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50th Anniversary of Clergywomen
Receiving Full Clergy Rights
 

Earliest Clergywomen in Louisiana

Clergywomen have been a part of Methodism since John Wesley granted a preaching license to Sarah Crosby in 1761.  Two of Methodists’ predecessor bodies, the Methodist Protestant Church and the United Brethren Church, allowed women to preach from the mid 1800’s, and began ordaining women and granting them conference membership in the 1870’s.

In Louisiana, the Methodist Protestant Church was the first to ordain women as elders.  According to our conference archives journals of the Methodist Protestant conference which date back to 1910, the earliest clergywoman in the Louisiana conference was:
Mary Bartlett, who was admitted to the conference in 1901 and ordained in 1907. 

Following her, the next woman admitted to the conference was:
Mary E. Perdue in 1904 and ordained in 1906. 

These two women were strong leaders in the Methodist Protestant conference, were appointed churches as well as being “evangelists” who held as many as 26 “camp meetings” per year.  They were both officers in the conference and preached at most annual conference sessions each year.
Mary Perdue retired in 1940 following the merger of the branches of Methodism, and Mary Bartlett transferred to the Congregational Methodist Church in 1940 so she could continue to preach and receive an appointment. 

Other women from the Methodist Protestant conference were:
Sarah A. Brady, admitted to the conference in 1912 and ordained in 1916.  

Ada Johnson was admitted to the conference in 1912 and ordained in 1916. 

Lula Wardlow, admitted to the conference in 1913 and ordained in 1916, transferred into the Methodist conference after the merger and remained a full member of this conference until her death in 1970.
   
Arah Bevill was ordained in 1914. 

Mrs. H. P. Blakely was also ordained in 1914.  (She was the spouse of a clergyman, possibly the first clergy couple in our conference?)

Mrs. E. J. Malone was a member of the conference and appointed to churches from 1912-15 but records do not give her date of ordination.

Mrs. L. M. Paul was also a member of the conference from 1915 but no date of ordination was given.

Ola Ramsey was admitted to the conference in 1923 and ordained in 1931. 

Bessie Taylor Kendrick was ordained in 1924. 

Several women were admitted to the conference in 1936 and 1937 and ordained in 1939 right before the merger of the 3 branches into the Methodist Church.  They were:

Fern Cook  
Nettie Mae Cook 
Lea Joyner 
Elaine Willett
Anna Ruth Nuttall, who transferred into the conference in 1939 and had been ordained in the early 30’s. 

After the merger of the Methodist Protestant Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South in 1939, the newly formed Methodist Church recognized these women’s ordination and accepted them into the conference, although most of them were not given appointments, and by 1945, only 3 remained in the conference – Lula Wardlow (in retired status although she still served churches until the mid-1950’s), Lea Joyner and Ruth Nuttall.

At the time of her tragic death in 1985, Lea Joyner held the distinction of having the largest Methodist church in the world to be pastored by a woman, and still has the record of the longest pastorate in the La. conference.  This was after being told in 1952 that “no church will have you” and being given a vacant lot and $5,000 to start a new church on the southside of Monroe as her only option.  The church she started had over 2,200 members when she died. 

There were other courageous women who served as “Local Preachers or Supply Pastors” in our conference prior to 1956.

Mrs. Philip Palotta – began in 1940
Elizabeth Lewis – began in 1942
Mrs. E. L. Brock – 1947
Mrs. John Gieck (pronounced “Geek”) – 1948
Rose Carithers  - 1954
Ann Adams – 1956

The first woman ordained as an elder and admitted to the conference after the historic 1956 vote was:

Bonnie Ruth Holley, admitted to the conference in 1964 and ordained in 1967.  She retired in 1981 and died in 1996.

The first African-American woman ordained as elder in this conference after 1956 was:

Freida K. Brown, admitted to the conference and ordained elder in 1988.   She transferred out of the conference later that year.

The longest serving active clergywoman in our conference today is Carole Cotton Winn, who was ordained a deacon in 1970 and admitted to the conference in 1972 when she was ordained an elder.

 

Today, in the Louisiana conference, there are over 200 women who are active clergywomen, retired clergywomen, in seminary or candidates for ordination. 

There is a long history of women serving as preachers, pastors, evangelists and ministers in our conference, although archive records are not complete to give us the full picture of who they were, and the roles they played in the various Methodist traditions.  More research is needed to ensure that women’s places in the ordained and lay preaching ministries of our early church are not lost, and that their voices and stories may one day be heard and told.

Video: Rev. Lea Joyner
View the video of Rev. Lea Joyner speaking at Opelousas in 1985 on Methodism in Louisiana.
Rev. Lea Joyner
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Information gathered by
Rachel Scott and Norma Winegeart for AC 2006
Links:
> Anniversary Celebration
> UM Clergywomen
> History of clergy rights for women
> Worship Resources
> Bulletin Inserts
> Press release and newsletter material
> Maud Keister Jensen Interview, first women to receive full clergy rights
> Courageous Past, Bold Future Logos
 
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