Indiana State University Newsroom

English professor publishes first book

February 21, 2011

In a manner that was often slow and methodical, Rosetta Haynes carefully penned her first book, which describes the lives of five African American women preachers and their paths of spiritual motherhood.

Haynes, an associate professor of English, women's studies and African and African American studies at Indiana State University, spent eight years developing her book "Radical Spiritual Motherhood: Autobiography and Empowerment in Nineteenth-Century African American Women."

Developed from her dissertation, the book was published in January 2011 by Louisiana State University Press.

"It was a long process, but it was definitely a labor of love," Haynes said.

Her book focuses on the lives of five 19th-century itinerant preachers: Jarena Lee, Zilpha Elaw, Julia Foote, Amanda Berry Smith and Rebecca Jackson. Each of these women wrote a spiritual autobiography in which they, through careful examination of their lives, wrote about their spiritual development.

"I got to know them through their own writing," Haynes said. "I was fascinated by the way they were able to pursue their divinely ordained calling."

Since graduate school in the early 1990s, when Haynes first delved into the lives of these women, she has been intrigued by them, but she found that few other people knew about these women. The public is not widely educated regarding the lives of these women.

"I wanted to raise awareness about who these women were. What I wanted to do was show how they transformed their lives from ordinary working-class women into extraordinary religious leaders," she said.

Through the book, Haynes describes the ways these women transformed the traditional role of motherhood and applied it to the people to whom they ministered.

"They were not confined to mothering their children," Haynes said. "They viewed the people they ministered to as their spiritual children. And to minister to them, they needed to travel and be active in the public sphere. So they used traditional motherhood to justify their nontraditional roles as ministers."

The book highlights the similarities between the lives and texts of the itinerant preachers and those of enslaved black women such as Harriet Jacobs, Mary Prince and Sojourner Truth.

"Both enslaved and free black women were subjected to the same negative cultural stereotypes," Haynes said.

Haynes also used the book to link the women of the past with a modern woman, Pauli Murray, who was the first African American woman and the second African American to be an ordained Episcopal priest.

Haynes has written journal articles and book chapters, but "Radical Spiritual Motherhood" is her first book.

"It's a great feeling. It's exciting," she said. "Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure it's really real, to make sure it's really happening."

Though the writing process spanned several years, Haynes said she spent a lot of time reading about the preachers and exploring her thoughts both on paper and on the computer.

"My thoughts sometimes flow more freely if I'm not focused on writing," Haynes said, noting that she carries a small notebook in her purse.

For her next book, Haynes would like to focus on the narratives of former slaves and their descendents living in Indiana during the 1930s, which were collected as part of the Federal Writers' Project. The original typescripts of these narratives are in ISU's Library.

"There is history at ISU I want to explore in a book," she said.

For more information about the book, visit

"Radical Spiritual Motherhood" by Rosetta Haynes
Rosetta Haynes poses with her first book. ISU Photo/Kara Berchem

Contact: Rosetta Haynes, associate professor of English, women's studies and African and African American studies, 812-237-3143 or

Writer: Lana Schrock, media relations assistant, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773 or