Amanda Berry Smith (1837-1915)

Amanda Berry Smith
Courtesy William Hull, Santa Barbara, California, Public domain

Amanda Berry Smith was a Methodist holiness evangelist, missionary to Africa and founder of an orphanage for African American children.  Amanda was born into slavery on January 23, 1837 in Long Green, Maryland to parents Samuel Berry and Miriam Matthews Berry, while they were held on adjacent farms. Eventually her father worked for wages at night to buy freedom for himself and his family.  Amanda’s attempts to gain a formal education always failed because a school was not available, or it was too difficult for an African American child to get a proper education in a white school.

When she was thirteen, Amanda left home to work as a live-in domestic and began attending a Methodist church.  In 1854, she married Calvin Devine and they had a daughter, Mazie, Amanda’s only child to live to adulthood.  Calvin enlisted in the Union Army and never returned home.  In 1855, while Amanda was gravely ill, she dreamed that she was preaching at a camp meeting. She recovered from her illness and was converted not too long after that experience.

In 1865, Amanda Berry married James Smith with the hope of becoming a minister’s wife and pursuing church work through that venue. Unfortunately, James never became a minister. Their matrimonial conflicts were also compounded by the early deaths of several of their children. When James passed away in 1869, he and Amanda were living apart.  Amanda began to preach and sing at holiness camp meetings in 1870, eventually becoming well-known for both of these talents.

In 1878, Amanda Berry Smith traveled overseas and preached in Great Britain, India, and for eight years in Liberia. Her time in Africa was particularly difficult, especially on her health. Upon her return to the states, she pursued her long-time dream of educating African American children by founding the Amanda Smith Orphanage and Industrial Home for Abandoned and Destitute Colored Children in Harvey, Illinois in 1899.  Despite her relentless fundraising efforts, she never could support the school sufficiently. At the age of seventy-five, she left the school and moved to a home in Sebring, Florida, where she passed away on February 24, 1915.