Intense, charismatic, indomitable, John Wesley lived according to rules established by the only woman living in his time who may have been his equal—Susanna Wesley, his mother. But women for Wesley were a special class of beings with spiritual sensitivity and with gifts for elevated conversation and correspondence. Throughout his life John Wesley was naturally attracted to women, and he attracted a wide range of women to him. Although he was disappointed in love and more so in his marriage, nevertheless, for spiritual comradeship, Wesley especially cherished contact with faithful women.

With men it was otherwise. From his father Samuel and his brothers, particularly Samuel and Charles, to his mentor William Law, to his Holy Club associates, to the Moravians Peter Boehler and Christian David, the early male influences on John Wesley were vigorous and deep, but he systematically transcended any single male influence and by 1738 was finally freely himself. Wesley had the gift of attracting men with the highest personal powers to himself and of organizing them effectively. He used men, he led men. But among men perhaps only his brother Charles was a real, lifelong friend. All other male relationships seem to have been professional in the highest sense—in doing God’s work.


So profound was the influence of Susanna Wesley upon her son John Wesley that she has been called “The Mother of Methodism.” But the force of her character was also an obstacle to John Wesley’s appreciation of women in general, for what woman could possibly have measured up to her?

Susanna Wesley’s regime at the parsonage was very strict even by eighteenth century standards. She bore many children—John was the fourteenth—but Susanna Wesley knew precisely what ...

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