Women Writers and the Hymn

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Contribution to Book

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Though it seldom receives attention from literary scholars, the hymn was the most popular poetic form of the nineteenth century, as it was the primary medium in which a great many Americans engaged with and experienced poetry. Though hymns had long been acceptable reading material for private religious devotions, they were for centuries prohibited from inclusion in mainline congregational worship on the grounds that lay-authored religious lyric might promote questionable doctrines and undermine clerical authority. This ban became increasingly tenuous in the early nineteenth century amid the meteoric rise of Methodism, a denomination that attracted an enormous following in part because of its promotion of congregational song as well as its populism, lively revival meetings, and rejection of the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. After losing both cultural relevance and thousands of members to Methodism, mainline Protestant denominations attempted to remain viable by reluctantly sanctioning the inclusion of hymns in public worship - a decision that did little to prevent the ascent of Methodism but that nevertheless imparted new legitimacy and respectability to hymnody. Following this official benison, hymns flourished throughout the nineteenth century, a period that became a veritable golden age for this devotional poetic form.


Jennifer Putzi & Alexandra Socarides


Cambridge University Press


New York



Publication Information

A History of Nineteenth-Century American Women's Poetry

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