Palmer, Phoebe (née Worrall)

American evangelist and exponent of scriptural holiness, born in New York on 18 December 1807. She was the daughter of an expatriate English Methodist from Sheffield, who had been converted after hearing John Wesley preach. She experienced conversion in early life and at the age of 19 was married to Dr. Walter C. Palmer (1804-1883), a New York physician who shared her desire to promote spiritual holiness. The loss of two children in infancy caused her to become deeply concerned about her spiritual state and led to the step of personal consecration to Christ in July 1837, in which she found the assurance of entire consecration. She then became deeply involved in the movement for greater stress on the 'second blessing' element in Methodist teaching on holiness, chiefly through a Tuesday meeting for the promotion of holiness started by her sister Sarah Lankford for the women of the Allen Street Methodist Church, but later open to men also. Becoming its leader, she ran this meeting for the rest of her life.

From a rather wide interpretation of the words in Matthew 23:19, 'the altar that sanctifieth the gift', she taught that when a believer's life is totally consecrated to Christ, entire sanctification is instantly wrought and should be claimed by faith and testified to immediately. The Tuesday meetings, held in the Palmers' drawing room, drew large attendances, including many ministers and even two bishops, and many responded openly to the 'altar call'. Phoebe Palmer's doctrine became known as the 'shorter way' to the enjoyment of holiness in contrast to the more gradual approach more often taught. The Palmers toured Britain between 1859 and 1863, holding crowded meetings in many towns and cities. They edited a periodical called The Guide to Holiness, while Phoebe herself published seven books (e.g. The Way of Holiness, 1850) and in 1850 founded the first Protestant slums mission in New York. She has been credited with being the chief influence behind the headsprings of the 1859 Revival, described in her Four Years in the Old World (1866) and the inspiration that led Catherine Booth to take up public ministry in the future Salvation Army. She also published Four Years in the Old World (1866). She was an opponent of slavery and of the liquor trade and an advocate of women's rights. She died on 2 November 1874.

  • Richard Wheatley, The Life and Letters of Mrs. Phoebe Palmer (New York, 1876)
  • Charles Edward White, The Beauty of Holiness: life of Phoebe Palmer (Zondervan, 1986)
  • Harold E. Raser, Phoebe Palmer, her life and thought (Lewiston, NY, 1987)
  • Charles Edwin Jones, 'The Posthumous Pilgrimage of Phoebe Palmer', in Methodist History, 35:4 (July 1997) pp.203-13
  • Tim Woolley, 'Promised Ground: Phoebe Palmer's British Visit', in John Lenton, Clive Murray Norris and Linda Ryan (eds), "Women, Preachers, Methodists" (Oxford, 2020), 234-60.


Entry written by: PWG
Category: Person
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