individual, but to also promoting issues of equality and social reform.
Throughout her life Mariet was a regular contributor the Benjamin Titus Robert’s magazine The Earnest Christian and The Free Methodist. An ardent supporter of women’s ordination, Mariet was thrilled when Roberts book Ordaining Women was published in 1891. However, the book received mixed reviews from Roberts’ own denomination. Superintendent G.W. Coleman wrote a lengthy review of it in a special supplement to The Free Methodist in June 1891. Coleman didn’t agree with Roberts’ views. Included in that supplement was an opinion column by an unnamed woman who cites Mariet specifically and disagrees with her support of women’s ordination. Mariet had been overheard saying “May this book (Ordaining Women), under God, accomplish as great a work for the deliverance for women, especially in the Free Methodist Church, as ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ did for the colored race.”
A bold statement for Mariet to make, but one that was accurate. Throughout her life she had experienced rejection for preaching to both men and women. Mariet’s call to preach came approximately in the early 1850s. It took radical faith and courage for her to pursue God’s call to ministry. The first woman ordained in the U.S., Antoinette Brown, wasn’t ordained until 1853. Like Brown, Mariet was among the earliest women preachers, and like Brown the hurdles she experienced to gain access to ministry led her to also engage in the women’s rights movement. The obstacles she faced as a young woman led her to see the connections between faith and social reform.
In Mariet’s biography A Faithful Witness her daughter recounts the opposition her mother faced in preaching:
So great had been the feeling against the public work of women in some places where she had been called upon to occupy the pulpit, that a large part of the congregation would leave when she arose to speak, rather than listen to a woman. This became so embarrassing that she made it a rule never to take the place of a preacher, unless it had been previously announced that she would do so, thus allowing those to remain away who were prejudiced against such efforts.
Mariet received an evangelist license as soon as women were granted the license in 1877 and passionately supported women’s ordination throughout her life. She lived to see women ordained as deacons in 1911. Yet, her fervor extended beyond women’s ordination to education and temperance issue.
When the Freedman family moved to Wessington Springs, South Dakota, in the late nineteenth century Mariet and her husband raised support for a seminary in town. Mariet also became the local president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. She held that position for seven years, “engaging with all the energy of her being in the warfare against the saloon.” (from A Faithful Witness) During the fight to pass prohibition in the Dakota Territories in 1889 Mariet had Susan B. Anthony come speak at the seminary. Mariet’s daughter describes the meeting in her mother’s biography:
Susan B. Anthony gave a stirring temperance address in the seminary. Mrs. Freeland opened the meeting with prayer. At the close of the service Miss Anthony came to her with a tears in her eyes and thanked her for that prayer. ‘You do not know how much good that did me,’ said she.
Granted this is a second hand account and most likely slightly exaggerated, since Mariet’s entire biography attempts to portray her as a matronly, pious Christian woman. However, while Mariet is referred to as “Mother Freeland” and other names throughout her book, the attempt to paint Mariet as a traditional housewife or supportive spouse always falls a bit flat. Mariet’s strong personality, convictions about social reform, and passion to preach continually show that she was not the typical nineteenth century woman. As one of the earliest woman preachers in Free Methodism her example paved the way for later evangelists such as Clara Wetherald and Ida Gage. In many ways, Mariet represents the continual balancing act nineteenth century women preachers had to perform. She was a loving spouse and devoted mother, but her calling extended well beyond the domestic sphere. She had to ensure success for her ministry and social work by not leaning too far in one direction. She was quite a woman.