Saturday, March 16, 2019

This Week in Texas Methodist History  March 17

Women Assume More Leadership Roles, March 17, 1919

The General Conference of the MECS in 1918 took account of the feminist movement of the early 20th century by removing restrictions that previous conferences had placed on women.   Churches responded to the removal of the discriminatory language in the Discipline by elected women as delegates to Annual Conference.  

General Conference was held in May, and the following November the Journal still listed Laymen in the official roll call of Conference.   The reason there were no women is that the disciplinary changes voted on at General Conference had to ratified by the annual conferences meeting in the first regular session following the General Conference.  Accordingly On Wednesday, November 27, 1918, Bishop Ainsworth presented the following resolution to the Texas Annual Conference meeting in Timpson.    Shall lay members be eligible to all conferences, boards, and lay offices of the church without regard to sex?”  The question carried 141 to 3.   

 The next year the  1919 Texas Conference Journal lists the following women as lay delegates:  Mrs. H. G. King, Mrs. L. Gooch, Mrs. Hattie Gardner, Mrs. C. L. Turner,  Miss E. L. Hill,  and Mrs. Cone Johnson. 

Equally significant was the election of women to local church offices.  On March 17, 1919, the Houston Post found the election of women to the position of local church steward so important that it ran a major story, complete with pictures, of the first three women in Houston to be elected to the office of steward.   The three women were members of Trinity MECS (later Northside).  They were Mrs. J. M. Washam,  Mrs. W. C. Dill, and Mrs. E. H. Haver.    The Post also reported that the church in Texas City had already elected women to the position of steward, and therefore claimed the honor of being first in the area.  

The election of three women to the position of steward is particularly intriguing.  Stewards were responsible for the facilities and finances of the local church.  The position is now knows as “Trustee.”  As the name implies, the Stewards bear significant legal responsibilities.    Was the position of steward an extension of the traditional role of women as managers of the household?  Or was it a progressive move?   You decide.


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