This special exhibit explored the history of women leaders in the Presbyterian Church, both in the U.S. and around the world. It opened on Sunday, August 3, 2008, and closed in December 2009. Exhibit links will be activated soon.
The History of Women's Role In The Church
In the late 1700 and early 1800s, Presbyterian women began organizing Missionary, Tract, Bible, and Ladies' Aid Societies — sometimes called the Female Cent Society because members paid a cent of “egg money” a week to belong.
Women made tremendous accomplishments even though the General Assembly, paraphrasing St. Paul, had issued a statement saying that women were not to speak or pray at church meetings of “promiscuous” or mixed company.
In 1811, the General Assembly proclaimed in its first recognition of the women's efforts, “We rejoice in the increase of Missionary, Tract, and Bible Societies.”
In 1815, the General Assembly asked the women to provide scholarships for needy students at Theological Seminary at Princeton, and they did.
Isabella Graham (right) was always interested in Bible study for children. Her daughter, Joanna Graham Bethune (far right), brought the idea of Sunday Schools from Scotland in 1801. Joanna and members of the New York Orphan Society also built the Orphan Asylum in 1839.
While Benevolent Societies, Sunday Schools, and schools were being established, the women’s missionary movement was also getting underway. With increased urbanization, industrialization, immigration, and the westward movement, the time was right. The Second Great Revival created more enthusiasm and increased the need for more missionaries.
In 1824, the Utica, New York, Female Missionary Society sponsored Charles Finney and his wife Lydia on a county-wide crusade. Women, in particular, were drawn to these gatherings to hear the gospel, often against their husband's wishes. Here they were allowed to pray in public, something they were never allowed to do in their own churches. Participating in these revivals encouraged more women to become involved in women's work.
As Ann Breese stated, “If women shared equally with men in the redemption, then women should bear equal responsibility to diffuse the grace of the Redeemer.”
Organizing in the 19th Century
In 1872, the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in North America (UPCNA) asked women members to devise some way to systematically raise money to support women missionaries in the field. In 1875, Sarah Foster Hanna spoke to the General Assembly and received permission to establish the first national organization for women in a Presbyterian denomination, the Women's General Missionary Society.
During the 1870s, women’s groups were organized on a regional basis for the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). For example, PCUSA had seven regional societies involved in foreign missions until their consolidation in 1920.
In 1880, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church denomination founded a Woman’s Board of Missions. This board was merged into the PCUSA women’s organizations with the PCUSA-Cumberland merger in 1906.
In 1912, the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) organized the Woman’s Auxiliary thanks to the efforts of Hallie Paxson Winsborough and others.
Thank & Birthday Offerings
The Thank Offering began in 1888 when Eliza Clokey (above right) of Springfield, Ohio, urged each woman to give one dollar over and above her usual contribution to the Women’s General Missionary Society of the UPCNA as a “thank offering to her Lord.” A day was set aside for meetings that were to be a “concert of prayer and praise and the Gathering of the Thank Offering.”
In 1922, the Woman’s Auxiliary (led by Hallie Paxon Winsborough, above right) of the PCUS church launched a “Birthday Offering” to celebrate its 10th year anniversary. These annual donations were crucial in the funding of many projects and missions, both domestic and foreign.
This exhibit looks at educators, missionaries, church leaders and more (click libks below title for more information). The first ordained women Presbyterian ministers (shown at right) were:
Louisa Woosley, in 1889, Cumberland Presbyterian Church; Margaret Towner, in 1956, Presbyterian Church (USA); Rachel Henderlite, in 1965, Presbyterian Church (US).
Drawing of Ladies Aid Society scene from 1800s.
Isabella Graham Johanna Graham Bethune
Eliza Clokey Hallie Paxson Winsborough
The Montreat Gate was part of the 1922 first Birthday Offering by the Presbyterian Woman's Auxiliary, along with funding for Miss Dowd's Girls Mission School in Japan.
First Ordained Women Ministers by
Louisa Woosley Margaret Towner