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Women as clergy

Part 1 of 2 parts

Religious sexism: when faith groups started
ordaining women as clergy and consecrating
them as bishops. Also, about 2 denominations

that reversed this process.

Our definition of "sexist:"

We define any organization -- whether religious our non-religious -- as sexist when it refuses to accept an otherwise competent individual as a group member or leader solely because of that person's gender. Similarly, we define any group as racist, homophobic, or transphobic if they refuse membership or leadership based on race, sexual orientation or gender identity.

Some visitors to this site are distressed at the our of these harsh words because they feel that their holy book requires that they discriminate against individuals on the basis of their gender, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. However, we define these terms by the faith group's impact on individuals and society, and not by the source of the discrimination.

It is important to realize that many holy books were written millennia ago, during a pre-scientific era where misogyny was practiced, human slavery was commonplace, intimate behavior by sexual minorities was criminalized, and many activities now considered profoundly immoral were accepted.

When some denominations or religious traditions started to ordain women:

Formal discrimination against women in positions of authority has been largely eliminated in Western societies, with the exception of some assignments in the military, and positions of authority in many conservative religious institutions.

A partial list with the approximate dates of either:

bullet the approval of female ordination in principle or

bullet the ordination of their first women clergy by Christian and Jewish 1 faith groups

appears below. We are attempting to add to this list and firm up the dates shown:


494 CE: There is one scrap of evidence that female priests existed in the early Roman Catholic Church. Pope Gelasius 1 wrote a letter condemning the presence of women in the celebration of the Eucharist. He felt that the role should be reserved for males only. 12


Early 1800's: A fundamental belief of the Society of Friends (Quakers) has always been the existence of an element of God's spirit in every human soul. Thus all persons are considered to have inherent and equal worth, independent of their gender. This led naturally to an opposition to sexism, and an acceptance of female ministers. In 1660, Margaret Fell (1614 - 1702) published a famous pamphlet to justify equal roles for men and women in the denomination. It was titled:

"Women's Speaking Justified, Proved and Allowed of by the Scriptures, All Such as Speak by the Spirit and Power of the Lord Jesus And How Women Were the First That Preached the Tidings of the Resurrection of Jesus, and Were Sent by Christ's Own Command Before He Ascended to the Father (John 20:17)." 2

In the U.S.,

"In contrast with almost every other organized religion, the Society of Friends (Quakers) have allowed women to serve as ministers since the early 1800s." 3

bullet 1853: Antoinette Brown was ordained within the Congregationalist Church. However, her ordination was rejected by the denomination. She quit the church and later became a Unitarian. The Congregationalists  later merged with others to create the United Church of Christ. 4,5


1863: Olympia Brown was ordained by the Universalist denomination in 1863, in spite of a last-moment case of cold feet by her seminary which feared adverse publicity. She later became a Unitarian. After a decade and a half of service as a full-time minister, she became a part-time minister in order to devote more time to the fight for women's rights and universal suffrage.

A century later, In 1961, the Universalists and Unitarians joined to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). The UUA subsequently became the first large denomination to have a majority of female ministers. In 1999-APR, female ministers outnumbered their male counterpart 431 to 422.

bullet 1865: Salvation Army is founded and has always ordained both men and women. However, there were initially rules that prohibited a woman from marrying a man who had a lower rank.

bullet 1866: Helenor Alter Davisson was a circuit rider of the Methodist Protestant Church in Jasper County, IN. She was the first woman to be ordained a minister in any Methodist denomination. Later church conferences challenged the principle of ordaining women. 6

bullet 1871: Celia Burleigh became the first female Unitarian minister.

bullet 1880: Anna Howard Shaw was the first woman ordained in the Methodist Protestant Church, which later merged with other denominations to form the United Methodist Church. 7

bullet 1888: Fidelia Gillette may have been the first ordained woman in Canada. She served the Universalist congregation in Bloomfield, ON during 1888 and 1889. She was presumably ordained during 1888 or earlier.

bullet 1889: The Nolin Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church ordained Louisa Woosley. 8

bullet 1889: Ella Niswonger was the first woman ordained in the United Brethren church, which later merged with other denominations to form the United Methodist Church. 7

bullet 1892: Anna Hanscombe is believed to be the first woman ordained by the parent bodies which formed the Church of the Nazarene in 1919. 9

bullet 1906: Annie Funk was the first Mennonite woman to be ordained. This occurred at the Hereford Mennonite Church in Bally, PA. Unfortunately, she died during the sinking of the titanic in 1912. Five other women were ordained during the following five years: Martha Richert, Frieda Kaufman, Catharine Voth, Ida Epp, and Ann Allebach.

bullet 1909: The Church of God (Cleveland TN) began ordaining women in 1909.

bullet 1914: Assemblies of God was founded and ordained its first woman clergy

bullet 1917: The Congregationalist Church (England and Wales) ordained their first woman. Its successor is the United Reformed Church. They now consider it sufficient grounds for refusing ministry training if a potential candidate is not in favor of the ordination of women.

bullet 1920's: Some Baptist denominations ordained women.

bullet 1920's: United Reformed Church in the UK.

bullet 1922: The Jewish Reform movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis stated that "Woman cannot justly be denied the privilege of ordination."

bullet 1922: The Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren granted women the right to be licensed into the ministry, but not to be ordained with the same status as men.

bullet 1930: A predecessor church of the Presbyterian Church (USA) ordained its first female as an elder

bullet 1935: Regina Jonas was ordained privately by a German rabbi.

bullet 1936: The United Church of Canada was formed in 1926 by the merger of four Protestant denominations: most congregations of the Methodist Church of Canada, the Congregational Union of Ontario and Quebec, two-thirds of the congregations of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and the Association of Local Union Churches, a predominately prairie-based movement. Reverend Lydia Emelie Gruchy of Saskatchewan Conference became the first United Church woman to be ordained.
bullet 1942: Anglican communion, Hong Kong. Florence Li Tim Oi was ordained on an emergency basis. Some sources say it happened in 1943.

bullet 1947: Czechoslovak Hussite Church

bullet 1948: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark

bullet 1949: Old Catholic Church (in the U.S.)

bullet 1956: A predecessor church of the Presbyterian Church (USA) ordained its first woman minister.

bullet 1956: The General Conference of the United Methodist Church approved full clergy rights for women. 10

bullet 1956: Maud K. Jensen was the first woman to receive full clergy rights and conference membership in the Methodist Church. 7

bullet 1958: Women ministers in the Church of the Brethren were given full ordination with the same status as men.

bullet 1960: Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sweden

bullet 1964: Southern Baptist Convention: Addie Davis (circa 1917-2005) was ordained at Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham NC on AUG-09, the first in the denomination. The "Baptist Faith and Message" doctrinal statement was modified in the year 2000 to prevent future female ordinations. 11

bullet 1967: Presbyterian Church in Canada.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Pamela S. Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination 1889-1985 Beacon Press, (1998). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  2. Bill Samuel, "A Sincere and Constant Love," at:
  3. "Religion: Quaker Women," Herstory, at:
  4. Elizabeth Cazden, "Antoinette Brown Blackwell: A Biography." The Feminist Press, (1983).
  5. Luther Lee,  "Woman's Right To Preach The Gospel: A Sermon Preached at the Ordination of the Rev. Miss Antoinette L. Brown, at South Butler, Wayne County, NY, Sept. 15, 1853," Syracuse, NY, Published by the Author, 1853.
  6. "United Methodist Church," Conservapedia, at:
  7. "Historical firsts for women clergy, Part 2," The General Commission on Archives and History for The United Methodist Church, at: This website is currently offline. You might look at "Women Clergy" at: instead.
  8. "Louisa Mariah Layman Woosley," at:
  9. "Historical Statement," Church of the Nazarene, at:
  10. "Women Clergy," United Methodist Church, 2005-OCT-17, at:
  11. John Pierce, "Addie Davis, first woman ordained as Southern Baptist pastor, dies at 88," Associated Baptist Press, 2005-DEC-09, at:
  12. "Ordination of women," Wikipedia, as on 2015-DEC-28, at:

See our news feed on women's issues.
It shows 20 current news items, and is updated every 15 minutes.

Copyright © 1996 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 
Latest update: 2015-DEC-30
Author: Bruce A. Robinson
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