Through the Front Doors: Methodist Women's Journey Toward Ordination

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Anna Oliver

Anna Snowden Oliver and Anna Howard Shaw

Both Anna Snowden Oliver and Anna Howard Shaw decided to apply for their deacon's orders at the 1880 session of the New England Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. After their application was denied, they approached Bishop Andrews to ask about their next steps. He said there was nothing to do but to get out of the church.

Anna Howard Shaw chose to leave the Methodist Episcopal church, and in October 1880, Shaw's name was presented for ordination at the New York Annual Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church, held at Tarrytown. She was approved for ordination in a special service, the day after the male candidates had been ordained. In 1885, Shaw resigned to devote herself to the struggle for women's suffrage and temperance. It was due in great part to Shaw's leadership in the fight for women's suffrage that women were given the right to vote.

Anna Oliver chose to remain in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and appealed the conference decision to the General Conference. The 1880 General Conference participants not only denied Anna Oliver and all women their right to ordination, they also revoked the right even to hold a license to preach and declared that all local preacher's licenses issued to women since 1869 were to be rescinded.

A large portion of this text was taken with permission from the book Courageous Past, Bold Future: The Journey toward Full Clergy Rights for Women in The United Methodist Church by Patricia Thompson, published in 2006 by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church.

The narration for the audio portion of the exhibit was read by Elizabeth Luton Cook of Candler School of Theology, Emory University.

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Exhibit Items
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Test Case on the Ordination of Women Appealed from the New England General Conference to General Conference Test Case on the Ordination of Women Appealed from the New England General Conference to General Conference (New York: W.N. Jennings, 1880)
Pamphlet written by Anna Oliver to appeal her rejected ordination by the New England General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. She placed a pamphlet on each seat at the 1880 General Conference. In the pamphlet she examines each objection to her ordination and argues against them.
BV676 .O55 1981 Microfilm
Story of a Pioneer Shaw, Anna Howard. Story of a Pioneer (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1915)
In her autobiography, Anna Howard Shaw tells the story of her journey to, and struggle with, ordination in the Methodist Episcopal Church alongside Anna Oliver. Shaw writes about leaving the Methodist Episcopal Church and joining the Methodist Protestant Church, where she was the first woman ordained in that denomination, though the ceremony was covert.
JK1899 .S6 A3 General
Methodist Preachers' Meeting "Methodist Preachers' Meeting," New York Times, Feb. 27, 1877, p. 8.
This article recounts Anna Oliver�s invitation to preach at a Methodist preachers' meeting in April, 1877. Recorded is Mr. Buckley�s opposition to her invitation on the grounds that, if she were to preach, everyone would think Methodists supported women preachers, which they did not. She was, thereafter, un-invited.
Exciting Methodist Questions "Exciting Methodist Questions," New York Times, May 18, 1880, page 1
Front page article in the New York Times, the day after Anna Oliver's ordination was refused at the General Conference. The article mentions the tract she distributed entitled, "Test Case on Women's Ordination." The article also mentions Frances Willard's failed attempts to address the Conference on behalf of the Women Temperance Society.
Women in the Ministry "Women in the Ministry," Anna Howard Shaw. Chautauquan, v. 27, August 1898.
Article written by Anna Howard Shaw about women in ministry in various denominations throughout the United States. Contains names of ordained women, descriptions of their work and dates of their leadership.
AP2 .C48 V.27 1898 Storage

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