Sarah Dickson Becomes First Female Presbyterian Elder
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Cumberland Presbyterians had already ordained women as early as 1889, but the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (PCUSA) remained tentative about female leadership. In 1922, the Presbyterian General Assembly allowed women to be deaconesses, but the deaconess role was limited, for they could not preach as elders. One of those early deaconesses was Sarah E. Dickson, who directed religious education and served as a pastoral secretary in Chicago.

In 1928, prominent women in the church presented a paper in Chicago that expressed their frustration with their church role. This led to a resolution to allow female elders in 1929. When the denomination finally approved female eldership in 1930 by a 158-118 vote, Sarah Dickson's pastor and mentee Richard Evans submitted her name for ordination, making her the first female Presbyterian elder on June 2, 1930.

Although female elders remained subordinate to male ministers, Dickson’s role as elder showed dramatic change in PCUSA. Margaret Towner would later become PCUSA’s first ordained minister in 1961.
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Women and Religion
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Women and Religion in American History
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St Paul, Minnesota, where the 1929 General Assembly was held- Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-110667
Book/Journal Source(s)
Krugler, John and David Weinberg-Kinsey, 1990. Equality of Leadership: The Ordinations of Sarah E. Dickson and Margaret E. Towner in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.. American Presbyterians, vol. 68, no. 4.
Web Page Contributor
Paul Matzko
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History

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