The Valiant Woman: A Sermon Preached at the Requiem Eucharist in S. Stephen's Church, Providence, Rhode Island, on Saturday, December 10, A.D. 1904. In Memory of Anne Ives Carrington Dwight Ames, Who Fell Asleep in Jesus on November 10, A.D. 1904.
By George McClellan Fiske.
Boston: Merrymount Press, 1905.
We are come together in a common mourning. A place is vacant here. The light of a certain gracious, visible presence is gone from this Parish and from this community. In the gloom of our sorrow we rightly repair to the Altar. There it is always light, because it is the Throne of the Saviour. First let us seek and find Him, that before His Footstool, before His Face, we may speak to Him, and then to one another, the dear name of
Anne Ives Carrington Dwight Ames.
The Church is sparing of personal eulogy. As a rule there are no funeral sermons. The simple and beautiful language of Eucharist and offices suffices for all alike. Yet this rule has exceptions. There are instances, and this is one, where some special word is so obviously fitting that injustice would be done both to propriety and to feeling were such a word withheld. For Mrs. Ames occupied a position of unusual prominence, of love, and usefulness, and honour, not only in the Diocese of Rhode Island, but in the American Church. Her relation to this Parish [1/2] and her influence as a parishioner were unique. The public press in the announcement of her death declared that “she had been for a generation a leader in everything pertaining to the Religious, Charitable, Educational and Social interests of this her native city and of the State.”
All of you her kinsfolk, neighbours and near friends knew her so well, her remarkable personality was so clear-cut and sharply defined, that her life-like and accurate portrait is in your minds this moment. It might seem presumptuous for me to attempt to describe her to a congregation such as this. Though I will not venture any description of my own, I will yet present one which I am sure you will all recognize as a faithful portrayal of her whom we are here to honour. It is drawn by the Finger of God, and is contained in the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs which it thus ends, beginning at the tenth verse. The chapter-heading in our English Bible entitles it “The Praise and Properties of a Good Wife.” It is this:
Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengthened her arms.
She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
 She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
This is, without dispute, the most important and magnificent delineation of ideal woman hood, as adjusted to the normal estates and relations of woman’s life, which exists. Poets have sung many songs of Fair Women, and Noble Women, and Good Women, and their songs and sayings have occurred to many minds which have thought on our dear sister. She is worthy of them all. But this inspired picture of the “Virtuous Woman” surpasses [4/5] all these other Dreams and Visions. In the whole range of literature, I do not believe there is anything to surpass on its theme. We feel as we look upon that “realized ideal,” and we can testify that we have seen this “realized ideal” incarnated in Mrs. Ames.
This term “virtuous” by no means the full equivalent of its Hebrew original. The ancient word one that means, not only woman’s stainless honour, and wife’s fidelity, but blends with them strength and courage equal to man’s. The Septuagint and Vulgate do ampler justice to the word. In one we read “γυναῖκα ἀνδρείαν,” in the other “mulierem fortem.” Bishop Wordsworth renders the “Valiant Woman.” Expositors of fame and learning and spiritual insight have wrought upon this passage wondrously. Two modern ones I will name. John Mason Neale, that great priest and erudite doctor of the English Church, Founder of Margaret’s Sisterhood, historian, theologian, poet, preacher, liturgiologist, hymnologist, translator of ancient hymns, among others the “Celestial Country,” an extract from which, “Jerusalem the Golden,” we just [5/6] this moment sang, has meditated with exquisite touch on the mystical interpretation of “the words of King Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him,” under the title of The Excellent Woman. From another standpoint, that admirable French prelate, Monseigneur Landriot, Archbishop of Rheims, has treated the subject literally and practically in a “Series of discourses intended for the use of Women living in the world.” He calls his work La Femme Forte, and the volume appears in English as The Valiant Woman. This, to my mind, has always seemed exceedingly accurate and felicitous. The book has for years been a favourite of mine, and all the more so when I found in Mrs. Ames so perfect an illustration of it. In her, for long, have I seen, and in my thoughts applied to her, this appellation of The Valiant Woman.
“This Valiant Woman” of the Proverbs is no unsexed monstrosity no Amazon, masculine, harsh, abnormal in her habits and occupations. She is a wife and a mother. Husband and children do her love’s profoundest homage. She is a home-maker—a housekeeper—a wise [6/7] counsellor—”a succourer of many, and of myself also.” Recall the inspired encomiums and mark how true they were of Mrs. Ames. “She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.” “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” “She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.” “Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.” “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her.” “Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.” A woman of whom such things can be said, who does such things, and inspires such enthusiasm, is of necessity a being of tireless energy, of indefatigable exertion, and of forcible leadership. She is the kind to whom others look, whom they depend upon, whom they rally around, whom they follow. She must have the spirit of the soldier. And the soldier’s spirit we name “valour.” She is a “Valiant Woman.” Such was our Valiant Woman,—impersonating chivalry’s fairest ideal,—“without fear and without reproach.”
 Ours is a day when life is surveyed carefully in its different aspects. One of these is the “Strenuous Life” and another is the “Simple Life.” These are closely related. The prophet of the Strenuous Life welcomes with a kinsman’s ardour the prophet of the Simple Life. They supplement each other. The most strenuous life may be the simplest, and generally is. The chieftains in the Battle of Life are almost always simple in tastes, manners, and manner of life. Mrs. Ames combined the Strenuous and Simple Lives. She was totally devoid of affectation or artifice of any kind. Simple as a child,—with a child’s sincerity, straightforward, and direct, she was strong to do and to dare. To be associated with her was to live in a bracing atmosphere. Sanguine, buoyant, determined, indomitable was she. In the twenty years of our acquaintance and friendship, I have never seen her defeated, have never seen her yield to disappointment, have never seen her discouraged, have never seen her faint or falter in meeting the tasks and the duties before her. I have seen her undaunted in life and intrepid in death. Our Valiant Woman was not of the [8/9] Cloistered or Contemplative type. She represented the Active Life. Both of these estates are vocations from God. There are some, like Mary, who are called to sit at Jesus’ Feet, and in so doing choose the good part, which shall not be taken from them. The vocation to the “Religious Life” to be “single in the Lord” is a lofty and beautiful one. It is not given to all, but to such as can receive it. As a gift and calling from God, we honour and cherish it. It is one of the glories of the Church of Christ. It is altogether mistake for any one to set the virginal life of entire consecration over against the married estate as they were rivals, and we had to decide which the better. They are not rivals. They are of equal worth and dignity. Both are alike good. In the instance under consideration, we have before us an example of the married estate and of the Active Life. The subjects of this vocation are called to maintain the succession of humanity, to extend the chain of the generations till the limit of its length shall have been reached. They are called to replenish the Kingdom of God with the souls of His elect. They are [9/10] called to preserve and keep up human society that it may minister to God’s glory, and furnish material for the Communion of Saints.
Behold the many spheres of the Active Life in which this Woman beloved in the Lord was wont to move.
I. The Ecclesiastical sphere. Mrs. Ames was a figure in the largest life of the Church. It would probably be hard to find a Diocese, or Missionary District, in which she was not known and regarded with gratitude and admiration. At the recent General Convention in Boston, Bishops, Priests and Lay people from all quarters were anxiously enquiring for Mrs. Ames. She was one of the great Church women of the land. Her long and brilliant service for eighteen years as President of the Rhode Island Branch of the Woman’s Auxiliary to the Board of Missions had impressed the Church, not merely because she was high in official station, but because of the abundance and the achievements of her service. She “did things.” Her influence was great and growing. She was seen to be a great organizer and administrator. Her judgment was [10/11] sound. Her advice was helpful. Her personal magnetism was powerful.
So it was in this Diocese. Hers was a voice to which all gave attention. It was always freighted with significance. It has gone out into all the parishes. In every one are those who will carry ringing in their ears until their dying day, something which they heard Mrs. Ames say. Or, priest and people have been comforted by something which she did, some help of a substantial kind, which reached them when most needed.
So it was in this Parish. Her quick discernment of what ought to be done, her prompt devising of means and ways to have it done, have blessed this Parish for the twenty years just past. All around us are the reminders of her judgment, her practical common sense, her open hand, and her loving, devout heart. This Church building, the Guild-House, and the Rectory are eloquent in associations with Mrs. Ames. She loved the Church. She believed in it “the Holy, Catholic Church” as a Divine Body. It was the centre of her life and living. It was first in her mind and affections. To her, [11/12] it stood, the grandest of all objects in this life, enduring, imperishable. She was imbued with a sense of its authority, its mission, its power to claim the world for Christ, and to subdue it unto Him. She was a regular and frequent communicant of the Blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ at the Altar of this Church. She loved the “certain Faith” once for all delivered to the Saints. She loved to say the Creed, and recite the Psalms, those “War-Songs of the Prince of Peace,” and to sing the hymns of trust and triumph. She was reverent in mind and body. She loved the ways and worship of the Church, the Cross, the Crucifix, the Sign of the Cross, and all the beautiful and eloquent language of symbol and ceremony, in which Divine and sacramental truth is enshrined and uttered. She longed and laboured to have the services of the Church everywhere comely and dignified, as befits “the fair beauty of the Lord.”
II. Mrs. Ames was noted for her Patriotism. She was a loyal American. She believed in and loved her country. She magnified its history and its traditions. In the work of the [12/13] Daughters of the American Revolution, she was foremost, being one of the founders of Gaspee Chapter in this city, and its first Honourary Regent. Her connection with any organization, whatever it might be, was never a nominal one. It always meant work, and positive, tangible results to show.
Mrs. Ames was nationally prominent as a patriotic woman, in connection with Mount Vernon. In the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union, she represented her State, being Vice-Regent for Rhode Island. This was a great honour, and one which she valued. In this august circle of elect ladies,” it is safe to say that none was more useful and influential than Mrs. Ames; and when annually, in the month of May, those eminent ladies assembled on that historic ground upon Potomac’s shore, we may be sure that none was worthier of the past associations of that spot, none represented more perfectly the very best, the most refined, and the most attractive American Woman hood of to-day, than the superb Vice-Regent from Rhode Island. In more than one visit of my own to Mount Vernon, it has been a pride [13/14] and pleasure to mark the spontaneous expressions of love and admiration which the merest mention of Mrs. Ames would at once call out from the superintendent and others employed about the place. The Rhode Island room at Mount Vernon and the restored “Pohick” Church in the neighbourhood, are material evidences of Mrs. Ames’ Regency.
III. Mrs. Ames was a great Philanthropist. She loved and sympathized with humanity. And her sympathy was not one of mere sentiment. She was not one of those emotional philanthropists of whom St. James tells us, who might say to a brother or sister naked and destitute of daily food, “Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled,” notwithstanding giving them not those things which are needful to the body. She showed her faith by her works. That very excellent organization, the Rhode Island Exchange for Woman’s Work, owes much to her. She has been a member of its Board of Managers, its Secretary, its Vice-President, and finally its President. Of that ancient society, the Providence Female Charitable Society, now one hundred and two years [14/15] old, she was the Secretary. In the Board of Managers of the S. Elizabeth Home, Mrs. Ames was conspicuous. Besides the organized bodies and institutions to which she gave herself unstintedly, her generous, humane nature reached out in private to individuals, here, there, and everywhere. The unfortunate and the outcast found in her a friend like a rock. These beneficiaries of hers are scattered all over Providence, and all over the country. I wish I were at liberty to relate some of the in stances which I know, few as they are, out of the great number of her golden deeds, any one of which would, I believe, find her a blessing before the Throne of God. She was a born philanthropist, heightened and hallowed by the grace of Christ.
IV. Still another wide sphere wherein Mrs. Ames made and left her mark was that of Education. She was a member of the Rhode Island Society for the Collegiate Education of Wo men, and I know that when the enterprise of erecting Pembroke Hall was undertaken, President Andrews made unusual effort to secure on that behalf, the interest and work of [15/16] Mrs. Ames, which have ever been considered guarantees of success. It had come to be a pro verb, that any cause which she espoused and championed would win. Our Valiant Woman was invincible, and her efficient services were recognized by the Corporation of Brown University in electing her a member of the Advisory Council of the Women’s College. While she thus shone in Academic orbits, she had been for years a potent element in the high-class private schools of the city; and as to spiritual education, there is a band of men and women, here and elsewhere, who can look back to a certain Sunday evening Bible Class of Mrs. Ames, and thank God for the ineffaceable memories and teachings which will go with them through life.
V. In the midst of these great public and serious concerns, Mrs. Ames was no stranger to the lighter moments of leisure and recreation. In the Social Sphere, in the world of Society, she was a power. In the true and whole some sense, she was a Woman of the World. She was no follower or victim of the pomps and vanities of this wicked world. But she [16/17] illustrated a normal, sensible, well-balanced and well-proportioned social life. Every personal grace and every charm of manner, which embellish the dinner-table and the drawing-room, were hers. With the unconscious ease which her perfect breeding gave her, she could entertain the old and the young, the grave and the gay, with equal facility. She practised a delightful and fascinating hospitality. She was a purifying, uplifting influence in the festal order of the world, salt of the earth, to keep hours of joy from corruption, to give life relish, and to make merry without degenerating into excess, folly, dissipation, and vice.
VI. This Valiant Woman, fighting ever this brave fight against the forces of sin and ignorance, poverty and disease and misfortune, was, first of all and after all, a simple Wife and Mother. She lived the Active Life in the Domestic Sphere. She was the mistress of a model home. Not one of its homeliest details ever escaped her. She was above none of them. Her house was one of the pleasantest and most restful, one of the most perfect, homes of comfort, that could anywhere be found, not [17/18] because of any ambitious display, but because it showed the affectionate pervading presence of a presiding spirit, of order and taste, and of scrupulous and painstaking care. The world has grown to be suspicious of, and satirical about women who are much seen and heard beyond their homes. The “Blue-Stocking,” the Woman of Fashion, the Strong-minded Woman, the Fanatical Agitator, the Sentimental Philanthropist, are by many people supposed to prove conclusively that no woman can bear an active part in interests outside her roof-tree without neglecting her home, and without injustice to her family. The story of the Valiant Woman rebukes these grotesque caricatures. There have been women, no doubt, who furnished occasion for such pictures as Dickens drew of Mrs. Jellyby looking past the misery at her side to some far-off Borrioboola-Gha; or of Miss Wisk, indignantly declaring “that the idea of woman’s mission lying chiefly in the narrow sphere of Home was an outrageous slander on the part of her Tyrant, Man.” The Valiant Woman of the Bible is no slattern at home, nor busy-body abroad. [18/19] She is the paragon of wives and mothers and housekeepers, and such was our “Valiant Woman,” Mrs. Ames. Her charity began at home in the most literal sense, and if it extended, as it did, to the very ends of the earth, it was kept up at home as freely as if it knew no range beyond the streets of Providence, Rhode Island.
VII. As we thus review the many important things this woman did, and did so well, we must feel that we are scrutinizing no ordinary, no commonplace personality. We are told in the Second Book of the Kings of that friend of the prophet Elisha, the woman who dwelt at Shunem. Her name remains untold. She stands in Holy Scripture as the “Shunammite.” She is spoken of as “a great woman.” “Wealthy,” some say that means. “A great lady,” some will render according to the Greek version. But she was more than rich or high. She was “good,” as the English chapter-heading terms her. She was the friend and benefactor and hostess of the prophet of the Lord. And the narrative shows her to have been person of great force and dignity of character. She was [19/20] another “Valiant Woman,” like ours, who, like the Shunammite, in station, in character, in ministrations to the priests and prophets of the Lord, was truly a great woman.
St. Paul described himself a “Hebrew of the Hebrews.” Our Sister Departed was a Rhode Islander of Rhode Islanders.
Anne Ives Carrington was the quintessence of the Best in all the history of this goodly Colony and Commonwealth. Born in Providence, October 17, 1849, and passing thence on November 10, 1904, her comparatively brief life was crowded with romance, adventure, and righteous, self-sacrificing activity. All her life long, apparently, she spent and was spent for others. She had a somewhat extensive experience of the world and of life. She had lived in the ranches of the West, in the great cities of Europe, and on the islands of the tropic sea.
There is one impression she has always left upon my mind, and that is, Splendour. She was in mind and body a splendid being. Beautiful in person, stately in bearing, cultured in mind, and radiant as the rising Sun, in soul, [20/21] it was easy to imagine her as filling any position on earth. She might have been a Warrior Queen leading armies to battle. She might have been an Empress on a throne. The heroines of the world’s history, Miriam, Joan of Arc, and many another, come to one’s mind with her. This world has been the better for her having lived. We cannot think of her entrance into any scene or state whatever without her being a distinct accession to its light and joy. She was a luminous and splendid Soul. She was a Christian optimist, and shed around her path, in which so many walked beside and after her, the effulgence of a blessed Hope.
I saw her on her death-bed, queenly, majestic, calm, solemn, simple, loving to the last. I looked upon her body in the repose of death, clasping the Crucifix, and still the beauty and the majesty were lingering there, prophetic of the glory of the Resurrection morn.
So, after she had “watched to ease the bur then of the world,” she joins “the choir invisible.” Shall not we, each one of us, say to one’s self:
This is life to come,
Which martyred men have made more glorious
For us who strive to follow. May I reach
That purest heaven, be to other souls
The cup of strength in some great agony,
Enkindle generous ardour, feed pure love,
Beget the smiles that have no cruelty
Be the sweet presence of a good diffused,
And in the diffusion even more intense.
So shall I join the choir invisible
Whose music is the gladness of the world.
Woman, Wife, Mother, Queen, we salute thee, and wish thee the Good Morrow of Eternity! Till our souls are with thine,