Her speaking career took her from New York to Ohio to Michigan and as far as Canada. She spoke to white and black audiences alike, evangelizing during revivals that swept the Midwest after the Civil War. She spoke to huge crowds, with one meeting in Ohio in 1878 numbering 5,000.
Her husband initially embraced her expressions of faith, but he grew weary of her career and once threatened to commit her to an insane asylum for having too radical a position. Yet, Foote persevered. “I have a consciousness of obedience to the will of my dear Lord and Master,” she once said.
In time, she found peace with her husband and extended family. In fact, in 1851 she paused her ministry to care for her sick mother, who lived with her in Cleveland for several years.
Around that time, Julia’s voice gave out due to throat problems. Foote was sidelined from preaching and feared she would never preach again. She wrote about it in her memoir, A Brand Plucked from the Fire, as some of her darkest days: “During all this time I was less spiritual, less zealous . . . the witness was not clear and God suffered me to pass through close trials, tossed by the billows of temptation,” she wrote. “I had much of the world to struggle with and against.”
Struggle, she did, and triumph. The woman who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer from her church, would likewise not succumb to her own physical and spiritual trials. She rallied, and went on to become a missionary in the AME Zion Church. Then in 1894, Julia A. J. Foote became the first woman to be ordained a deacon in the AME Zion Church. In 1900, she became the second woman to hold office as an elder in the same denomination.
Foote’s life is a testimony of forward momentum. Though she struggled every step of the way, she didn’t let others hold her back from the calling God had on her life.
Julia A.J. Foote’s legacy calls for the same in each of us. In the face of today’s confusing pendulum swings of affirmation and opposition, women called to lead and preach will need to carry out Foote’s bold but simple plan of action: don’t take “no” for an answer. With scores of preaching and job opportunities still denied to women, we must take Foote’s example and forge creative ways to lead and preach anyway.