Palmer, Phoebe Worrall

Palmer, Phoebe Worrall

(1807–74) Protestant evangelist; born in New York City. Raised in an atmosphere of strict Methodist piety, she wed a homeopathic physician at age 19, lost her first two babies soon after birth, and turned to her Methodist faith. In 1835 she and her sister, by then living in New York City, began a weekly prayer meeting for women; eventually it would attract evangelicals of both sexes. Out of this activity grew her increasing influence on a branch of Methodism that embraced the doctrine of an attainable Christian perfection. Among several works she would eventually publish, The Way of Holiness (1845) established her as a leader of the perfectionist movement. From 1850 on, she and her husband traveled throughout the eastern U.S.A. and Canada, preaching their message at camp meetings and elsewhere; they even preached their message in England (1859–63). She also put her ideas into practice, for many years working as corresponding secretary of the New York Female Assistance Society for the Relief and Religious Instruction of the Sick Poor; she would also visit the prisons and slums and she founded the Five Points Mission (1850), a precursor of settlement houses. In 1862 her husband bought the perfectionist movement's main journal, Guide to Holiness, which she edited to her death. Although a moderate when it came to contemporary issues such as slavery and women's rights, she did point the way to social reform through her varied activities.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.