"In some places a few drops and other places a plentiful shower": The religious impact of revivalism on early nineteenth-century New York women

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Margaret Susan Thompson


Revivalism, Religion, Women, Conversion, Memory, New York, Burned-Over District

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | History | United States History | Women's History


On 27 June 1812, Catherine Livingston Garrettson wrote the following, "blessed God cause thy Spirit to descend in showers upon my parched soul. And then shine on me Son of Righteousness, and let me bask in thy favor, let me grow in grace, let me flourish as the willows by the water come." 1 Although Catherine had experienced spiritual birth years earlier, this comment suggests that her conversion story did not end with the important moment of justification. Rather, the process through which she sought sanctification led to constant cultivation; she came to recognize that the continuation of spiritual growth, which also enhanced her sense of identity, required frequent nourishment.

Building on the premise of David Blight's work on memories of the Civil War, and in an effort to remember forgotten aspects of the female story in the Burned-Over District, this dissertation relies on the voices of women themselves, especially as expressed in spiritual journals and diaries, as well as memoirs and correspondence. Such materials make it clear that theology and religious experiences had personal significance and meaning to nineteenth-century New York women. In particular, their accounts describe their continuing spiritual pilgrimages, and their developing sense of agency which ultimately enabled them to create satisfying lives for themselves.

Throughout their stories, it becomes apparent that a common culture of salvation emerged within a world of revivalism that was defined by theological distinctions. Aware of this diversity, many women had a religious disposition or spiritual interest prior to their revival attendance. During revival meetings however, they encountered periods of revitalization, through which they developed or discovered their own faith. Whether they chose to accept the denomination whose revivals they attended or whether they opted for a different religious path, they were impacted by the experiences they had attending revival meetings. Consequently, they spent the remainder of their lives looking back to those important memories in an attempt to renegotiate their spiritual and temporal selves into a new identity.

Although each religion embraced a particular theology and practice, a common conversion process, often described as a spiritual pilgrimage, was underway. Women of different traditions found themselves immersed in a christocentric worldview through which they attempted to become sanctified, purified, and holy. Such spiritual goals were similar across denominational lines; the quest for sanctification lay at the center of believers' lives.

Memories of spiritual birth combined with immersion in the sanctification process determined how women defined and redefined their spirituality and their individuality until they recognized that sanctification was both immediate and progressive.

1 Catherine Livingston Garrettson Journal, 27 June 1812, Garrettson Family Papers, Box 2, Folder 8, Methodist Library, Special Collections, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey.


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