Laity for much of this period meant men. Walt Whitman was free to intone that the great city stands where women "enter the public assembly and take places the same as the men," but church men were free to stop their ears. And stop them they did. When Frances E. Willard, president of the national Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and four other women were elected as delegates to the 1888 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, they were denied seats. Pondering this denial, Miss Willard said, "I confidently predict that we five women, whose election was thus disavowed, will have more enviable places in history than any who opposed us on those memorable days." Twelve years later northern Methodism granted full lay rights to women. Meanwhile, Methodist Protestants had approved the same rights in 1892. Southern Methodism waited until 1922 to follow the leaders, although Belle Harris Bennett had told the men their foot-dragging was a matter of "burning incense to an ancestral tablet." In 1895 a Mrs. Hartman from Oregon was acclaimed as "the first female member of an Evangelical annual conference."
The first church to authorize the ordination of women was the United Brethren, which acted in 1889, although a Methodist preacher's license had been granted Maggie Newton Van Cott in 1869 and Anna Oliver, a Methodist, was the first woman to graduate with a seminary degree, from Boston in 1876. A Methodist Protestant conference ordained Anna H. Shaw in 1880. Not until well into the twentieth century, however, did northern and southern Methodist women gain the right to be ordained.
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