Monday, September 02, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 35 - R for Martha Winter Routh

Silhouette of Martha Routh
Martha Winter was born in 1743, the youngest of the numerous children of Henry and Jane Winter of Stourbridge, Worcestershire. She was carefully educated at home but was troubled about her religious state from an early age. Although convinced of the truths of Quakerism she found it difficult to stand by those testimonies that marked her out, in speech and dress, as different from the friends she made in the day school she attended who were not Quakers.

Around this time two Quaker travelling ministers came to visit families in her area. They reminded the children that they should not deviate from their parents' principles when their parents were not there and Martha resolved to change her behaviour and use plain speech with everyone. She wrote to  one of her best friends at school hoping that she would not be offended by the fact 'that I could not any longer give her the title of Miss, but must call her by her proper name, as well as the other girls, though I should love them no less but rather better, because I knew it was acting contrary to the mind of my parents, and the way in which friends spoke to one another.' Her schoolmates made no comment on Martha's change and treated her just the same, which greatly relieved her mind. 

Catherine Payton Phillips
From the age of fourteen Martha felt a calling to the Quaker ministry but she resisted it for many years, although some Friends were aware of her struggle. Catherine Payton Phillips, who lived locally, took a great interest in Martha and when she was seventeen recommended her for the post of assistant to Anna Coulson who had a boarding school for Friends' children in Nottingham. Eventually Martha and one of her sisters took over the running of this school.

After her father's death when she was 26 Martha's struggles with her call to the ministry affected her health and eventually became evident to all around her, although she could not confide in anyone. It was only when she was apparently at death's door that she talked to her sister and was gradually enabled to take up the burden of ministry when she was 29 years old. She began to travel in the ministry in 1775 when she accompanied Ruth Follows on a tour of the northern counties and Scotland. Martha gained much from her association with older and more experienced women Friends and in later years was glad to pass her own experience on to younger women.

In 1776 Martha married Richard Routh and the couple moved to Manchester. Richard was also a minister and the couple travelled extensively both together and separately. They had no children of their own but adopted one of Martha's nephews as a son. Unfortunately he was killed in a bathing accident while Martha and Richard were attending the Monthly Meeting at Warrington. At the time Martha told her husband, her aunt and another Friend that she knew inwardly that he was drowned, a premonition that was proved right on their return home.

Between 1794 and 1797 and from 1801 to 1805 Martha, sometimes with her husband and sometimes with a succession of female companions, was in America. In 1804 Martha came with her husband to New Bedford, Mass. with the intention of making their home there, but he died while travelling later that year in New York and she returned to England alone. Her health declined but she continued to travel and to attend the Yearly Meeting each year. In 1817 she was in London for this purpose when she was taken ill and died aged 74. She was buried in Bunhill Fields burial ground.
A Beaver Hat worn over a cap

Her experience when young led Martha Routh to adopt more moderate views than some of her contemporaries, She agreed with William Savery that in matters of dress 'no standard could be fixed, that countries differed in some small matters, but that plainness was still plainness in all places and wished Friends to keep to the true simplicity without formality.' In one matter of dress Martha even set a fashion as she is credited with the introduction of the 'plain bonnet' among American women Friends, who had until then worn beaver hats over their caps.

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