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Cambridge, Alicefree

(1762–1829)
  • Rosemary Raughter

Cambridge, Alice (1762–1829), preacher, was born on 1 January 1762 in Bandon, co. Cork, the daughter of a Church of Ireland father and a Presbyterian mother (d. 1780). According to a fragment of autobiography, her father was a convivial man, whose love of company 'led him from his God, and kept him from making his own home and family as comfortable as they should be'. Her mother, on the other hand, was 'of a meek and quiet spirit and … of a very sweet and peaceable demeanour' (Memoir, 3). She was educated locally, but left school early despite a 'wish to learn, and … a degree of capacity' (ibid., 5). She was brought up in the Church of Ireland, but, following the death of her mother in 1780, began to attend meetings at the Methodist preaching-house in Bandon, and shortly afterwards joined the society. Resolving to dedicate herself to the pursuit of holiness and to the promotion of Methodism, she broke off her engagement to a young man, 'having no other fault to find … but that his mind did not bend heavenward; that indeed was enough' (ibid., 24).

Having begun her missionary career privately among friends and neighbours, Cambridge went on to speak at Methodist meetings in Bandon, Kinsale, Youghal, and other towns in Munster. Her eloquence, coupled with the novelty of female preaching, made a powerful impact on her hearers and attracted many new converts. Nevertheless, there were some within the movement who opposed her right to speak in public, declaring female preaching to be contrary to Christian teaching and practice. In response to such objections, Cambridge appealed to John Wesley, who counselled discretion and against any 'appearance of pride or magnifying yourself', but defended her right to preach: conscience, he wrote, 'will not permit you to be silent when God commands you to speak' (Memoir, 39). Following Wesley's death, however, and as Methodism became increasingly institutionalized, hostility to women preachers intensified. In 1802 the Methodist conference outlawed female preaching, and Cambridge herself was excluded from the society. She continued to preach, but resisted suggestions that she establish a breakaway organization. As she told a correspondent in 1814, 'I love Wesleyan Methodists, and Methodism' (Memoir, 55), and she regretted the disputes which resulted in a number of splits within the movement. In 1811 she herself was readmitted to the society by a special resolution of the Methodist conference.

About 1800 Cambridge moved to Dublin, where she worked for some years as a shop assistant before setting up business in Cork in 1809. During these years she held frequent public meetings, and from 1813 devoted herself entirely to preaching. In 1813–14 she visited Longford, co. Westmeath, Roscommon, and King's county; in 1815 she spoke in Cork, the west, and the midlands, and later that year made the first of several visits to Ulster. This was the area in which she was to enjoy her greatest success: describing her experience there in 1816, she reported that 'in Lurgan, I had to go to a field, where it was judged that eight or ten thousand were assembled to hear … Yesterday, and on one day in the preceding week, I had to speak in the open air also: I think I may say with truth, that at each time, thousands assembled, and God was with us' (Memoir, 60–61).

Cambridge spent most of the years 1818–20 in the north and west of Ireland and in Dublin. Despite a serious illness in 1820, she continued to tour and to preach, but a relapse forced her to curtail her activities. In 1823 she paid a final visit to Bandon and spoke in Kinsale and Nenagh. In the following year she visited Dublin for the last time, before retiring to Nenagh, where she spent her final years, holding regular meetings in her house and addressing the local congregation on alternate Sundays. Following a further attack of illness in 1827, her physical and mental health deteriorated sharply. She died in Nenagh on her sixty-seventh birthday, 1 January 1829, and was buried in the graveyard there.

Sources

  • Memoir of Miss A. Cambridge, ed. J. J. McGregor (1832)
  • C. H. Crookshank, Memorable women of Irish Methodism in the last century (1882)
  • C. H. Crookshank, History of Methodism in Ireland, 1–2 (1885–6)
  • D. Hempton and M. Hill, ‘Women and protestant minorities in 18th-century Ireland’, Women in early modern Ireland, ed. M. MacCurtain and M. O'Dowd (1991), 197–211
  • D. Hempton and M. Hill, Evangelical protestantism in Ulster society, 1740–1890 (1992)

Likenesses

  • engraving, repro. in Memoir, ed. McGregor