Ohio History Journal

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 19
  • 20



Lydia Finney and Evangelical





In May of 1835, Lydia Andrews Finney bade farewell to her husband as he

headed for his first look at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. Mrs. Finney

and their three children would stay in Cleveland with her parents until the

Reverend Charles Grandison Finney settled himself as the professor of theol-

ogy in Oberlin.1 Separation between the couple was far from a new experi-

ence because of the position of the Reverend Finney as the head of Protestant

evangelicalism. Since their marriage in 1824, Lydia Finney supported her

husband in his ministry and took her place at the heart of evangelicalism for

women by fulfilling her roles as the wife of a very prominent minister and by

becoming a respected reformer in her own right.

The world in which Lydia and Charles lived centered on the great religious

revival that fired the hearts and minds of thousands of Americans in the first

half of the nineteenth century, altering the religious and political climate of

the young nation. In the social realm, the Second Great Awakening heated

both men and women into storms of reform activity. After undergoing a

soul-wrenching conversion experience, the new evangelicals had to show their

thirst for salvation by participating in reforms that endeavored to change the

sinful actions of their fellow men and women. These reformers acted on the

philosophy of disinterested benevolence, the idea that women and men should

not be concerned with the rewards they could gain by doing good for others

but should act compassionately for the greater glory of God. The reformers

became the trustees of other men's souls, especially the souls of the sinners

whom they wanted to lead to salvation.2

Although reformers pervaded society, women, such as Lydia Finney, par-

ticularly took an active role in evangelicalism and reform. As reformers,

women found an acceptable avenue from which to move out of the domestic



Catherine M. Rokicky is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Kent State University. She would

like to thank Professor Frank L. Byre for his invaluable criticisms of this paper.


1. Garth M. Rosell and Richard A.G. Dupuis, eds., The Memoirs of Charles G. Finney: The

Complete Restored Text (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1989), 396 (hereafter Finney Memoirs).

2. Alice Felt Tyler, Freedom's Ferment: Phases of American Social History from the

Colonial Period to the Outbreak of the Civil War (New York, 1944), 35; Clifford S. Griffin,

Their Brothers' Keepers: Moral Stewardship in the United States, 1800-1865 (New Brunswick,

N.J., 1960), xii, 6.