St. Paul’s archives are rich source for the early history of our congregation: vestry minutes, portraits, financial documents, correspondence. But particularly in the early years, they give a view that is largely male. All the rectors were men of course, as were all of the vestry until the mid-twentieth century. Most of the pew holders are men.
It is only when we turn to the list of communicants that we see women’s names. And not just a few women: of communicants in our first three years (1827-1830), slightly more than two-thirds (67.6%) are women. Extending the range from 1827 to 1832, the percentage is just a bit lower, 64%. Even odder, many of the men we know were active in the period (pew holders and vestrymen) are not listed among communicants. The women listed are mostly married women, but, on the whole, they are not the spouses of vestrymen or of pew holders.
This sex distribution was not atypical in the first half of the nineteenth century. Women were the majority of communicants (and likely of regular attenders) in Episcopal churches. A study of church membership in Albany in the period shows that the same was true of Presbyterian and Methodist congregations. As one example, of new members in one Albany Presbyterian congregations in 1831, two-thirds were women entering alone or with another woman.
In a period when women’s activities outside the home were circumscribed, church membership was an important activity for the women of St. Paul’s. And we know that women were not only sitting in the pews; through the congregation’s difficult early years, the women of the church frequently held fairs or soirees to raise funds.
These early members of our congregation were an important part of our founding, and a history of St. Paul’s Church must tell their story. But they are not easy to describe. Most are listed only with their first name and husband’s last name. As women, they do not appear in city directories, they are not listed in Federal censuses before 1850, they are rarely mentioned in newspaper articles. Sometimes, even a woman’s first name is missing; we may, for example, never be able to identify “Mrs. Brown,” who became a member in February 1831.
Occasionally, however, we can put together clues and gather enough information to draw a clear picture of one of these early members. Such a person is Elizabeth Maria Starr Hawley. She is certainly not typical. As you will see in a series of posts, she was the matriarch of a family of broad accomplishments. But she can stand in place for the many women central to our history whom we will never be able to honor.
Elizabeth Maria Starr was born in Connecticut in 1794, and married Joseph Hawley in 1812. We do not know when they moved to Albany, as part of what has been called the “New England Invasion”, but it was probably between 1814 and 1817. The couple had four children: three daughters, Lydia, Julia and Mary Ann (who may have been twins) and one son, Shaw. We first meet Betsy in St. Paul’s records when the young congregation was only three years old: she became a communicant in June of 1830, listed only as “Mrs. Betsy Hawley”. Her youngest child, Shaw, was baptized at St. Paul’s two years later; Julia and Mary Ann were confirmed on the same day in 1837. By February 1840, all the female family members are listed in our records: “Mrs Betsy Hawley with Mrs. Montgomery” (Lydia had recently married Jesse H. Montgomery), Mary Ann and Julia were all members.
The extended family sat in pew 81 on Ferry Street; an early pew map shows “Montgom” in the fourth row, center, of the church and Jesse H. Montgomery paid a pew rent in 1839. The family then made the transition to the church’s new home on South Pearl Street: Julia and Mary Ann were both married there (in 1841 and 1843, respectively), and Shaw became a communicant in 1847.
While there are many other families with participation over two generations, it is difficult to identify them in this early period. By chance, we have been able to trace these relationships this far. But this is only the beginning of the story of Betsy Hawley’s legacy. In the next post, we will discuss Betsy’s grandchildren, their connection to St. Paul’s and their accomplishments.