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

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Frances Willard and Ordination

Frances Willard fought for lay representation at the General Conferences and was an elected lay representative chosen to attend the 1888 conference, along with five other women. The women were sent to the conference, but were not allowed to be seated. Twelve years later the 1900 General Conference allowed women to be seated.

Willard went on to publish books arguing on behalf of women's ordination, such as Woman in the Pulpit, to write pamphlets for the Women's Christian Temperance Movement, of which she was the president and to act as a public advocate for women's, children's and workers' rights.

The Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) granted women the right to be ordained as local deacons and elders in 1924. When the MEC merged with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MECS) and the Methodist Protestant Church in 1939, women from the MECS gained the right to ordination for the first time. Methodist Protestant women, however, continued to have the right to be ordained as local deacons and elders, but gave up full clergy rights. All of the women in the Methodist Church would have to wait until 1956 for those additional privileges.

It was in 1956 that women were finally granted full ordination rights in the United Methodist Church. Between three and four hours of vigorous debate on the floor of the Conference ensued, and a vote for the full eradication of official sex discrimination in the ministry of the Methodist Church was called. Just prior to adjournment on Friday, May 4, 1956, the General Conference voted to ordain women as Elders. As soon as the legislation was passed, there were women ready to enter into ordained ministry through the front doors, to be received into full conference membership and received their full ordination.

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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Glimpses of Fifty Years Willard, Frances. Glimpses of Fifty Years (Chicago: Women's Temperance Publication Association, 1889)
Written shortly after women were denied ordination again in 1888, Willardï¿¿s autobiography describes her fight for lay representation at conferences, for women's ordination, for temperance, for child labor laws and for workersï¿¿ rights.
HV5232 .W6 A3
Coming Brotherhood

Dress and Vice
Coming Brotherhood and Dress and Vice (Chicago: Woman's Temperance Publication Association 18?)
Pamphlets published for the temperance movement, arguing for workers' rights and child labor laws.
18-- WILL C Special Collections
18-- WILL B Special Collections
General Conference Journal of the Methodist Episcopal Church General Conference Journal of the Methodist Episcopal Church, vol. XX, 1924
The "Report of the Commission of Licensing and Ordaining Women" denies women full ordination rights, but recognizes their work in certain home and missionary societies. It is primarily due to administrative difficulties that women were denied full rights.
BX8381 .A2 1924 Reference
Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South 1938
The Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South and the Methodist Protestant Church were merged for the 1939 Conference and the process of merging denied Methodist Protestant women their further ordination rights and the Methodist Episcopal women the partial rights they had gained in 1924.
1938 METH B Special Collections
Discipline of the Methodist Church Discipline of the Methodist Church, 1956
After a great deal of discussion, just prior to adjournment on Friday, May 4, 1956, the General Conference voted to amend Paragraph 303 of the discipline to read: Women are included in all provisions of the Discipline referring to the ministry. With this statement, women were granted full ordination rights in the United Methodist Church.
BX8388 .M6 1956

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