Many people have conscientious scruples against women preachers. Let them not do violence to conscience, but rather search carefully, and see if a part of what they call conscience is not prejudice, rather. Let them ascertain whether or not their aversion to women becoming regular pastors of churches is not closely akin to the antagonism which has been until recently shown toward women who would enter the profession of medicine or of law. There will be with many a residuum of real conscientious conviction against encouraging women to enter the regular ministry. This is not the place to argue the question, or to seek an elucidation of the Scriptural grounds of woman’s activities in ministerial lines.
But there should be made a careful study of woman’s work as set forth in the New Testament. There should be an inductive study of her work in all lines. It should be observed how Christ uplifted and honored womanhood, and that He and His apostles advanced woman, in spite of the prejudice of the times. We have but to read the closing chapter of the letter to the Romans, to find how the women workers in the churches were prized by Paul. It is not quite fair in the face of all of these considerations to make a single utterance of the great Apostle a bulwark behind which to hide while we hurl darts of criticism at women who feel called of God to preach.
We concede to them the right to all sorts of humbler work. They can toil and teach and lecture. They can go down into the slums and speak to the submerged tenth in groups of two or twenty or a hundred. They can go to the foreign field and have a pagan pastorate, and we applaud their efforts. But when it comes to preaching in an uptown church or even a rural parish, hands are lifted in protest.
There are some who raise the cry that the ministry is already full. So also the medical profession was declared to be full when women sought admission. But if woman can heal or preach as well as or better than some men, room will be made for her. Incompetent or indolent men will be thrust aside, as they ought to be. Men who are merely holding a position rather than occupying it, will be compelled to give way for men or women who can cultivate the field and make it fruitful. When the right of woman to occupy the pulpit is conceded, there remains the question of the administration of the ordinances, which we do not assume to settle, as each denomination is a law unto itself in these matters.
The Universalists, Unitarians, Free-Will Baptists, and Wesleyan Methodists open their theological institutions to women and ordain them to the regular ministry, if they desire. Each Congregational church is self-governing and may act in its own pleasure in the matter of ordaining women. Hartford Theological Seminary is open to women and several have graduated. Oberlin College, from the first, open to both sexes in all its departments.
One woman, Antionette Brown Blackwell, was graduated from Oberlin and ordained in 1853.
Presbyterian preachers are prohibited from inviting women to occupy their pulpits and the ordination of women is not allowed.
For twenty-five years, the divinity school of Chicago University has admitted to the classes on equal terms with men, but they were not encouraged to enter the regular work of the ministry at home; their preparation is rather for the foreign field. Some have felt moved to question the justness of this discrimination, saying that “Christian pastorates” are reserved for the men and “pagan pastorates” are open to women and they are debarred from the one and directed to the other.
The Methodist Episcopal church has long admitted women to its theological schools, but the General Conference has thus fare refused to grant full ordination to women.
The United Brethren claim the honor of having ordained the first woman to the Christian ministry. Lydia Sexton was thus set apart to the work of the Christian ministry in 1851. Antoinette Brown Blackwell, of whom mention has already been made, was ordained two years later by the Congregationalists. The Friends have from the first given to women the same rights and opportunities as were accorded to men. Several hundred are today educated and recognized preachers among them.
Returning now to the four denominations mentioned, we find that in 1856 the Universalists founded an institution in Canton, N.Y., known as St. Lawrence University, having connected with it a divinity school. Women were free to enter and the first woman graduate received her diploma in 1863. The Ryder Divinity School of Galesburg, Ill., and the divinity school of Tufts College, were opened to women in 1881 and 1892.
Among the Unitarians, the movement for the theological education of women began about thirty-five years ago. In 1868, women were admitted to the institution at Meadville, Pa. The Free-Will Baptist College at Hillsdale, Mich., opened its theological department in 1878 to women and men on an equal footing, and a goodly number have availed themselves of the opportunity. The theological seminary connected with Bates College, Lewiston, Me., is also open to women.
Rev. Eugenia St. John, a Methodist clergyman, has this to say:
“We believe that woman’s native intuition is a necessary in the pulpit as man’s logical reasoning powers. Reason has stood still and argued from cause to effect and has asked these questions; ‘How shall it be done?’ ‘Why shall it be done?’ ‘Can it be done and shall we do it?’ Meanwhile, intuition has made rapid transit across the pathway of reason; has probed the mystery, solved the question, brought the remedy, and, when reason has come to its conclusions, intuition has already at work at the business.”
Rev. Mary L. Moreland, Congregationalist, speaks thus of herself:
“Years ago in a little town in Massachusetts, I got a call from God and I said to the old minister of my church: ‘I will not be a minister; I will not enter the ministry, when men are opposed to it, I do not propose to choose a life of hardships,’ and so I put off the earnest call and went into other departments of work. But one day, unexpectedly, it seemed to me that God had again led me out in spite of my wish or desire; and so the deacons of the church to which I had been called said, ‘Miss Moreland, it is your duty to be ordained.’ I said, ‘It is not, don’t mention the matter; you will break up the church and spoil your meetings.’ I said I had never heard of a woman’s being ordained in a Congregational church (but I found there was one before me). That ordination was urged upon me, and the wok of the pulpit became possible.”
Thus victories have been won along the line of this profession for woman and by woman. She has not been here so self-assertive as in medical and legal lines. It has been a smokeless battle, or rather, let me say, it has not been a battle, but a quiet, steady, onward march of the springtime rays of the sun as they advance upon the ice-bound earth, and quietly loosen the fetters. We hardly know how it is done. It is not an act, but a process. At length the conquest is complete, and we are glad.
Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.