In 1930 when Ella Broadus Robertson published The Fine Art of Motherhood, she was already an accomplished speaker and author. The daughter of the famous preacher and professor John Broadus and wife to the world-renowned New Testament linguist A. T. Robertson, she sought to counter the rising tide of feminism by encouraging women with practical, biblical wisdom.
Ella lived in a time of great change for women. Suffragettes stormed the White House in July 1917. The police had no patience for this display of female aggression. They arrested several women and sent them off to a workhouse. The tide, however, had shifted. America had become convinced that women, who so ably served the cause of war, deserved the right to vote, and a few years later, on August 26, 1920, the nation secured it with ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.1 Not all changes were positive. In 1928 feminist author Charlotte Haldane secularized the women’s movement. In Motherhood and Its Enemies she argued mothers need political not biblical guidance.2 She advocated equality unchecked by Scripture.
In this new century, women wanted female leadership. Haldane provided it. Thankfully, so did Ella Robertson. In most of her works she devoted herself to serving families. In 1911, she published The Heart of the Bible, a collection of readings through the Old and New Testaments “for young people, parents and teachers.” Robertson wanted children to read and understand Scripture, and she approached this edition with the belief that “every part of the Bible is to be read in the light of the Bible as a whole.”3
The Art of Motherhood (1917) is based on talks she gave in summer conferences throughout the country. Robertson exhorted mothers to entrust their children to God. She spoke of Augustine’s mother, Monica, who diligently prayed for her young son while he lived in sin.4 She challenged mothers to trust in the Lord even when death takes a child: “[S]ome of the deepest truths have been struck out of the rock by hearts in anguish.” She spoke from experience, having herself lost a child.5 Furthermore, she offered advice on discipline. Children ought to obey, but not out of terror: “[A] child learns, as we learn, to trust the wisdom and love of the one who commands.”6 She encouraged mothers with the reminder that parenting is divine business.
In The Ministry of Women (1921), she challenged women to think about the changing world. She opened by referencing the historic ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment: “Since woman has become a citizen, it seems more and more manifest that her best public service will still be done as woman.”7 Gender equality was the national mood, and Robertson thought biblically about the matter. She pointed women to the examples of Rebekah and Elizabeth. She noted that Zelophehad’s daughters were “pioneers of woman’s rights” because they asked and received a portion of the inheritance of Israel though their father had no sons (Num. 27:6-8).8 She asked probing questions: “Is our suffrage going to usher in a golden age?” “What reforms should women most concern themselves about?” “What did we learn from doing war work?” The questions spurred discussion and indicated that Robertson wanted wives and mothers to think carefully about their roles in the modern age.
Ella Robertson urged women to realize their valuable place in both the family and society. She believed God used women, wives, and mothers to change the world. In her last book she exhorted her readers to stand firm against the onslaught of world religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Women have a precious role to play in supporting the family and protecting and promoting the gospel.9
Today’s Charlotte Haldanes would have mothers believe the best they can do is stay in the workforce to foster independence and secure a healthy pension.10 God created women to embrace larger goals. Whether working at home or in the marketplace, He calls them to make an even longer-term investment in the family, the Church, and the spiritual well-being of the world.
1 Paul Johnson, A History of the American People (New York: HarperPerennial, 1999), 658-659.
2 Charlotte Haldane, Motherhood and Its Enemies (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1928), 250-251.
3 The Heart of the Bible, ed., Ella Broadus Robertson (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1911), v.
4 Ella Broadus Robertson, The Fine Art of Motherhood (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1917), 50.
5 Bernice O. Skaggs, “Archibald Thomas Robertson,” 194?. Manuscript available in The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Archives.
6 Robertson, Art of Motherhood, 117.
7 Ella Broadus Robertson, The Ministry of Women (Oklahoma City: Messenger Book House, 1921), 5.
8 Ibid., 92-93.
9 Ella Broadus Robertson, These Things Remain (Nashville: Broadman, 1941).
10 Individual Retirement Account. See Leslie Bennetts, The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? (New York: Voice, 2007).