Dorcas vs. Frederick Douglass

Occasionally the SEC adds matchups based on little more than (deeply prayerful) whim. This isn't such a case, mind you, but we do sometimes get jazzed by things like alliteration. Thus, today it's Dorcas vs. Douglass. That has a certain saintly ring to it, don't you think? The winner faces Juan Diego in the Saintly Sixteen.

Yesterday, Cuthbert sent the Venerable Bede packing with a veritable Bede-down of his medieval contemporary, 63% to 37%. He'll next square off against Molly Brant.

Don't forget that our Bracket Czar updates the online Bracket each day. Scroll down to see the corresponding Matchup Calendar and learn the precise date when your favorite saint will be locking horns (not that saints have horns) with his or her next saintly rival.

After today's competition, we will be exactly halfway through the first round. Remember, no voting takes place over the weekend so the next matchup will be Francis of Assisi vs. John Wycliffe on Monday morning. Now go vote!


Dorcas, which is not as bad a name as it sounds (it translates into Tabitha in Aramaic and Gazelle in English), made her first and only appearance in scripture after she had already died.

A lay leader of the early church in the port city of Joppa (now Tel Aviv-Yafo), Dorcas is known only by what was reported about her in Acts 9:36-42. She was described first as a disciple, and then as a person “devoted to good works and acts of charity.” After Dorcas’ death from an unnamed illness, the church in Joppa sent two men to get Peter, who was visiting in nearby Lydda. When Peter arrived, he was taken to see the body by a group of widows, who wept as they showed some of the garments Dorcas had made for them. Peter cleared the room, prayed, and said, “Tabitha, rise,” at which point she returned from the dead, presumably to continue in her ministr y.

Reading between the lines, it seems likely that Dorcas was young and her death untimely. Although it’s easy to infer that her good works were the sewing of “tunics and other garments,” there is nothing to say that Dorcas’ charity stopped there. It is likely they were only the outward and visible signs of a life devoted to charity.

In these visible signs, Dorcas shows us that charity is eminently practical and involves providing things for people close at hand. However, charity also involves the heart and spirit. Had these practical gifts been given with a condescending attitude or unkind heart, would she have been mourned to the point of two men traveling to another town to get Peter?

In the Episcopal Church, Dorcas is remembered along with Lydia, the dealer of purple cloth who was converted by Paul, and Phoebe, a church leader mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Although understandable, it is perhaps unfortunate that these three are grouped; it seems to suggest that being a woman was the distinctive role each brought to the early church as opposed to her charity, her faith, or her leadership. In Dorcas’ case, it is easy to focus on her sewing instead of the bigger picture of her deeply rooted charity. But in Acts, the fact that Dorcas was a woman is, at best, a secondary consideration. She was first a disciple, full stop.

Even in the very brief passage in which she appears (during which she was dead most of the time), Dorcas comes across as loving, pragmatic, and well-respected — a worthy model of charity for all of us.

Collect for Dorcas

Almighty God, you raised to life again your servant Dorcas. Grant, that like her, we may always seek to weave your love into every fiber of ourselves, clothing those we love and care for in the raiment of your mercy and kindness. May we, like Dorcas, rise up from the impossible places in our lives, praising you and emboldened to continue the ministries to which you have called us. Amen.

-Laura Darling

Frederick_Douglass_c1860sFrederick Douglass

Many people are familiar with Frederick Douglass’ work as an abolitionist in the nineteenth century. What is not as well-known is the depth of Douglass’ Christian faith. Douglass’ love of scripture and his fascination with the apocalyptic writing of Revelation was a guidepost in his quest for personal holiness and social transformation.

Born to an enslaved woman and a white slave owner in 1818 on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Douglass was sent to work for a Baltimore shipbuilder following his mother’s death when he was seven years old. Over the course of the next eight years, Douglass learned to read and write and developed a love of the Bible. His affinity for the Bible served as a catalyst for his conversion to the Christian faith when he was thirteen. In his well-known autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he recalled that after being sent back to Maryland’s Eastern Shore, he continued to have abiding hope in God’s promises and established a Sunday school for other enslaved men and women.

While on the Eastern Shore, Douglass was subjected to numerous whippings and beatings from the plantation’s overseer, which left permanent scars on his body. These violent beatings and Douglass’ prophetic reading of scripture led him to plan his escape to freedom. Although his first attempt was not a success, in 1838 Douglass finally fled to safety in New York, before settling in New Bedford, Massachusetts, with his wife. Together, they had five children.

In New Bedford, Douglass joined an abolitionist society and an A.M.E. Zion church, where he assumed leadership as the church’s preacher. By 1841 Douglass was traveling across Canada and the northern United States rallying support against slavery. Douglass believed that individual holiness was essential to the reformation of society’s morals and the work of abolitionists. To this end, Douglass refused to drink alcohol, smoke tobacco, or engage in any other behavior he felt threatened the Christian’s call to righteousness.

After the Civil War ended, Douglass continued advocating for equality — not only on behalf of African Americans, but Native Americans and women. For Douglass, God’s justice would not be complete until all were treated with dignity. Douglass published more than ten books and speeches, including the conscience- raising, “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?” He died at his Washington, D.C., home in 1895 and was buried in Rochester, New York. His Washington home is currently a national landmark, housing Douglass’ collection of Bibles, religious books, and angel depictions.

Collect for  Frederick Douglass

Almighty God, whose truth makes us free: We bless your Name for the witness of Frederick Douglass, whose impassioned and reasonable speech moved the hearts of a president and a people to a deeper obedience to Christ. Strengthen us also to be outspoken on behalf of those in captivity and tribulation, continuing in the Word of Jesus Christ our Liberator; who with you and the Holy Spirit dwells in glory everlasting. Amen.

-Maria Kane


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192 comments on “Dorcas vs. Frederick Douglass”

  1. That picture of Douglass should be on our money. After reading the comments in favor of Dorcas, though, i may have to go with her.

  2. I too was moved by Laura's lovely prayer for Dorcas, although my vote goes to Frederick Douglass for the great work he helped to accomplish on behalf of enslaved African-Americans and other minorities.

  3. I voted for Dorcas because........Dorcas was the name of my favorite bride in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, played by Julie Newmar. See? There is a variety of reasons for how we cast our votes! Sheer Madness in that reasoning but that's why I love Lent Madness!

      1. From "About Lent Madness", " In seeking a fun, engaging way for people to learn about the men and women comprising the Church’s Calendar of Saints"

        So is Douglass part of the Church's Calendar of Saints?

  4. Sadly, we were not told a full story about Mr. Douglass. As someone who lived in Rochester (Bexley Hall!!!!), I learned about some of Frederick Douglass' marital drama.

    "Anna Douglass, Frederick's wife, was somewhat older than Frederick and illiterate, was als ill much of the time. She shared little of her husband's intellect or interests, and seemed unable to cope with the large household.

    Assing, on the other hand, was a passionate abolitionist, was politically astute, and contributed a great deal to Douglass' work. The affair was never confined to the domestic sphere, and it was never a secret. For most of their 26 year friendship, when apart, Frederick and Ottilie weekly wrote each other. Assing was confident that, upon Anna's death, Douglass would marry her. Oh, bitter news! He wed another woman - white, bright and 20 years his junior. Heartbroken and ill with breast cancer, Assing walked into a park, opened a tiny vial and swallowed the potassium cyanide within. Still Ottilie left Frederick Douglass as the sole heir in her will."

    1. Ah, how sad and how contemporary! How many of the male supporters of women's rights in general are oblivious to the callousness of their treatment of the particular women in their lives. Though Douglass was a women's rights advocate before the Civil War, when it came to passage of the Fourteenth Amendment he chose his fellow black men to the exclusion of all women, saying "this is the Negro's hour." (I believe the quotation is attributed to him; if not, I stand corrected, but he shared the sentiment. Note that "the Negro" = males only.) In any case, and despite my admiration for Douglass's many achievements, my vote goes to Dorcas, a woman in solidarity.

    2. That clinches it. I couldn't decide at all, thinking we had a situation where one saint may have inspired another, who then carried on her good work. But I'm going against Douglass, based on this story. Dorcas gets my vote!

  5. My vote goes to Douglass! I knew and had admired his work as an abolitionist. I did not know that he also had a deep Christian faith & that he served as the leader/preacher of a church! I also was not aware that he advocated not just for African Americans, but also for Native Americans and women. My admiration for him has grown - after reading today's story about him!

  6. I chose Frederick Douglass on my bracket, but after reading Dorcas' bio and about Christine CO's wonderful Mother, I have changed my vote to Dorcas as representative of all those quiet women who over the centuries have needlepointed kneelers, ironed the fair white linens, polished the brass, kept the nurseries, birthed and raised the future priests in the faith, including my own precious Mother: organist, altar guilder, Sunday School teacher, flower arranger, Girl Scout leader, teacher, and in a second career, wife of a priest.

  7. As a Maryland resident, I am pleased to give my vote today to Frederick Douglass, a saint who overcame so much tribulation and suffering, who worked for the welfare and dignity of all peoples, treasured education and taught responsibility.

  8. Although my mother diligently displayed the saintly spirit of Dorcas in the ladies group by that name, I must vote for Douglas as a clear example of courage and perseverance and even a miracle , going from slavery to leadership in salvation of body and souls for all, including Native Americans and women.

  9. Having grown up in Rochester and visited the grave site of Frederick Douglas, I had to vote for him. Kind of missing my home state . . . no better reason than that to choose him over the worthy disciple, Dorcas.

  10. I went with Fredrick Douglass because I admire the personal call to holiness, the physical, spiritual and intellectual courage it took to do all he did, and the South Coast Massachusetts connection. (I had no idea he lived for a while in New Bedford.)

  11. We always read part of Frederick Douglass' autobiography in my US History class, and the kids are always blown away when I tell them that my church honors him as a saint. It is so cool. I love his focus on :individual holiness".

  12. As important as our country's struggle for racial equality is and how much admiration I have for brave persons who have led us toward the right, Dorcas's life and relife is a foundational part of our faith story. Dorcas is the ONLY woman called a disciple in the NT, the first resurrection among believers after Jesus's ascension, and a beloved pillar of the church. She is a an oft overlooked saint for the ages. Dorcas, Dorcas, Dorcas !!!

  13. While Frederick Douglass had many admirable qualities--I must vote for Dorcas. Her quiet and faithful devotion to DOING something feeds my deacon's heart. Not that many women are celebrated in the Bible--so I will support those faithful female disciples!

  14. Yes, Douglas was out there, rallying the troups, preaching God's ways, but there is something to be said for the quiet, steady Word spoken in deed by the countless that also serve who stand and wait.

  15. I was tempted to vote for Dorcas, largely because I'm an underdog kind of person, but also because her story is compelling in its simplicity and brevity. However, Frederick Douglass has to have my vote. As recently as four generations ago, my ancestors held people in slavery and it was the strength and perseverance of Douglass and others who followed his example that helped to bring it to an end. I have enormous admiration for the man and all he did. That he also worked for equality for Native Americans and women adds to his appeal.

  16. Again, I am faced with a choice where there are no bad options. I love it. Peter did not raise many people from the dead, so clearly the man chosen by Christ to found his church felt strongly that this was worthy and the right thing to do. On the other hand, you have a modern Christian who had an enormous impact on a country that had wandered astray and was leading a sanctioned national sin. A light had to be focused, and it was no easy thing to do it. And those who suffer greatly, but remain compassionate Christians who lead and give throughout a lifetime are our among most worthy examples. These are great saints, and a worthy matchup. Go Christians!

  17. Gender should not be an issue here. It seems to me, however, there are plenty of women (and men, too) who engage in wonderful acts of charity and kindness and who would NEVER be recognized by being on this list. Being mentioned in the Bible hardly makes one qualified either. Dorcas may have done things that qualify her as a saint, we just don't know a whole lot about her. But I am left with no reason to especially single her out here. Yes, she is a great symbol for women in the church, as are Phoebe and Lydia, but what did she really do that makes her stand out? I did vote for Frederick Douglass because I know a lot about what he did for African-Americans, Native Americans, and women, he did something that was unique as an African-American and ex-slave: daring to speak out for human rights when doing so for a black man was dangerous, even after the Civil War! My vote is most certainly not a vote against women in the church. I have voted for women here, but there has to be a reason for voting for someone more than just because the person is a woman. I just don't think there is enough, given what little we know, to vote for Dorcas. There clearly is for Frederick Douglass!

  18. Wow, it's hard to say who the under dog is in this match up. A female who is barely mentioned in scripture and in an era when women were mostly (institutionally) powerless verses a slave who rose above the torture of his captivity to become a powerful agent of liberation. Hmmm...I'm predicting a win for Douglas so in that case, I have to vote for Dorcas/Tabitha. Sheesh...this is hard!

  19. I wanted to vote for Dorcas (the name of the saintly wife of my saintly junior high band instructor, both of whom have halos awaiting them), especially for the quiet grace of her ministry and the importance of her story, but Douglass won me over with his tireless efforts to uplift all humanity.

  20. Douglass was extraordinary. he inspired so many in so many ways, was able to speak truth to power. Ancestors of mine were among his many friends in the Rochester area who supported his works, and that led me to read more about a person who until then had been a single line in a school history book. I am still in awe.

  21. My vote is with Dorcas. I have been fascinated with her ever since I first read about her in the

  22. I voted for Dorcas. Sometimes those who work in small quiet ways do the most astounding work for the kingdom which may or may not be noticed in their time.

  23. I was going to vote for FD but if it is true that he was having affairs and did not repent them to have a change of heart and lifestyle, then I would not consider him a saint or a person who's footsteps I would like to walk in. I am going to do some research on this but in the meantime I think I will vote for Dorcas for "rising up out of an impossible situation" and living a life praising God with her gifts.

  24. Douglass is one of those represented in the National Women's Center visitor lobby statue in Seneca Falls; he spoke at the first Women's Rights Convention. A magnificent person indeed.

  25. "Douglass believed that individual holiness was essential to the reformation of society’s morals and the work of abolitionists"