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Home > Our World > Leader Resources > Timeline of Women in American Methodism

Timeline of Women in American Methodism

c.1770  Mary Evans Thorne is appointed class leader by Joseph Pilmore in Philadelphia, probably the first woman in America to be so appointed.

1787  “In 1787, despite the objections of some of the male preachers, he [John Wesley] officially authorized Sarah Mallet to preach as long as she proclaimed the doctrines and adhered to the disciplines that all Methodist preachers were expected to accept.” (John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life by Charles Yrigoyen, Jr.)

1817  Bishop Richard Allen allows black evangelist Jarena Lee to exhort and to hold prayer meetings in her home, although he denies her a preaching license.

1835  Phoebe Palmer, one of Methodism's famous woman evangelists, conducts a weekly prayer meeting in her home.

1847  Charity Opheral is granted a preacher's license by the United Brethren Quarterly Conference.

1851  Lydia Sexton is recommended as a "pulpit speaker" by the United Brethren General Conference.

1857  The United Brethren General Conference passes a resolution that no woman should be allowed to preach.

1866  Helenor M. Davison is ordained deacon by the North Indiana Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church, probably making her the first ordained woman in the Methodist tradition.

1869  Margaret Newton Van Cott is the first woman in the Methodist Episcopal Church to receive a local preacher's license.
        Lydia Sexton (United Brethren) is appointed chaplain of the Kansas State Prison at the age of 70, the first woman in the United States to hold such a position.
        Amanda Berry Smith is an active preacher in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

1873  Anna Howard Shaw acquires a local preacher's license in a Methodist Episcopal Church.

1876  Anna Oliver is the first woman to receive the Bachelor of Divinity degree from an American seminary (Boston University School of Theology).

1880  Anna Howard Shaw and Anna Oliver sought ordination rights from the Methodist Episcopal General Conference, but were refused.  That same year Shaw joined the Methodist Protestant Church and was ordained by its New York Annual Conference.

1884  The African Methodist Episcopal Church approves the licensing of women as local preachers, but limits them to evangelistic work.
         The Methodist Protestant Church rules Anna Howard Shaw's ordination out of order.

1889  Ella Niswonger is the first woman to be ordained by the United Brethren Church. 
        Eugenia St. John was ordained an elder by the Kansas Annual Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church.

1892  Anna Oliver and Amanda Berry Smith share a pulpit in a New Jersey church.

1894  Sarah Dickey is ordained by the United Brethren Church.
         Julia A. J. Foote is the first woman to be ordained a deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

1919  Madeline Southard, a Methodist pastor, founded The American Association of Women Preachers, which later became The International Association of Women Ministers.

1920  The Methodist Episcopal Church grants women the right to become licensed as local preachers.

1924  The Methodist Episcopal Church grants women limited clergy rights as local elders or deacons, without conference membership.

1930  A petition to the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South for full clergy rights for women is rejected.

1939  The Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South and the Methodist Protestant Church unite to form The Methodist Church.

1944, 1948, 1952  The Woman's Division of Christian Service of The Methodist Church petitions General Conference for full clergy rights for women, but is rejected each time.

1946  Women are denied ordination in the newly formed Evangelical United Brethren Church.

1956  The Methodist Church grants full clergy rights to women. Maud Keister Jensen is the first to receive such rights.

1959  The Reverend Gusta A. Robinette, a missionary, was ordained in the Sumatra (Indonesia) Conference soon after The Methodist Church granted full clergy rights to women in 1956.  She was appointed District Superintendent of the Medan Chinese District in Indonesia becoming the first female district superintendent in The Methodist Church.

1967  Margaret Henrichsen is the first American woman district superintendent.

1968  The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren unite to form The United Methodist Church.  Full clergy rights for women are affirmed by the new United Methodist Church.

1980  Marjorie Matthews is the first woman to be elected bishop of The United Methodist Church.

(Source: Timeline of American Women in the United Methodist Tradition, from Telling Their Stories: The History of Women in the Local Church resource packet available from the General Commission on Archives and History)



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