Saturday, December 29, 2018

This Week in Texas Methodist History  December 30

First Week of January 1845  First Documented Evidence of Women Attending Annual Conference

Surviving documents relating to Texas Methodist History during the Republic Era are overwhelming male dominated.  Although we know from rosters of membership in churches and missionary societies that women made up a substantial portion of the church,  their participation is not as well documented as that of men. 
Although the documentation is scant, we know that women including Lydia McHenry, Ann Ayres, Martha Richardson, Maria Kenney, and Eliza Alexander provided much of the energy to the Methodist movement.

Among the documents showing women’s involvement are Lydia McHenry’s letters, now in the archives of the Chicago Historical Society.  That collection shows her to be a strong-willed, intelligent woman who was so dedicated to the Methodist movement that she undertook the arduous journey from Texas to New York City to attend the 1844 General Conference.  

The first reference to women attending the Texas Annual Conference comes obliquely.  In the first week of January, 1845, Homer Thrall was making his way to San Augustine to attend Annual Conference.  About where Chappell Hill now exists, he fell into the company of Robert and Eliza Alexander and Chauncey and Martha Richardson also on their way to Annual Conference. 

Both women were stalwarts of the Methodist Church in the Republic.  Eliza was the daughter of David Ayres, the most prominent layman of the era.  She had grown up immersed in Methodism in both New York and Texas.  Martha was married to Chauncey Richardson, president of Rutersville College, and Martha was in charge of the women’s division of the school.  Chauncey spent most his time traveling to secure financial backing for the school, and Martha is the one who managed affairs in his absence.

We comb through other records to find women’s participation.  Celia Craft of Bastrop County is the earliest African American Methodist women whom I can document.  It is recorded that Martha Richardson was asked to give a public prayer at a camp meeting. 

It took until 1956 for women to receive full ordination rights in the Methodist Church even though in a real sense women had been the backbone of Methodism for decades.


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