Women Clergy in Oklahoma and Kansas

FOOTNOTES OF PENTECOSTAL HISTORY: SOUTHWESTERN CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY LIBRARY SERIES, NO. 1 “REPORT ACCEPTED AND CHARACTER PASSED”: Some Ordained and Licensed Women from the years 1929 - 1939 in the Kansas and Oklahoma Conferences of the Pentecostal Holiness 

Compiled By Marilyn A. Hudson, with research assistance from Alicia Hutson 

The year was 1965 in Wellington, Kansas, in the home of the pastor of the local Pentecostal Holiness Church. The guest evangelist, Mary E. Ford, was a woman just easing out of middle age wearing a cream colored chiffon blouse, a sturdy brown woolen skirt, with fading hair escaping from its once tidy bun. Her wide pleasant face was a roller coaster of expressions from intense concentration to hearty laughter. Sitting at the parsonage piano, a sturdy black upright, she is surrounded by the daughters of the pastor and a friend of theirs who often came to visit. The visitor entertains them playing snappy standards from the forties and crooning tunes from the fifties. She responded to the news that the oldest girl was taking business courses by encouraging her to keep her chin up and not let the men bully her. She recounted with great hilarity a time when an employer had tried to bull her and all laughed at the impossibility the image presented. To all of those gathered around the piano that afternoon she shared her love of God, her courage, her experience, and her sense of fun. To each and every one there she encouraged them to “press on” in their faith and to get a good education 

The Holiness and Pentecostal movements were unique episodes of American religious history but shared a common thread in a willingness to accept women as instruments of ministry. From the earliest days in both movements women responded to God with a desire to preach the gospel with as much enthusiasm as their male counterparts. As some elements of both merged to form the Pentecostal movement, the invigorating dynamic of a life that sought to live in the fullest relationship with God was not one that would accept limitations easily 

An examination of the official registers of membership for the Oklahoma and Kansas Conferences of the Pentecostal Holiness Church for the years 1929-1939 reveals some interesting insights, identifies some pioneer women, and provides a context for further discussion about the historic role of women within the Pentecostal tradition. 

The title stems from a reoccurring statement recorded in the 1929 year book. As the conference business would progress the ministers present would offer their reports (how many sermons preached, miles traveled, etc.) and at the conclusion there would be a motion of “report accepted and character passed.” It is a fitting testimony to the role of these women and their unique place in the history of the American church and the Pentecostal tradition that without question each one was accepted. 

Description of the Project: brief survey of records contained in the “Year Book of the Pentecostal Holiness Church” for the years 1929 to 1939 was conducted. Names of obviously female ordained and licensed women were recorded and their number compared with the total list of individuals. One limitation may be that some additional persons on the lists may also be female and the use of initials in their names may conceal that fact. Also, there is margin of error because of a few names that can be either a man or a woman’s name and some women did marry changing their name. However, women, according to the most common format employed, were most often listed with the title of “Mrs.” followed by their husband’s name, or their first names if a young woman or “spinster”. The scope of this study was to collect numbers of active female ministers, compile a list of names, and identify early women ministers, so no attempt has been made to gain broad or detailed biographical information on all of them. 

The Pentecostal movement of the 20 century is generally considered to have begun in1901. Agnes is believed to be the first person to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. She was a student in Charles Parham’s Bible school in Topeka, Kansas in January of 1901. William Seymour carried the message west to Los Angeles and from a mission located on Street the experience spread across the country. 

From its inception the movement seemed to epitomize an equality of persons that was unique for the time period. Service to God and blessings of the Holy Spirit (“the anointing”) became the litmus test of value over issues of gender or even race. 

Pauline writings that for the Christian community existing as one in Christ there was to be no longer “male or female” or “slave and free” (Galatians 3: 28-29), now took on liberating meanings as leadership in the new Pentecostal movement featured both women and persons of color. The dynamic nature of the experience, and the resulting sense of urgency in proclaiming the gospel, convinced many that indeed the time of the Biblical “latter rains” had come. Citing the prophet Joel in the Old Testament , “Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, your sons and daughters will prophesy...” (Joel 2:29-32), few in the movement felt they could place limitations on who ministered 

Ordained and Licensed Women, Kansas and Oklahoma, 1929 and 1939 The following women were identified from the rolls of those who served as formally recognized ministers . With some exceptions, most had been admitted to the conference within the same decade. Most were assigned a local church, some assisted their husbands in the work, while some served as evangelists. On a administrative level, although they were frequently serving on conference committees of the more traditional women’s areas such as “Memoirs” ( a record of those who had died the preceding year) and “Public Morals”, they were also in leadership roles dealing with issues of publication, missions, and resolutions (i.e., 1939 in Kansas Mary E. Ford served on the Committee on Resolutions and later would be conference secretary-treasurer. Some would in coming years be in key leadership roles on state levels and at least one went on to be published in the national publication, The Pentecostal Holiness Advocate 

Attempts to identify the earliest women licensed or ordained in these regions is challenging due to the fact that the records from that time period are incomplete or are not clear as to gender. From information located, however, there are several women who were ordained within a few years of Oklahoma’s 1907 statehood. Mrs. Dolly York of Oklahoma was admitted to the ministry roll of the Oklahoma Conference in 1910 and Willa J. Short in 1911. In the Kansas Conference Annie E. Carmack was admitted in 1913. The earliest male counterpart was O.C. Wilkins admitted in 1910.

To be continued....

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