Timeline of women in religion in the United States

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18th Century[edit]

  • Circa 1770: Mary Evans Thorne was appointed class leader by Joseph Pilmore in Philadelphia, probably the first woman in America to be so appointed.[1]
  • 1774: Ann Lee and her followers arrive in New York City.
  • 1775: Ann Lee and her followers establish the first communal home of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearance (aka the Shakers) seven miles West of Albany, NY.

19th Century[edit]

  • Early 19th century: In the United States, in contrast with almost every other organized denomination, the Society of Friends (Quakers) has allowed women to serve as ministers since the early 19th century.[2]
  • 1815: Clarissa Danforth was ordained in New England. She was the first woman ordained by the Free Will Baptist denomination.
  • 1842: Emma Hale Smith was selected as the first President of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would continue this group, called the Relief Society, in Utah after the death of Joseph Smith. The Relief Society is now the oldest and largest women's organization in the world.[3]
  • 1843: Women were first included in Mormon prayer circles on September 28, 1843.[4]
  • 1853: Antoinette Brown Blackwell was the first woman ordained as a minister in the United States.[5] She was ordained by a church belonging to the Congregationalist Church.[6] However, her ordination was not recognized by the denomination.[2] She later quit the church and became a Unitarian.[2] The Congregationalists later merged with others to create the United Church of Christ, which ordains women.[2][7]
  • 1861: Mary A. Will was the first woman ordained in the Wesleyan Methodist Connection by the Illinois Conference in the United States. The Wesleyan Methodist Connection eventually became the Wesleyan Church.
  • 1863: Olympia Brown was ordained by the Universalist denomination in 1863, the first woman ordained by that denomination, in spite of a last-moment case of cold feet by her seminary which feared adverse publicity.[8] After a decade and a half of service as a full-time minister, she became a part-time minister in order to devote more time to the fight for women's rights and universal suffrage.[2] In 1961, the Universalists and Unitarians joined to form the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA).[9] The UUA became the first large denomination to have a majority of female ministers.[2]
  • 1866: Helenor M. Davison was ordained as a deacon by the North Indiana Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church, probably making her the first ordained woman in the Methodist tradition.[1]
  • 1869: Lydia Sexton (of the United Brethren Church) was appointed chaplain of the Kansas State Prison at the age of 70, the first woman in the United States to hold such a position.[1]
  • 1876: Anna Oliver was the first woman to receive a Bachelor of Divinity degree from an American seminary (Boston University School of Theology).[1]
  • 1879: The Church of Christ, Scientist was founded by a woman, Mary Baker Eddy.[10]
  • 1880: Anna Howard Shaw was the first woman ordained in the Methodist Protestant Church, an American church which later merged with other denominations to form the United Methodist Church.[11]
  • 1889: The Nolin Presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church ordained Louisa Woosley as the first female minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, USA.[12]
  • 1889: Ella Niswonger was the first woman ordained in the American United Brethren Church, which later merged with other denominations to form the American United Methodist Church, which has ordained women with full clergy rights and conference membership since 1956.[1][13]
  • 1890: On September 14, 1890, Ray Frank gave the Rosh Hashana sermon for a community in Spokane, Washington, thus becoming the first woman to preach from a synagogue pulpit, although she was not a rabbi.[14]

20th Century[edit]

  • 1922: The Jewish Reform movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis stated that "...woman cannot justly be denied the privilege of ordination."[15] However, the first woman in Reform Judaism to be ordained (Sally Priesand) was not ordained until 1972[16]
  • 1922: The American rabbi Mordecai Kaplan held the first public celebration of a bat mitzvah in the United States, for his daughter Judith, on March 18, 1922, at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, his synagogue in New York City.[17][18] Judith Kaplan recited the preliminary blessing, read a portion of that week's Torah portion in Hebrew and English, and then intoned the closing blessing.[17] Kaplan, who at that time claimed to be an Orthodox rabbi, joined Conservative Judaism and then became the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, influenced Jews from all branches of non-Orthodox Judaism, through his position at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. At the time, most Orthodox rabbis strongly rejected the idea of a bat mitzvah ceremony.
  • 1924: Ida B. Robinson founded the Mount Sinai Holy Church of America and became the organization's first presiding bishop and president.
  • 1930: A predecessor church of the Presbyterian Church (USA) ordained its first female as an elder.[2]
  • 1938: Tehilla Lichtenstein became the first Jewish American woman to serve as the spiritual leader of an ongoing Jewish congregation, although she was not ordained.[19]
  • 1949: The Old Catholic Church (in the U.S.) started to ordain women.[2]
  • 1951: From January 1951 until 1953, Paula Ackerman served as Temple Beth Israel’s spiritual leader, conducting services, preaching, teaching, and performing marriages, funerals, and conversions. In so doing, she achieved the distinction of becoming the first woman to assume religious leadership of a mainstream American Jewish congregation, although she was never ordained.
  • 1955: In 1955 Betty Robbins, born in Greece, became the world's first female cantor when she was appointed cantor of the Reform congregation of Temple Avodah in Oceanside, New York, in July.[20]
  • 1956: Maud K. Jensen was the first woman to receive full clergy rights and conference membership (in her case, in the Central Pennsylvania Conference) in the Methodist Church.[21]
  • 1956: The Presbyterian Church (USA) ordained its first female minister, Margaret Towner.[22]
  • 1964: Addie Davis became the first Southern Baptist woman to be ordained.[23] However, the Southern Baptist Convention stopped ordaining women in 2000, although existing female pastors are allowed to continue their jobs.[2]
  • 1965: Rachel Henderlite became the first woman ordained in the Presbyterian Church in the United States; she was ordained by the Hanover Presbytery in Virginia.[24][25]
  • 1967: Margaret Henrichsen became the first American female district superintendent in the Methodist Church.[1]
  • 1970: On November 22, 1970, Elizabeth Alvina Platz became the first woman ordained by the Lutheran Church in America, and as such was the first woman ordained by any Lutheran denomination in America.[26] The first woman ordained by the American Lutheran Church, Barbara Andrews, was ordained in December 1970.[27] On January 1, 1988 the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches merged to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which continues to ordain women.[28]
  • 1972: Freda Smith became the first female minister to be ordained by the Metropolitan Community Church.[29]
  • 1972: Sally Priesand became the first female rabbi to be ordained in Reform Judaism, and also the first female rabbi in the world to be ordained by any theological seminary.[16]
  • 1974: Sandy Eisenberg Sasso became the first female rabbi to be ordained in Reconstructionist Judaism.[30]
  • 1974: The Philadelphia Eleven were ordained into the Priesthood of the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A.[31]
  • 1975: Barbara Ostfeld-Horowitz was ordained as the first female cantor in Reform Judaism.[32]
  • 1976: Michal Mendelsohn (born Michal Bernstein) became the first presiding female rabbi in a North American congregation when she was hired by Temple Beth El Shalom in San Jose, California, in 1976.[33][34]
  • 1976: Venerable Karuna Dharma became the first fully ordained female member of the Buddhist monastic community in the U.S.[35]
  • 1977: Pauli Murray became the first African American woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1977.[36]
  • 1977: On January 1, 1977, Jacqueline Means became the first woman ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church.[37] 11 women were "irregularly" ordained to the priesthood in Philadelphia on July 29, 1974, before church laws were changed to permit women's ordination.[31] They are often called the "Philadelphia 11". Church laws were changed on September 16, 1976.[31]
  • 1978: Bonnie Koppell became the first female rabbi to serve in the U.S. military.[38]
  • 1978: Linda Rich became the first female cantor to sing in a Conservative synagogue, specifically Temple Beth Zion in Los Angeles, although she was not ordained.[39]
  • 1978: Mindy Jacobsen became the first blind woman to be ordained as a cantor in the history of Judaism.[40]
  • 1979: The Reformed Church in America started ordaining women as ministers.[41] Women had been admitted to the offices of deacon and elder in 1972.[2]
  • 1979: Linda Joy Holtzman became one of the first women in the United States to serve as the presiding rabbi of a synagogue, when she was hired by Beth Israel Congregation of Chester County, which was then located in Coatesville, Pennsylvania.[42] She had graduated in 1979 from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, yet was hired by Beth Israel despite their being a Conservative congregation.[43] She was thus the first woman to serve as a rabbi for a Conservative congregation, as the Conservative movement did not then ordain women.[44]
  • 1980: Marjorie Matthews, at the age of 64, was the first woman elected as a bishop in the United Methodist Church.[45][46]
  • 1981: Lynn Gottlieb became the first female rabbi to be ordained in the Jewish Renewal movement.[47]
  • 1985:Amy Eilberg became the first female rabbi to be ordained in Conservative Judaism.[48]
  • 1985: Judy Harrow became the first member of CoG (Covenant of the Goddess, a Wiccan group) to be legally registered as clergy in New York City in 1985, after a five-year effort requiring the assistance of the New York Civil Liberties Union.[49]
  • 1986: Julie Schwartz (rabbi) became the first female Naval chaplain in the U.S.[50]
  • 1987: Erica Lippitz and Marla Rosenfeld Barugel were ordained as the first female cantors in Conservative Judaism.[20]
  • 1987: Joy Levitt became the first female president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.[51]
  • 1988: Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo, an American woman formerly called Catharine Burroughs, became the first Western woman to be named a reincarnate lama.[52]
  • 1988: Barbara Harris was the first woman elected to become a bishop in the Episcopal Church.[53]
  • 1990: Cora Billings was the first black nun to head a parish in the U.S., specifically in Richmond, Virginia.[54]
  • 1992: Karen Soria became the first female rabbi to serve in the U.S. Marines, which she did from 1992 until 1996.[55]
  • 1993: Rebecca Dubowe became the first Deaf woman to be ordained as a rabbi in the United States.[56]
  • 1993: Chana Timoner became the first female rabbi to hold an active duty assignment as a chaplain in the U.S. Army.[57]
  • 1993: Leslie Friedlander became the first female cantor ordained by the Academy for Jewish Religion (New York).[58][59]
  • 1993: Ariel Stone, also called C. Ariel Stone, became the first American Reform rabbi to lead a congregation in the former Soviet Union, and the first liberal rabbi in Ukraine.[60][61][62] She worked as a rabbi in Ukraine from 1993 until 1994, leaving her former job at the Temple of Israel in Miami.[60][61][63]
  • 1994: Rabbi Laura Geller became the first woman to lead a major metropolitan congregation, specifically Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills.[64][65]
  • 1994:Lia Bass was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, thus becoming the first Latin-American female rabbi in the world as well as the first woman from Brazil to be ordained as a rabbi.[66][67][68][69]
  • 1995: The Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Takoma Park, Maryland, ordained three women in violation of the denomination's rules - Kendra Haloviak, Norma Osborn, and Penny Shell.[70]
  • 1998: On July 28, 1998, Ava Muhammad became the first female minister in the Nation of Islam, heading Muhammad's Mosque 15 in Atlanta, Ga., one of the largest mosques in the country.[71][72] In addition to administering day-to-day affairs there she was named Southern Regional Minister, giving her jurisdiction over Nation of Islam mosque activity in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and parts of Tennessee.[73]
  • 1998: Some Orthodox Jewish congregations started to employ women as congregational interns, a job created for learned Orthodox Jewish women. Although these interns do not lead worship services, they perform some tasks usually reserved for rabbis, such as preaching, teaching, and consulting on Jewish legal matters. The first woman hired as a congregational intern was Julie Stern Joseph, hired in 1998 by the Lincoln Square Synagogue of the Upper West Side.[74][75]
  • 1999: Beth Lockard was ordained as the first Deaf pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.[76][77]
  • 1999: Tamara Kolton was ordained as the first rabbi of either sex (and therefore, because she was female, the first female rabbi) in Humanistic Judaism.[47]
  • 1999: Angela Warnick Buchdahl, born in Seoul, Korea,[78] became the first Asian-American person to be ordained as a cantor in the world when she was ordained by HUC-JIR, an American seminary for Reform Judaism.[79]

21st Century[edit]

  • 2000: Helga Newmark, born in Germany, became the first female Holocaust survivor ordained as a rabbi. She was ordained in America.[80][81]
  • 2001: Angela Warnick Buchdahl, born in Seoul, Korea,[78] became the first Asian-American person to be ordained as a rabbi in the world; she was ordained by HUC-JIR, an American seminary for Reform Judaism.[79]
  • 2001: Deborah Davis was ordained as the first cantor of either sex (and therefore, since she was female, the first female cantor) in Humanistic Judaism; however, Humanistic Judaism has since stopped graduating cantors.[82]
  • 2002: Sharon Hordes was ordained as the very first cantor in Reconstructionist Judaism. Therefore, since she was a woman, she became their first female cantor.[83]
  • 2003: Sarah Schechter became the first female rabbi in the U.S. Air Force.[84][85]
  • 2003: Janet Marder was named the first female president of the Reform Movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) on March 26, 2003, making her the first woman to lead a major rabbinical organization and the first woman to lead any major Jewish co-ed religious organization in the United States.[86]
  • 2004: Khenmo Drolma, an American woman, became the first westerner of either sex to be installed as an abbot in the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Buddhism, being installed as the abbot of the Vajra Dakini Nunnery in Vermont (America's first Buddhist nunnery) in 2004.[87]
  • 2005: The Lutheran Evangelical Protestant Church, (LEPC) (GCEPC) in the USA elected Nancy Kinard Drew as its first female Presiding Bishop.
  • 2005: On March 18, 2005, an American woman named Amina Wadud (an Islamic studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University) gave a sermon and led Friday prayers for a Muslim congregation consisting of men as well as women, with no curtain dividing the men and women. Another woman, Suheyla El-Attar, sounded the call to prayer while not wearing a headscarf at that same event.This was done in the Synod House of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York after mosques refused to host the event. This was the first time a woman led a mixed-gender Muslim congregation in prayer in American history.[88]
  • 2006: Susan Wehle was ordained as the first American female cantor in Jewish Renewal in 2006; however, she died in 2009.[89]
  • 2006: For the first time in American history, a Buddhist ordination was held where an American woman (Sister Khanti-Khema) took the Samaneri (novice) vows with an American monk (Bhante Vimalaramsi) presiding. This was done for the Buddhist American Forest Tradition at the Dhamma Sukha Meditation Center in Missouri.
  • 2008: Julie Schonfeld was named the new executive vice president of the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly, becoming the first female rabbi to serve in the chief executive position of an American rabbinical association.[90]
  • 2009: Alysa Stanton, born in Cleveland and ordained by a Reform Jewish seminary in Cincinnati, became the world's first black female rabbi.[91]
  • 2009: On July 19, 2009, 11 women received smicha (ordination) as kohanot from the Kohenet Institute, based at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, becoming their first priestess ordainees.[92]
  • 2010: Sara Hurwitz, an Orthodox Jewish woman born in South Africa, was given the title of “rabbah” (sometimes spelled “rabba”), the feminine form of rabbi. In early 2009, she had completed the same coursework and exams required of male rabbinic candidates. The idea of ordaining a woman rabbi is highly controversial in Orthodox Jewish communities, so the title “maharat” was created on her behalf. It was derived from the acronym for “manhiga”, “hilchatit”, “ruchanit” and “toranit”, loosely translating to mean a leader in religious law and spiritual matters. The term, however, did not catch on. As of 2010, Rabbah Sara Hurwitz serves as the Dean of Yeshivat Maharat and serves on the rabbinic staff of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale in New York.[93]
  • 2010: The first American women to be ordained as cantors in Jewish Renewal after Susan Wehle's ordination were Michal Rubin and Abbe Lyons, both ordained on January 10, 2010.
  • 2010: In 2010, at the Orthodox Jewish synagogue Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, Lamelle Ryman led a Friday-night service as a cantor would. No other Orthodox synagogue in the U.S. had ever before had a woman lead a Kabbalat Shabbat service, although Orthodox institutions like the Darkhei Noam prayer group in New York and the Shira Hadasha congregation in Jerusalem already did have women leading Kabbalat Shabbat. In addition, there had been a female-led Kabbalat Shabbat in a Washington Heights apartment in Manhattan — most of the worshippers came from the Yeshiva University community — in 1987 that drew little attention or opposition. In any case, Lamelle Ryan was not ordained as a cantor, and as of 2010 Orthodox Judaism does not ordain women as cantors.[94]
  • 2010: The first Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in North America (Vajra Dakini Nunnery in Vermont), offering novice ordination in the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Buddhism, was officially consecrated.[95]
  • 2010: In Northern California, 4 novice nuns were given the full bhikkhuni ordination in the Thai Therevada tradition, which included the double ordination ceremony. Bhante Gunaratana and other monks and nuns were in attendance. It was the first such ordination ever in the Western hemisphere.[96] The following month, more full ordinations were completed in Southern California, led by Walpola Piyananda and other monks and nuns. The bhikkhunis ordained in Southern California were Lakshapathiye Samadhi (born in Sri Lanka), Cariyapanna, Susila, Sammasati (all three born in Vietnam), and Uttamanyana (born in Myanmar).
  • 2010: With the October 16, 2010, ordination of Margaret Lee, in the Peoria-based Diocese of Quincy, Illinois, women have been ordained as priests in all 110 dioceses of the Episcopal Church in the United States.[97]
  • 2011: The Evangelical Presbyterian Church's 31st General Assembly voted to allow congregations to call women to ordained ministry, even if their presbytery (governing body) objects for theological or doctrinal reasons. Such congregations will be allowed to leave the objecting presbytery (such as the Central South, which includes Memphis) and join an adjacent one that permits the ordination of women.[98]
  • 2011: The American Catholic Church in the United States, ACCUS, ordained their first woman priest, Kathleen Maria MacPherson, on June 12, 2011. She is now the pastor of the St. Oscar Romero Pastoral and Outreach Center in El Paso, Texas / Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico.[99]
  • 2012: Ilana Mills was ordained, thus making her, Jordana Chernow-Reader, and Mari Chernow the first three female siblings in America to become rabbis.[100]
  • 2012: Christine Lee was ordained as the Episcopal Church's first female Korean-American priest.[101]
  • 2013: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S., elected its first female presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton.[102]
  • 2013: Mary Froiland was the first woman elected as a bishop in the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.[103]
  • 2013: In October 2013, Deborah Waxman was designated president-elect of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.[104][105] She took office in January, 2014. As the President, she is believed to be the first woman and first lesbian to lead a Jewish congregational union, and the first female rabbi and first lesbian to lead a Jewish seminary; the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College is both a congregational union and a seminary.[104][106]
  • 2013: On October 27, 2013, Sandra Roberts became the first woman to lead a Seventh-day Adventist conference when she was elected as president of the Southeastern California Conference. However, the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist church did not recognize this because presidents of conferences must be ordained pastors and the worldwide church did not recognize the ordination of women.[107]
  • 2013: Jean A. Stevens became the first woman to pray in an LDS Church general conference session.[108][109][110]
  • 2017: The Orthodox Union adopted a policy banning women from serving as clergy, from holding titles such as "rabbi", or from doing common clergy functions even without a title, in its congregations in the United States.[111]

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