Last year as I was looking for Progress Era women evangelist reports in The Free Methodist and I kept coming across accounts from a Blanche Stamp. Like so many women from this time period, I had no idea who she was so I began digging.
Emma Blanche Stamp was born in Pennsylvania in 1863 to Matthew and Emma Adams. The 1870 U.S. Census lists Blanche as one of seven children and her father’s occupation as a day laborer. In 1882 when she was nineteen she marries Christopher Stamp in Douglas, Kansas. I don’t have much information on her life prior to marrying Christopher, but after marriage the two entered ministry in the Free Methodist Church together.
From 1894-1898 Blanche is listed as a conference evangelist for the Pittsburg Conference. While her license was from the Pittsburg Conference she resided in Chicago when she was not on the road holding revival services with Christopher.
In 1898 she is listed as an evangelist in the Colorado Conference where she was also appointed to the Husted Circuit. Husted Colorado was located on what is now the U.S. Air Force Academy. A railroad town northwest of Colorado Springs the city’s population was around 75 residents in 1890 and was a thriving community. This was not a tiny town appointment; the Colorado Conference had given an important regional railway town to a female evangelist.
In 1899 she is again listed in Pittsburg Conference and living in Chicago so the couple likely was traveling and preaching. Then in 1900 she is listed by the conference as the appointed pastor at Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Like Husted, Latrobe was also a vibrant railroad town. Located in southwest Pennsylvania the town was an important stop on the Pennsylvania Railroad, and its location helped it develop quickly as an industrial hub at the turn of the twentieth century.
As revivalists, Blanche and Christopher traveled widely. In an August 30, 1902, report from Gallatin, Tennessee Blanche provides a snapshot of their revivals. Assisting J.M. Keen and W. Mayfield who were district elders, they pitched a large tabernacle in the center of Gallatin where Blanche notes “the Lord began to send the crowds.” After Tennessee, the Stamps moved on to hold revivals in Louisiana and Mississippi for two months where Blanche said the location was “the most needy field I ever was in, and I believe God will come and answer the prayer in the salvation of many people.”
In reading ministry reports from the Stamps it appears Blanche and Christopher both preached at many of the revival services since reports often say “C.W. and Mrs. B.E. Stamp” or “our revival” implying services were co-led by both. Like so many of these women, Blanche’s writing is so vivid the reader can easily picture what is happening.
In an April 16, 1911, report Blanche recalls a visit to Manhattan, Kansas where she was “preaching the gospel of peace.” A sixty-seven year old Catholic woman came to hear her and while she was “very deaf” and had not been in a church for forty years, but she seemed keen on hearing Blanche preach. As she recalled:
The Spirit applied the truth and touched her hearing. She was seized with old-time conviction. She heard every word of the sermon, and came with a broken heart to the altar and prayed earnestly through all was dark and the manner of the altar service new and strange to her.
Blanche and Christopher visited the woman after the service and Blanche also recounts this visit in her report:
It was truly sad to look upon her face. She would frequently stop and say, ‘Sister Stamp, I hope I am forgiven, but oh I want to know it.’ Again and again she would repeat the word, “I hope I am saved, but I want to know it.’ At last she exclaimed, ‘O Sister Stamp, I know it! I know it! Think of a woman sixty-seven years of age, and never happy in her life. O wonderful gospel! Having now a thirst for the word of life, she bought a Bible and is now daily drinking at the foundation of the stream that maketh glad the city of God.
The Stamps continued to co-lead revivals. In 1912 they held revivals in Iowa and Wisconsin where their Council Bluff revival continued to grow the longer it went on. Blanche reported “congregations are good” and a number of people were saved or still seeking. The Stamps were so successful in their ministry that the denomination appointed Christopher Stamp a General Conference evangelist for at least one term (possibly more still confirming).
The General Conference had the ability to appoint elders as national evangelists to help establish new churches or to revive work in areas that were struggling. While Blanche normally wrote their reports, Christopher sends several in as the General Conference evangelist in 1913. In an August report from that year, he choose to write the update using “we,” explaining their choice not to publish their itinerary in The Free Methodist like the other General Conference evangelists. The choice was also in opposition to a request from the editor who wanted to include the information. As he explained the decision, it was impossible to determine how long a revival could last. Some revivals needed weeks to establish local connections while others were relatively quick. Publishing their itinerary would force them to attempt to follow a schedule they most likely wouldn’t be able to keep. However, he concluded the report by noting that “we may regard the question differently in the future, but in the meantime, we will follow our first thought” and not announce a travel schedule.
Christopher clearly saw Blanche as an equal who was also serving as a conference evangelist even though she could not officially have that title since women could not become ordained elders. Their commitment to co-partnering in ministry is also confirmed in another August 1913 report where he notes Blanche and their daughters Ada and Ruby were helping lead services in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
However, while the Stamps saw themselves as partners in ministry the denominational narrative does not remember them as such. In Blanche’s April 20, 1945, obit in The Free Methodist she is remembered as standing “nobly by her husband as he labored in several capacities of a pastor, district elder, and general conference evangelist.” This recasting of Blanche’s ministry isn’t uncommon as after the defeat of women’s ordination in 1894 there is a noticeable shift within the male leadership as they attempted to appear supportive of women in ministry but still restrict them from ordination as elders.*
Instead, of directly opposing women preachers the conversation shifts to applauding women who serve in more nurturing roles such as the deaconess order established in 1907. Fortunately, the Stamps ministry reports still exist and show a very different relationship and ministry than the one portrayed in Blanche’s obit.
Note: I have so much data and articles to support this and in my forthcoming book Silenced: The Forgotten Contributions of Progressive Era Women Evangelists I devote an entire chapter to this.