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One Strong and Determined Woman

Olympia Brown, was born January 5, 1835 to Asa B. And Lephia Brown who were pioneers in Prairie Ronde, Michigan. She was the first of four children. Asa, a Universalist from Vermont, was determined that his children would have a good education and he built a schoolhouse on their farm. He and Olympia rode from house to house to collect donations to help pay for a teacher. Olympia was determined to go to college and persuaded her father to allow both her and a younger sister to attend Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in Massachusetts. Olympia found Mount Holyoke far to restrictive and rigid and transferred to Antioch College, in Yellow Springs Ohio, where Horace Mann was president. She had a very positive experience at Antioch and persuaded her entire family to move to Yellow Springs in order for all of the children to get a good education.

While studying at Antioch, Olympia arranged for a Congregational minister, Antoinette Brown Blackwell to preach at the school. She had never heard a woman preach before and was very impressed and inspired. She decided she would become a minister too, despite widespread opposition to female ministers.

She enrolled in St. Lawrence University Theological School in Canton, New York, where she endured much harassment and prejudice from classmates and professors, who were, of course male. Following her graduation she was immediately ordained by the Northern Universalist Association and accepted a position in a small parish in Vermont.

In 1873 she married Joh Her Wilis, a local merchant, publisher and board member of the local church. By mutual agreement, she kept her maiden name and was installed in a church in Weymouth, Massachusetts. They remained there for five years and then moved to Racine, Wisconsin where Olympia became very active in the woman’s suffrage movement. While in this position she brought in speakers such as Elizabeth Cody Stanton, Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe and others.

In 1887 she resigned from her pastorate in Racine in order to concentrate on suffrage work. She traveled extensively, lectured passionately and tirelessly as well as organizing suffrage clubs. In 1913, she was invited to join the militant suffrage moment led by Lucy Burns and Alice Paul, the National Women’s Party. They were using a radical approach to present a woman’s right to vote and marched before the White House. Her work continued and at the age of ninety one she took her first trip to Europe! She was one strong, and determined woman.

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