Women in the Methodist Clergy

1761 Sarah Crosby is granted a License to Preach by John Wesley

1764 Elizabeth Strawbridge is credited for the first known American Methodist convert, John Evans.

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 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.

1847 Charity Opheral is the first woman granted Commendation to Preach in The United Brethren Church by the White River Annual Conference in 1847 and Local License to Preach in 1849.

1851 Lydia Sexton of the United Brethren Church is the first woman to be voted recommendation as a Pulpit Speaker by the General Conference of The United Brethren Church. She was.appointed chaplain of the Kansas State Prison in 1869 at the age of 70, the first woman in the United States to hold such a position.

1866 Helenor Alter Davisson, a circuit rider of the Methodist Protestant Church in Jasper County, IN. was the first woman to be ordained a minister in any Methodist denomination.

1869 Margaret Newton Van Cott is the first woman in the Methodist Episcopal Church to receive a local preacher’s license.

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

1880 Anna Howard Shaw was the first woman ordained in the Methodist Protestant Church after graduation from Boston Theological Seminary in 1878, as the only woman in her class. Shaw earned a medical degree from Boston University in 1886.

1889 Ella Niswonger was the first woman ordained in the United Brethren church.         

1889 Eugenia St. John was ordained an elder by the Kansas Annual Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church.

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

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

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

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

1967 Margaret Henrichsen became the first American female district superintendent in the Methodist Church.

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, at the age of 64, was the first woman elected as a bishop in the United Methodist Church.  

Additional information on women in the Methodist clergy is here.


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

“Historical firsts for women clergy, Part 2,” The General Commission on Archives and History for The United Methodist Church.

%d bloggers like this: