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Women in the Methodist Church

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 granted a preacher's license by the United Brethren Quarterly Conference.

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.

1869 Lydia Sexton (of the United Brethren Church) 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.

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

1880 Anna Howard Shaw was the first woman ordained in the Methodist Protestant Church.

1784 John Wesley removes the word “obey” from the marriage rite he sent to North America. 

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

United Methodist Church," Conservapedia, at: http://www.conservapedia.com/

"Women Clergy," United Methodist Church, 2005-OCT-17, at: http://archives.umc.org/