Women in Ministry Historical View

For over 140 years The Wesleyan Church has affirmed its long-standing commitment to equal opportunity for women to be ordained and serve in any and all ministerial and leadership capacities.

Early Beginnings

From its beginnings, The Wesleyan Church has championed the equality of women both in society and in God’s redemptive plan for mankind. In July of 1848, the first Women’s Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel.

In 1853, Rev. Luther Lee ordained Miss Antoinette Brown, a Congregationalist believed to be the first woman ever ordained in the modern era. Rev. Lee, not failing to recognize this historical event, stated in his introduction, “The ordination of a female, or the setting apart of a female to the work of the Christian ministry, is, to say the least, a novel transaction, in this land and age. It cannot fail to call forth many remarks, and will, no doubt, provoke many censures. As I have been called upon to deliver the discourse on the occasion, I should deem it out of place, tame and cowardly, for me to deliver an ordinary sermon setting forth the duties and responsibilities of a Christian minister, without taking hold of the peculiarity of the occasion, and vindicating the innovation which we this hour make upon the usages of the Christian World.”[i] Lee’s sermon, “A Woman’s Right to Preach the Gospel ,” was based on the Scripture verse: There is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 (KJV).

The Call

Over the years, daring women—single, married, and widowed—have pioneered churches, assisted struggling churches, and revived dying churches. They have gone into the ghettos where men feared to walk and pulled the “brands” from the fire. They fearlessly entered the red light districts and snatched prostitutes from their surroundings. They established homes for unwed mothers and refuges for homeless and degraded persons. They even ventured to assist in housing for the worn, weary, and aged workers of the Church. Much of their work took them from their familiar surroundings into mountains, the slums, the strongholds of slavery, and the battlegrounds of drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. They felt the call of God to take the gospel not only to all races and educational and economic levels in North America but also across the oceans to every nation. (Celebrate Our Daughters p. 13)


We invite you to explore and discover the rich history of women in ministry. The following resources are but a few of the resources available at the Wesleyan Archives/Historical Library.

[i] Luther Lee, “Women’s Right to Preach the Gospel” A Sermon Preached at the Ordination of Rev. Miss Antoinette L. Brown, South Butler, Wayne County, N.Y., September 15,1853 (Syracuse, NY: Luther Lee 1853)