Library & Archives Blog – Dorothy Ripley inspires our Public History Placement Student

One of the prerequisites of the Heritage Lottery Funding was to encourage student placements from York University. These placements are for students undertaking a Masters course in History-related subjects at the University of York. This placement module has been running for over 10 years and has proved enormously successful for both the students and placement partners, and it is a cornerstone of the Public History MA programme. These placements run over the course of Semester 2 for 10 weeks.

Two students joined us – Jess chose to research Dorothy Ripley and has written the following blog. She will also be joining us on Wednesday 5th June at 11am to give a talk on this inspirational women of Whitby. This event is open to all.

“As part of my placement at Whitby museum, I was tasked with conducting further research into the life of Dorthy Ripley, a fascinating woman who is part of the ‘Inspirational Women of Whitby’ exhibition. She is remembered for her life’s work as a Quaker preacher, traveling along the East Coast of America, in order to aid in the Abolitionist movement against slavery, believing it was her God-given mission.

This research has allowed me to look into areas of history I had previously never had the chance to encounter such as American history and Quaker history. One of the most interesting parts of my research was reading about Dorothy’s meeting with Thomas Jefferson in 1802. Dorothy left Whitby for the United States in December 1801 and arrived in April 1802.

After making her way into high society through her Quaker connections, Dorothy eventually ended up becoming acquainted with powerful figures such as Dolley and James Maddison and Vice-President Aaron Burr. Within a few days, she found herself in the White House, meeting with the President.

It was during this meeting that Dorothy would ask Jefferson for his blessing and approval of her mission to aid in the Abolitionist movement. He stated:

 “You have my approbation but I am afraid you will find it an arduous task.”

Dorothy then went on to condemn Jefferson’s involvement in the slave trade, his ownership of close to 200-300 slaves. She encouraged him to rethink his participation in the inhumane trade, something that would have taken a huge amount of courage, especially for a woman preacher at the time. It is this fortitude that allowed Dorothy to be invited to preach before Congress in 1806, making her the first woman to do so!

This small anecdote is symbolic of Dorothy’s bravery and commitment to her cause, which she maintained throughout her life. In today’s society, it is difficult to imagine the social, political and cultural boundaries that Dorothy had to overcome in order to fight for what she believed was right. It is this determination that has won her a place in the ‘Inspirational Women of Whitby’ exhibition where her accomplishments can be celebrated.”

Jess Toole Public History Placement Student, York University

References: The Extraordinary Conversion and Religious Experience of Dorothy Ripley (1810)

We have a few resources relating to Dorothy Ripley; one that currently features in the ‘Our Lasses’ exhibition is ‘Letters, Addressed to Dorothy Ripley, from several Africans & Indians on subjects of Christian Experiences’

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