Early Illinois Women

Amanda Berry Smith (1837-1915)

Amanda Berry Smith was born as a slave in Maryland in 1837, the oldest of thirteen children. When Amanda was in her early teens, her father purchased the family's freedom. Amanda's first husband died during the Civil War, while serving in an African American military unit.

Amanda had little formal education, but she had a gift for speaking and singing. Her talents led to her nicknames "the Singing Pilgrim" and "God's Image Carved in Ebony." During her early thirties, Amanda began in evangelizing in New York City, receiving inspiration at a local African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. She became a charger member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in 1875, and was associated with the African American Women's Clubs.

Before 1880 embarked on a twelve-year missionary trip through Europe, Asia, and Africa. She spent eight years in Liberia and West Africa, establishing churches and temperance societies.

She settled in Chicago in 1893. Amanda raised funds to open an orphan home for African American children. During this time, Harvey, Illinois, was being developed and marketed as a community with high moral, religious, and temperance character. Smith's purchased property in Harvey in 1895. The orphan's home opened in Harvey in 1899 and has the distinction of being Illinois' first orphanage for African American children. Her fundraising efforts allowed the school and home to operate without government assistance. Ida B. Wells, another African American social reformer, served on the Board of Directors of the orphanage. Although Smith retired from orphanage work in 1912 due to illness, dying in Florida in 1915, the home remained open until destroyed by fire in 1918.


  1. Bartlett, David C., and Larry A. McClellan (1998) "The Final Ministry of Amanda Berry Smith. An Orphanage in Harvey, Illinois, 1895-1918" in Illinois Heritage, vol 1, no. 2, pp. 20-25.
  2. Smith, Amanda Berry. (1893) An Autobiography, The Story of the Lord's Dealings with Mrs. Amanda Smith, the Colored Evangelist. Meyer & Brother, Publishers, Chicago, IL. (This work has been reprinted at least six times since the original publication.)
  3. Knupfer, Anne Meis. (1997) Toward a Tenderer Humanity and a Nobler Womanhood, African American Women's Clubs in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago. New York University Press, New York, NY.

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