Three streams cross - Disciples History Logo.
Date of birth: November 12, 1802
Date of death: June 28, 1897 (95 years old)
Education: Unknown
Organization(s): Stone-Campbell Movement
Known for:
  • Second wife of Alexander Campbell.

Second wife of Alexander Campbell. Born November 12, 1802, at Lichfield, England, the only daughter of Samuel and Ann Maria Bean Bakewell’s six children. She was named for the eighteenth-century Methodist philanthropist and activist Lady Selina, Countess of Huntington. 

Selina Bakewell arrived with her family at Wellsburg, (West) Virginia, in the upper Ohio Valley in 1804. There she attended Old Brick Academy, her only formal education. She then managed the household for her brothers and mother after her father Samuel left the family, taking his fourth son Theron with him, to escape debtors’ prison in 1816. Horatio, the second son, struggled to support the family with a small glassmaking factory. 

Photo Caption: Portrait of Selina Campbell by James Bogle, c. 1851-52. Courtesy of Bethany College 

In 1821, at the age of 19, Selina Bakewell was baptized by her future husband, Alexander Campbell, after several years of attending Wellsburg Church of Christ, the second church founded by Campbell. Ann Maria Bean Bakewell’s family had been Baptists for several generations — her maternal grandfather, George Bean, serving as a deacon at the Baptist Church in Shrewsbury, England. The Wellsburg Church had been formed through the merging of the Wellsburg Baptist Church with some members of the first Campbell church at Brush Run in Pennsylvania. After joining the Wellsburg church, Selina formed such a close relationship with Campbell and his family, especially his wife Margaret Brown Campbell, that as Margaret lay dying of tuberculosis in late 1827, she secured her husband’s promise that he would consider the young Miss Bakewell for the role of stepmother to their five daughters. 

On July 31, 1828, 26-year-old Selina married her former mentor, Alexander Campbell, at the home of her brother, Horatio. Selina then moved to her husband’s estate in Bethany on Buffalo Creek several miles south of Wellsburg. She would spend most of the rest of her life on the farm her husband received from his first wife’s family. Alexander was already two decades into his preaching and publishing career. Marriage to such a prominent man brought a number of challenges for the new Mrs. Campbell. Unlike her predecessor, she had been raised in town, which left her unprepared for many aspects of life on her husband’s farm. Fortunately, she learned very quickly. 

The most pressing challenge presented itself immediately. Only a year after their marriage, Alexander left Bethany for Richmond to participate in the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829-30. Alexander’s correspondence to her during the time he was away testifies to the close, affectionate nature of their relationship regardless of the origins of their marriage. His letters contain passionate expressions of his deep love and affection for his bride and his appreciation for her work in maintaining their household. In her husband’s absence, Selina managed a several-hundred-acre farm, cared for four of her stepdaughters, and hosted dozens of house-guests. She also gave birth to a child of her own in June 1829, just a few weeks before her husband’s departure. The daughter was given the name Margaret Brown Campbell after her father’s first wife. The list of tasks necessary to run such a household and raise her family was enormous, but it was a role Selina apparently embraced as her contribution to her husband’s life and ministry. 

Selina’s support of her husband’s ministry came in several forms. For instance, during his absence while at the Virginia Constitutional Convention, Selina managed her husband’s many business activities from their home. With the help of his secretary, Selina often oversaw shipments from his printing press, planned the production of crops on the farm, and maintained his correspondence with contacts around the country. 

Often, however, her most important role was mother to her five stepdaughters and later to her own six children. Both Alexander and Selina valued motherhood highly. In common with many others of the day, they considered it a holy vocation and important part of forming the character of children. This was a role assigned to women by God manifest in their more gentle nature and domestic abilities. It was also a very time-consuming role for Selina Campbell. Following Margaret’s birth, Selina had three sons, Wickliffe, Alexander Jr., and William, and two more daughters, Virginia and Decima. 

Of her children, Selina developed the closest relationship with Wickliffe. The two were constantly in each other’s company. Young Wickliffe seemed the most likely of Campbell’s fourteen children to follow in his father’s footsteps. His serious nature and love for memorizing Scripture caused all around him to expect a brilliant future for him. His tragic drowning at age 10 sent shockwaves through the Campbell family and their friends. The tragedy probably affected Selina most profoundly. She immediately fell into a deep depression. At times Alexander would find her crying at their son’s gravesite or swimming in the creek where he drowned. Her recovery from this devastating loss did not come until another great tragedy. In the fall of 1847, only a few months after Wickliffe’s death, Selina’s eldest daughter, Margaret Brown Campbell Ewing, died from tuberculosis, a disease that had already claimed all of Alexander’s children from his first marriage. Margaret’s newborn son, Selina’s first grandchild, died soon after. In the wake of the two deaths, guests of the Campbells witnessed Selina’s sudden return to her responsibilities. She later described her depression over Wickliffe’s death as a reminder from God that she had given too much of her attention to the child. It was a lesson she remembered the rest of her life. Somehow the death of Margaret and her child brought Selina back to a realization of her duties and reconciled her to God’s sovereign power over her family. 

In addition to motherhood, Selina also acted as hostess of the Campbell Mansion. As her husband’s fame as a preacher, teacher, and writer grew, so did the number of people journeying to his home to visit him. The Campbell dining room table sat thirty, and it was often full. Selina took pride in her ability to care for the bodies of her guests while her husband fed their minds. This task required vast amounts of labor. From her brother Theron, who operated a general store in southern Virginia, she obtained many of the items she needed to run the household. These items included dozens of yards of black fabric from which she fashioned mourning clothes for the family, as well as dozens of dishes and various food items. With the help of several servants, who were often slaves the Campbells would educate and then free after a few years of service, Selina managed to feed, house, and often clothe the hundreds of visitors to the Campbell Mansion at Bethany. The house was so well known that it eventually acquired the name of “the Mecca of Campbellism.” Both Alexander and Selina took pride in their willingness to house any who came to their door. 

The Campbells also combined their energies in several projects that significantly impacted the Movement. Perhaps the most important of these was the founding of Bethany College in 1847. The college was an extension of both Selina and Alexander’s support for the beneficial effects of education on the mind and the importance of instruction in both moral and intellectual endeavors. While her husband raised funds for the college, Selina directed preparations for the living quarters of the students, and upon their arrival she often hosted them in the Campbell home for evenings of dining and singing. Though the school’s main building tragically burned in 1857, the Campbells were successful in rebuilding it on an even grander scale after several years of fundraising. 

Photo Caption: Selina and Alexander Campbell photographed at the time of their visit to Cincinnati for the convention of the American Christian Missionary Society, 1860. Twenty-four years younger than her husband, Selina outlived him by thirty-one years. Courtesy of Bethany College 

By 1860 Alexander Campbell had mostly retired from his life of preaching and teaching. His health failed and his mind wandered, but he was at last restored to his wife. The last years of their marriage were perhaps the happiest as the couple spent more time together than at any other time. By 1866, however, Campbell was near death. Selina remained steadfast at her husband’s side and could hardly be persuaded to leave him even to eat or rest. His death on March 4, 1866, sent her into a deep mourning from which she never completely emerged, though she lived another thirty-one years. Ironically, the death of her husband provided an opportunity for his followers to express their respect and affection for his widow, whom they recognized as his faithful companion and an invaluable participant in her husband’s life and ministry. 

After her husband’s death, Selina’s activities changed significantly, becoming more public. In particular, she found time to write more than a hundred articles that appeared in various religious publications. As a more than competent author and thinker, Selina Campbell often commented on issues that captured her attention — some cultural, others political or philosophical. They included articles opposing dancing, supporting the importance of simple worship, and demonstrating the importance of reading Christian biographies. Several newspaper editors commented on her skills as a writer as they published her articles. Many of her writings demonstrated the importance of her faith in a personal, active, and righteous God. Her favorite author was John Newton, best known as the composer of the hymn “Amazing Grace.” She admired the deep Christian commitment that had brought him out of a life as a slave trader and into a life of service and ministry in England. Selina read the Bible daily and was familiar with its contents. She constantly offered Scripture to her children as a guide to making decisions and living righteously. This faith provided the lens through which she interpreted the society she observed. 

Like many Christians of her era, Selina Campbell distrusted the social scene she associated with town living. Issues of dancing, parties, and fancy dress struck deep chords within her conscience. She worried that these activities distracted Christians from their relationship with God and left them no time for sober reflection and meditation on scriptural principles and the love of God. But Selina’s proscriptions regarding worldly entertainment did not prevent Christians from fellowshiping with each other through singing, sharing meals, and celebrating birthdays. These were common activities at the Campbell Mansion throughout her lifetime. 

It was in the often delicate arena of gender relations that the wife of Alexander Campbell showed some of her most brilliant abilities and her strong belief in the vast potential of women’s active role in society and church life. Occasionally frustrated with those who placed arbitrary limits on women’s potential and God-given aptitude, she strongly promoted expanded roles for women in church and society that would, however, not undermine their traditional domestic role. 

One of Selina’s most enduring interests was the development of missions efforts in both the United States and abroad. She especially emphasized the importance of women in this effort and used her skills as an author to expand their contribution. As with many other nineteenth-century American women, Selina Campbell’s life had been fundamentally altered by reading the best-selling autobiography of one of the first American missionaries overseas, Ann Judson. Mrs. Judson and her husband, Adoniram, served as Baptist missionaries in Burma in the early nineteenth century. Judson’s death in a foreign land while serving her God inspired Selina and drew her interest to missions activities. In 1856, she began a new movement among women in the Stone-Campbell Movement when she published the first female call for support for missions. The article appeared in her husband’s journal, Millennial Harbinger, and was titled “To My Christian Sisters in Common Faith.” Though short and simple in its appeal for funds for Mary Williams (then the Movement’s only missionary), it nonetheless represented the first public notice by a woman attempting to raise funds in support of foreign missions in the Stone-Campbell Movement. Selina had resorted to this action because of her disappointment with the ineffectiveness of the American Christian Missionary Society, which had been founded in 1849. Later, in 1874, she would welcome the organization of the Christian Woman’s Board of Missions. She served as president of the organization’s second chapter, the West Virginia chapter. 

Alexander Campbell’s widow also believed strongly in the importance of personal evangelism, especially for women. Not only were they responsible for the religious instruction of their children, but their interaction with other women as they pursued their domestic activities provided opportunities to share their faith with a number of people. Thus, women’s evangelism did not require public preaching, which could threaten their family life, but instead was based on the traditional domestic role women already fulfilled. In this way, every woman served the cause of Christ without violating what she saw as God’s prescribed role for women in the home. 

While at Bethany Mansion in the 1880s, Selina completed one of her most beloved writing projects, Home Life and Reminiscences of Alexander Campbell. Nearly two decades previously, Dr. Robert Richardson, a close friend and physician to the Campbell family, had presented Selina with his two-volume biography of her husband’s life. She had provided him with much of the material in the form of her husband’s papers, none of which she ever allowed to be destroyed. She had eagerly accepted it and praised his rendition of her husband’s contributions to American religion and to his family. But she also felt the half had never been told, and she claimed that her family and friends beseeched her with requests to provide further insight into the life of Alexander Campbell. Home Life was the product of a woman in her eighties who deeply appreciated the teachings of her husband and presented them in the context of their family life and mutual affection. It remains a valuable source for understanding the domestic life of the Campbell family, which in turn sheds light on Alexander Campbell’s public life as a preacher and teacher. 

The last years of Selina’s life were spent mainly with her children and grandchildren. She rarely attended public gatherings. But as she grew older, she found the mansion hard to maintain on her own, so she often lived for months at a time with one or the other of her daughters. Extended absences from her home did not prevent her from longing to spend her last days on earth surrounded by the source of all her memories. Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, she increasingly spent her time at the mansion. She and her closest friend, Julia Barclay, became a familiar sight to the residents of Bethany as they sat in their rocking chairs on the porch of Bethany Mansion. Mrs. Barclay was the widow of the first Disciples overseas missionary, James Barclay (1807-1874). One of her sons had married Selina’s daughter, and the other son married Selina’s niece, forging an even stronger bond between the two friends. Selina remained grateful for the younger woman’s companionship until the end of her life. 

Mid-1897 brought articles in newspapers throughout West Virginia about the 95-year-old Widow Campbell’s attack of influenza. Though her family and friends hoped she would recover and live to see a full century, Selina’s illness worsened until she passed away on June 28, 1897. Newspapers throughout West Virginia and Kentucky carried obituaries of the “Mother in Israel.” Her funeral attracted hundreds of mourners to Bethany Mansion, a testament to her leadership and the affection they held for the gentle sister in Christ. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY Selina Campbell, Home Life and Reminiscences of Alexander Campbell (1882) • Loretta M. Long, The Life of Selina Campbell: A Fellow Soldier in the Cause of Reformation (2001). 


Foster, Douglas A.. The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement (pp. 485-496). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition. 

This entry, written by Lorretta M. Long, was originally published in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement (Edited by Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, and D. Newell Williams; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), pages 134-138. Republished with permission.