The Episcopal Church first authorized the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate at the 1976 General Convention, but the women’s ordination movement in the Episcopal Church can be traced back to the 1850s, when women were first set apart as deaconesses in several dioceses. However, deaconesses were not recognized as “in holy orders” for more than 100 years, in 1970.
Although a resolution to allow ordination of women to the priesthood narrowly failed at the 1973 General Convention, sentiment for women to be ordained continued to grow throughout the country, and in 1974, 11 women were “irregularly” ordained as priests by three retired bishops in Philadelphia, PA. The resolution making women eligible for ordination in all three clergy orders was approved in Minneapolis on September 16, 1976.
In the Diocese of Southern Ohio, Doris Ellen Mote was the first woman ordained to the priesthood. Ordained to the diaconate in June 1974, Mote was ordained to the priesthood on January 29, 1977 by Bishop John Krumm. She served as an Assistant at Christ Church, Dayton from 1975-79. Other early ordinations include:
- Rona Robertine Harding, ordained as deacon 5/7/77 and priest 11/18/77. Served as Chaplain, United Campus Ministry in Oxford, 1975-80.
- Susan C. Lehman, ordained as deacon 5/28/77 and priest 11/30/77. Served as an Associate at Christ Church, Glendale 1977-80, and Vicar at Holy Spirit, Cincinnati 1978-82.
- Noel Julnes-Dehner, ordained as deacon 5/26/78 and priest 6/24/79. She was the first women to serve on the staff at Christ Church, Cincinnati (now Christ Church Cathedral)
- Mary Chotard Doll, ordained as deacon 6/14/78 and priest 4/7/79. Served as Assistant at St. George, Dayton 1978-80 and Rector at Calvary, Cincinnati, 1980- 89.
- Karen Lynn Eversman, ordained as deacon 11/25/78 and priest 11/4/79. She served at Grace Church, Cincinnati 1978-80, and as Associate at St. Peter, Delaware, 1980-83.
Throughout the late 70s, more women were being ordained in Southern Ohio but none were being called to lead congregations. Bishop Krumm, a great supporter of women’s ordination, called for a policy diocesan-wide that required congregations to interview at least two female candidates before calling a new rector or vicar.
The first women called to lead Southern Ohio congregations were Susan Lehman, appointed as Vicar at Holy Spirit, Cincinnati, in 1978 and Mary Chotard Doll, elected as Rector of Calvary Cincinnati in 1980. Slowly, more followed. Elizabeth Lilly was appointed Vicar (Deacon) of St. David’s, Vandalia, in 1982. In 1983 she was appointed Vicar (Priest) of Church of the Good Shepherd, Norwood.
In 1983, Jane Todd Gurry was called and elected as Rector of Church of Our Saviour, Cincinnati, M. Sue Reid was elected Rector of Church of St. Edward’s, Whitehall, and Anne Wilson Robbins was elected Rector of St. David’s, Vandalia. Anne Warrington Wilson was called and appointed as Vicar of Church of the Nativity, Cincinnati, in 1984.
In 2016, 81 of the 222 canonically resident clergy of the diocese were women, or 36%. This number is slightly higher than the national average of 34%. Sixteen women serve as either Rector, Vicar, or Priest-in-charge of a congregation.
1855 The Order of Deaconesses begins when Bishop William Rollinson Whittingham of Maryland sets apart two women to serve as nurses.
1885 First Deaconesses ordained in Episcopal Church. General Convention would later adopt deaconesses canon in 1889.
1919 General Convention recommends including deaconesses in Clergy Pension Fund, but Board says they are not “clergy”.
1920 The Lambeth Conference of Bishops concludes that “ordination” of a deaconess confers on her holy orders. In 1930, the Lambeth Conference changes its mind and asserts deaconesses are not in holy orders.
1944 Florence Li Tim-Oi ordained priest in Hong Kong. To protect her bishop from censure, she agrees not to function as a priest.
1971 Li Tim-Oi’s orders are recognized after the Anglican Consultative Council declares it is “acceptable” for a bishop to ordain a woman if the national church or province approves.
1973 General Convention rejects ordination of women to priesthood. In December, women deacons presented alongside men for ordination to priesthood in New York, but bishop refuses.
1974 Eleven women deacons are ordained to the priesthood on July 29 by two retired and one resigned bishop at Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia. The House of Bishops rules the ordinations of the “Philadelphia 11” invalid on Aug. 15.
1975 Four women deacons are ordained to priesthood at St. Stephen’s & Incarnation in Washington, D.C on Sept. 7. On Sept. 19, HOB censures the bishops who ordained Philadelphia 11 and decries the ordination of the “Washington Four”
1976 General Convention approves canon to open priesthood and episcopate to women on Sept. 15.
1977 The Rev. Jacqueline Means becomes the first woman ordained a priest under the new canon on Jan. 1. Women ordained in Philadelphia and Washington are regularized. One hundred women ordained by end of year.
1988 Barbara C. Harris is elected suffragan bishop of Massachusetts, first woman elected bishop in the Anglican Communion.
2006 Katharine Jefferts Schori elected as first female Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
History of Women’s Ordinations, Pamela W. Darling, 2001, archives of the Episcopal Church website: http://arc.episcopalchurch.org/women/two/25yearsagao.htm
Journals of the Annual Convention, Diocese of Southern Ohio, 1978, 1979, 1980, 2016
“Calvary names Ms. Doll rector,” Interchange, June 1980.
Interactive timeline of the history of women’s ordination: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/article/interactive-timeline-history-womens-ordination
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Thank you to the Rev. Anne Warrington Wilson for her help in researching this article.