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

Pitts Theology Library's exhibit, "Through the Front Doors: Methodist Women's Journey Toward Ordination" commemorates the 50th anniversary of women's full ordination in the United Methodist Church by featuring items in the library collection that help tell their stories. These rights were approved at the 1956 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, but the journey began hundreds of years earlier, during John Wesley�s lifetime.

One major advocate for women's ordination was Anna Howard Shaw. She was ordained in 1880 by the Methodist Protestant Church after being refused ordination by the Methodist Episcopal Church. Her ordination ceremony was held in secret the day after all the male candidates had been ordained. "It was rather like sneaking into the ministry by the back door," she reflected. "Someday they'll open all the front doors and make a proper use of the enthusiasm for service that women have got."

This exhibit highlights the many attempts at ordination and alternatives to ordained ministry that women pursued until the front doors were finally opened in 1956, and highlights as well women�s journeys from 1956 to 2006.

Women's leadership in the United Methodist Church did not begin in 1956. Since the time of John Wesley, women have been acting as ministers, working on behalf of the church and working toward recognition of their work through full ordination. Nearly 300 years after Susanna Wesley provided a strong female model for John and Charles Wesley, Methodist women continue to lead and to serve their churches. As they enter ministry through the front doors, they are surrounded by the women who preceded them, many of whom had to sneak in through the back doors.