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Reverend Annis Bertha Ford Eastman

(1852–1910) Annis was a restless intellect who was under-nourished by the opportunities for women in her day. Despite those limitations, she became a pulpit minister, an active suffragist, and a lifelong student of philosophy, religion, and psychology. Two of her children - Max and Crystal Eastman - became well-known reformers and intellectuals, influenced by their mother’s ideas. Annis and her sisters grew up in Peoria, Illinois in a household with a violent, alcoholic father. All five sisters were determined to make their own living, which Annis did by seeking a college education at Oberlin College (class of 1874). There she met her husband, Samuel Eastman, who was studying for the ministry. They settled in Canandaigua, NY. The early years of their marriage were fraught and difficult, marked by the births of their four children and the death of their oldest son at age seven. In 1886, Samuel Eastman’s health collapsed and he stepped down from his pulpit. This made space for Annis to lead both the church and the family.

In 1889 she was ordained a Congregational minister based on her independent study of scripture, one of the first female clergy in the denomination—and the country. She led a church in Brookton, NY (near Ithaca) and became increasingly well known as a preacher. In 1893 she addressed the World’s Parliament of Religions at the Chicago World’s Fair. The following year Annis and her husband were both hired as assistant pastors of Park Church in Elmira. Whether Samuel Eastman was active in the ministry or hired because they would not have hired Annis alone is unclear. When Rev. Thomas K. Beecher died in 1900, the Eastmans were elevated to co-pastors with Annis as the intellectual leader of the church. Her own academic journey included summer study at Harvard with some of the great men of philosophy, and she grew increasingly skeptical of Christian dogma. In 1907 she led the church to change its affiliation from Congregational to Unitarian. The shift indicated her own engagement with the secular world. In her 50’s she became increasingly interested in suffrage and social reform. In 1908 she addressed the 60th anniversary ceremony at Seneca Falls—giving one of two keynotes, alongside Mary Church Terrell, one of the most prominent African-American activists in the country. In 1910 Annis wrote a eulogy for Mark Twain, Elmira’s most famous resident, but was too sick to speak so her husband delivered it on her behalf. She died later that year. Samuel Eastman outlived his wife by 15 years. Their shared headstone reflects the partnership Annis Eastman and her husband eventually developed: ministers and equals. Bio by Rachel B. Tiven.


Woodlawn Cemetery

Section 5, Lot 207 NP

130 N Pearl Street, Canandaigua, NY 14424

Ontario County

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