"Anywhere with Jesus, I can safely go," assured Disciple Jessie Brown Pounds in her well-known hymn, one of the hundreds she penned. But with Pounds living almost her entire life before women could vote, did "anywhere" include the off-limit corners of a man's world?
At the least, Pounds pushed against the limits. Novelist, poet, short-story writer, and essayist, Pounds not only let her voice be heard in poetry and prose but served as editor in the most influential Disciple publications of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Pounds' preparation as a writer and church-paper editor began early.
The future author was born to Disciple minister Holland Brown and his wife Jane Abell Brown in 1861 in Hiram, a town in Ohio's Western Reserve in the state's northeast corner. In his introduction to an anthology of Pounds' writings, Charles Clayton Morrison, early editor of The Christian Century, described the Brown home as a "council for church leaders," the frequent guests including president of Disciples-related Hiram College and future U.S. president James A. Garfield as well as Isaac Errett, editor of the Christian Standard.
Because her "sensitive and delicate body" made it difficult for Pounds to attend class, Morrison said, her mother schooled her in the masterworks of literature. Scholar Sandra Parker identified novelist George Eliot, pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans, and poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, as important literary influences.
After studying at Hiram College, Pounds went to Cincinnati to work with Errett, who became her mentor. She later edited a column called "Woman's Realm" for The Christian-Evangelist. Pounds also served as writer for The Christian Century and was a contributing editor from March 1920 until her death a year later. The author and editor remained single until 1896, when she married minister John E. Pounds.
The Ohio-born author wrote seven novels and multiple stories and essays, transcribing Disciple life and translating into narrative important developments in the Stone-Campbell movement in the 19th century, Parker said. Among Pounds' many hymns are the classic "Beautiful Isle of Somewhere," "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth," and "The Way of the Cross Leads Home."
Behind Pounds' fame as a writer and editor, said Morrison, was a genuine concern for others. After Pounds returned to Hiram, where she was born, Hiram College students saw her house as a home away from home. "Whatever gifts she may have had, the greatest was her genius for loving and living with people," wrote Morrison. "Her conception of life was in terms of personality."
For Parker, Pounds is an example of the "New Woman" of the turn of the century who challenged society's passive views of a woman's place by actively engaging problems. "This woman was unique in the Western Reserve," Parker said, "a pace setter who exorcised old gender definitions and lived a new kind of social role as a career intellectual."
"I know that Jesus liveth,... that grace and pow'r are in his hand," Pounds wrote in her hymn, "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth." That divine grace and power shaped a Disciple unwilling to accept the restrictions of a traditional world, confident in her faith, committed to her church.
Written by Ted Parks
Associate Professor of Spanish
Lipscomb University, Nashville, TN
This article was provided by the Disciples of Christ Historical Society and used here by permission.
To learn more about your faith story, please visit the Disciples of Christ Historical Society's website at: www.discipleshistory.org
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