Pious Ambitions Book
“With elegance and empathy, Mary C. Tribble takes us along on Sally Merriam Wait’s fascinating and at times heart-wrenching quest to be a devout Baptist woman and the wife of a domestic missionary minister from the 1810s to the 1830s. Tribble draws from diaries and abundant letters that allow us to witness Sally Wait’s inner struggles alongside the events of her life. The result is a compelling and important life story.” —Randal L. Hall, William P. Hobby Professor of American History, Rice University, Editor, Journal of Southern History
“Pious Ambitions is a judicious, readable, and timely book in every way. What a pleasure to meet a latter-day heroine whose faith and heady portion of ambition left a legacy for a university and our region.”—Edwin G. Wilson, Wake Forest provost emeritus and professor of English.
“Pious Ambitions is a vivid and valuable study of Baptist culture in the early republic. The story does a wonderful job of capturing the balancing of submission and ambition among evangelical women.” —Christine Heyrman, Robert W. and Shirley P. Grimble Professor of American History
“From a riveting New England conversion-tale to a harrowing and hopeful backwoods North Carolina journey, Pious Ambitious stands among the handful of works that bring the early nineteenth century U.S. vividly to life. Replete with fascinating details about Sally Merriam Wait’s world–her and surrounding figures’ passions, torments, sorrows, and joys–this beautifully-crafted study is an instant classic in the fields of historiography and gender studies alike. —Rogan Kersh, Provost and Professor of Politics & International Affairs, Wake Forest University
“The story of Sally Merriam Wait provides a productive prism to unpack the cultural pressures, political developments, and religious piety of a fracturing evangelical movement in 19th century America. Pious Ambitions captures the complex contours of this hyper-gendered and racially stratified world that continues to shape our contemporary context.”—Jonathan Lee Walton, Dean of the School of Divinity and Presidential Chair in Religion & Society, Wake Forest University.
“In this elegantly written and engaging cultural biography, we learn how young Sally Merriam Wait’s evangelical conversion in New England sent her on a south bound search for more voice and opportunity at the end of the Early Republic. This beguiling Baptist minister’s wife who once dreamed of serving as a missionary in Burma, fought against gendered inequalities and constraints, but too often to no avail, serving instead as exemplary help meet to her husband’s quest for opportunity and status. Tribble handles the complexities and disappointments of Wait’s transformation into a slave holding North Carolinian with clarity and honesty.”–Michele Gillespie, Presidential Endowed Chair of Southern History, Wake Forest University
“Ambition can propel us to achieve our highest aspirations. It can also blind us to injustices in our society and world. With deft insight and critical compassion Mary Tribble’s Pious. Ambitions: Sally Merriam Wait’s Mission South, 1813-1831 troubles the smooth texture of Sally Wait’s writings in revealing the complex and, at times, competing aims at work in her life and world.”– Corey D. B. Walker, Wake Forest Professor of the Humanities, Wake Forest University
“Mary Tribble’s fascinating study of Sally Merriam Wait gives voice to a remarkable 19th century woman as she encountered her times. Using journals and correspondence not previously studied, Tribble demonstrates how Wait becomes a case study in the way in which one Baptist woman appropriated and advocated for revivalistic spirituality, missionary imperatives, and the need for educational institutions in the American South. Sally Wait’s long neglected story needed to be told.”—Bill Leonard, Dunn Professor of Baptist Studies and Church History Emeritus, Wake Forest University
Pious Ambitions: Sally Merriam Wait’s Mission South, 1813-1831
Coming in 2021 from University Tennessee Press
A previously untold story of a nineteenth century woman determined to make her mark on the world, Pious Ambitions reveals the remarkable life of Sarah (Sally) Merriam Wait, from a young Vermont woman struggling with faith to an aspiring missionary and minister’s wife. Sally’s unwavering mission to save souls plunged her into the power center of the Baptist denomination in Washington, D.C., and ultimately, despite her anti-slavery family’s admonitions, pulled her to the backroads of North Carolina to assist her husband in establishing what is now Wake Forest University.
In a period when women had little agency in private industry or the public square, opportunities to gain influence through religion, home industry, and benevolent societies were emerging. After an emotional spiritual conversion at the funeral of a young friend, Sally began putting the elements in place to live her life in service to God, including marriage to a handsome and promising young minister. Through her journals and many letters, we learn in Sally’s own words how she continually pushed against the constraints of the woman’s sphere, whether it be through her missionary aspirations, educational ambitions, or bonnet making enterprise. She and her husband Samuel negotiated the manner and place of their shared calling for nearly twenty years before Sally finally agreed to settle in a slave-holding state. During that time, Sally’s pious ambitions led her to an unanticipated brush with celebrity, a scandalous denominational power struggle, tragic personal loss, and the establishment of an enduring educational institution.