On December 18, 1807, Phoebe Worrall was born in New York City to Henry and Dorthea Wade Worrall. Her father was a devout Methodist, who experienced a religious conversion during the Wesleyan Revival in England; before immigrating to the United States.
In 1827 Phoebe Worrall married Walter Palmer, a homeopathic physician, who was also a devout Methodist. As Methodists, the couple developed a particular interest in Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection, which is the belief that a Christian can live a life free of sin. On July 26, 1837, Phoebe Palmer experienced what John Wesley termed “entire sanctification.” They felt that they should teach others about that experience and teach them how to have it for themselves. As such, Phoebe Palmer often preached at Methodist churches and camp meetings.
In 1835 Palmer’s sister, Sarah Lankford, began having weekly prayer meetings with Methodist women. Two years later, Phoebe Palmer became the leader of the meetings, which were referred to as the Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness. They held the meetings in the Palmer’s home. Then in 1839, men were allowed to attend the meetings. Among the men were Methodist bishops, theologians, and ministers. Some of the bishops who attended were Edmund S. James, Leonidas Lent Hamline, Jesse T. Peck and Matthew Simpson. This renewed interest in Holiness eventually influenced the Methodist Church nationwide.
Palmer’s belief in holiness was not merely theoretical. She led the Methodist Ladies’ Home Missionary Society in founding the Five Points Mission in 1850. This mission was in a slum area in New York City.
Some of the people that Palmer influenced through her speaking and writing were the temperance leader, Frances Willard; the co-founder of the Salvation Army, Catherine Booth; and the first president of the National Camp Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness (later the Christian Holiness Partnership), John Inskip. While Phoebe Palmer remained committed to the Methodist tradition, her works also influenced the Higher Life movement.
In her book, The Promise of the Father, Palmer defended the idea of women in Christian ministry.
Palmer played a significant role in spreading the concept of Christian holiness throughout the United States and the rest of the world. She wrote several books, including The Way of Holiness, which was a foundational book in the Holiness movement. From the northeastern United States the movement spread. She and her husband visited other regions, then Canada in 1857, and then the United Kingdom in 1859. They stayed in the United Kingdom for several years.
The Palmers bought a monthly magazine entitled The Guide to Holiness in 1864. It had been started by Timothy Merritt to promote the doctrine of Christian perfection. Phoebe Palmer edited the magazine from that time until her death.
- Van Die, Marguerite. “Palmer, Phoebe”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press.
- Balmer, Randall (18 November 2005). Protestantism in America. Columbia University Press. p. 238.
- Howe, Daniel Walker (2007). What Hath God Wrought: the transformation of America 1815-1848. 198 Madison Ave., New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 178–179, 190
- Scotland, Nigel (1 November 2009). Apostles of the Spirit and Fire: American Revivalists and Victorian Britain. Wipf & Stock Publishers. p. 120.
ALSO ON THIS DAY
1833 – With the help of the Clapham Sect, William Wilberforce’s 40 year battle against slavery was won. The Bill for the Abolition of Slavery passed in the House of Commons. To which a bed ridden Wilberforce quietly said, “Thank God that I have lived to witness [this] day.”
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