The Women of Wesley
A preliminary report of research on
Women’s groups and Presence in the Wesley United Methodist Church, 1910-2010
Marilyn A. Hudson, M.L.I.S.
In the infancy of the formation of the American nation, as leaders wrestled with weighty issues of declarations of independence and establishing a new government out of a collection of colonies, the life of one of the men sent a message to her husband to “remember the ladies.” This future first lady, Dolly Madison, reminded her husband that in any laws the women should be represented or they faced a future rebellion. The same must be said of any one who attempts to write a history of a place or an institution. There is nowhere, perhaps, where this is truer than in looking at the history of a church.
Women organized in the Christian faith to assist a local congregation or to reach out to address a social or spiritual need no doubt can be traced to the New Testament. The women who gathered early on Easter morning can be seen in such a light. Local ministers such as Phoebe (Romans) saw to the needs of local and distant groups. Widows formed themselves into ministry corps (such as seen in the story of Dorcas in Acts and the instructions about such an order in Timothy). In Methodism, the strong and proactive witness of Susannah Wesley set the stage for the development of an environment in the renewal movement that accepted that women could and should be active participants in the work of the gospel. In Methodism, there was always the recognition that the Gospel work was not merely a spiritual task but also a physical one: for how could a person see a soul won to Christ but allow their body to starve or suffer. If something could be done, they asked themselves, should it not be done in the name of Christ?
Assorted and randomly placed works are sprinkled throughout early Methodist history. Many of these began to gain a great deal of identity and purpose with the Civil War. The aided soldiers, their families, the doctors and so much more.
In 1869, the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society was formed in the Northern Methodist Episcopal and in the south in 1878. The work was officially recognized by the churches in 1890.
The Ladies Aid Society emerged simultaneously out of several groups (Presbyterian, United Brethren, etc.) and were so alike it can be hard to identify one group from another; truly ecumenical! The Ladies Aid was first recognized in the 1903 Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
One form or another of the Women’s Home Missionary Society (W.H.M.S.) had existed with a Women’s Foreign Missionary Society (W.F.M.S.) since the pre-Civil War era but in 1910, the W.H.M.S. and the W.F.M.S. theoretically merged. Theoretically because some churches, Wesley among them, continued to hold to the patterns previously established maintaining separate groups for decades.
In 1921, the Wesleyan Service Guild (W.S.G.) was created for women employed outside the home. In 1939, all groups united to form the new Woman’s Society of Christian Service (W.S.C.S.) but the W.S.G. remained separate. In 1969, under the new union of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Churches, all united to form themselves into common Woman’s Society of Christian Service (W.S.C.S.) until 1972, when they came under the new title and structure of the newly formed United Methodist Women (U.M.W.).
First Women’s Groups
The Ladies Aid was first recognized in the 1903 Discipline of the M.E. Church and had continued to grow becoming a popular and active women’s group in communities. At Wesley, the first women’s organization was a Ladies Aid Society established in March of 1911 with Mrs. A.C. McCullough as the first president (1911-1913). The next month (April) saw the birth of the local Women’s Home Missionary Society and that September the Women’s Foreign Mission Society at the home of Mrs. Pritchard on NW 29th Street. In 1926 the Wesleyan Service Guild was established. Two Sunday School classes deserve special mention due to their goal of ministry to women at Wesley. The Ladies Bible Study group donated one of the windows in the Sanctuary in 1928 and is thought to have formed shortly after the church formed but records are scarce. In about 1922, a class for young girls was formed and soon became the Flesher Class for Young Girls and remained active until its dissolution in 1932. In 1929, a group unique and original to Wesley, “The Sorrelle Club”, was established. Then in 1939, the Woman’s Society of Christian Service (WSCS) and in 1972, the United Methodist Women united all but the Sorelle Club under one umbrella.
“History Wesley Women’s Organizations”
“Women’s organizations have always been a telling force in the progress of Wesley. In March of 1911 the ladies of Wesley Church met at the home of Mrs. H.B. Turner to organize a Ladies Aid Society. Mrs. A.C. McCullough was elected president and Mrs. C.F. Crane elected secretary and treasurer.
Their object was to promote the financial, social and spiritual welfare of the church. All the women of the church were invited to participate in the work of the Ladies Aid Society. Dues were $1.20 per year and service.
Those who served as president of the organization were as follows: Mrs. A.C. McCullough, Mrs. H.J. Eastman, Mrs. L. B. Goff, Mrs. R.A. Lyle, Mrs. A.H. Tyler, Mrs. H.H. Englebright, Mrs. R.L. Constant, Mrs. Nathan Boggs, Mrs. Frank Bell, Mrs. Olin Doty, Mrs. Joe Morgan, Mrs. E.B. Dodson, Mrs. R.B. Waite, Mrs. H.J. Ebeling.
On September 17, 1940 the Woman’s Society of Christian Service was formed by uniting the three societies: The Ladies Aid, The Home Missionary and the Foreign Missionary Societies.”
The Wesley Auxiliary of the Women’s Home Missionary Society was organized in April 1911 in the home of Mrs. R.W. Spriggs with Mrs. J.F. Warren, Conference Corresponding Secretary, assisting in the organization. Mrs. R.W. Spriggs was elected president and Mrs. Olin Doty, secretary and treasurer. Their motto was “For the Love of Christ and in His name.” The aim and purpose of the group “Help Win America for Christ.” By this organization they became part of the National organization which was made up of Conference, District and Local Societies.
“The Agencies”: Home and Schools, hospitals training schools for Deaconesses, homes for Deaconesses, children’s homes, kindergarten, and day nurseries, settlement work in large cities, immigrant work at ports of entry, rest homes for retired missionaries, boarding homes for working girls and visiting nurses. The members of Wesley Auxiliary were always active and they were nearing the thirtieth birthday of the Auxiliary when the uniting of the three organizations, The Ladies Aid Society, The Woman’s Home Missionary Society and the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society became the Woman’s Society of Christian Service. Those who served as presidents from Wesley Auxiliary are named as follows: Mrs. W.W. Spriggs, Mrs. T.P. Taylor, Mrs. Clinton M. ALoen, Mrs. George Q. Fenn, Mrs. James Reneau, Mra. E. K. Ramsey, Mrs. Charles Johnson, Mrs. V.D. Wessel, Mrs. O.B. Morris, Mrs. R.E. Bradshaw, Mrs. D.R. McKown, and Mrs. Lloyd Boatright.
Snapshot of 1940
In 1940, a church yearbook and directory listed the “Ladies Aid Society” had an object “To promote the financial, social, and spiritual welfare of the church”. Ladies were members of ten circles that met around the community on the third Tuesday of the month. Their calendar was from September to June and covered topics of loyalty (September), events such as the “70 and Over” Luncheon” (October), Thanksgiving and a Father-Son Banquet (November), Christmas (January) and Prayer and Lent taking up the first two months of the New Year. The Lent event would be an Organ Fund Concert. Easter (March) in April “The Women’s Work Old Fashioned Dinner”, while May saw a May Day Breakfast, Mother-Daughter Banquet and election of Officers. These were installed in a June program before the group took off the month of July.
“Women’s Foreign Missionary Society”. In 1869 the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society was formed in the Northern M.E. and in the south in 1878. The work was officially recognized by the churches in 1890. It formed at Wesley in the spring of 1911, and the first president was Mrs. D.G. Murray (1912-1913). She was the wife of the District Superintendent, D.G. Murray. She would later donate one of the stained glass windows in the new sanctuary in honor of her husband. In 1940, at Wesley, the group motto was “Saved for Service”, their theme “One Heart, One Way”, their guiding hymn was “Brotherhood” (noted as 469 in the Hymnal). Their study text was “Woman and the Way” and their motto was “Study-Service-Sacrifice”. They met every second Tuesday of the month at 1-2 p.m.
The “Women’s Home Missionary Society” motto was “For the Love of Christ and in His Name” and their aim was to “Help Win America for Christ.” The group had formed at Wesley in the spring of 1911 and the first president was Mrs. R.W. Sprigg (1911-1913). They listed in 1940 that that their agencies included 940 Missionaries and Deaconesses serving in 180 institutions in 40 states, Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Their official magazines were “Woman’s Home Missions” and “Junior Neighbors”. The theme for the year was to be “With One Increasing Purpose” and their textbook was to be “Homeland Harvest” by Dr. Arthur Limouze and “Right Here at Home” by Frank Mead. The organization was organized into ten groups with Officers, Department Secretaries (Spiritual Life, Christian Citizenship, Thank Offering, Missionary Education, Mite Box, Lenten Offering), supplies, Chorister, Pianist, and Young People Work (College, High School, Intermediate Department, Junior Department, Primary Department, Mothers Jewels).
In 1940 were also listed the “Wesleyan Service Guild,” whose motto was to “The World – To Serve”. Its goals were “Enrichment of spiritual life, Practice in World brotherhood, Development of Christian Citizenship, Guidance in the Highest Use of Leisure”. They had several service projects including a home mission through the Leisenring Center, Dunbar, PA; through migrant work; and the Navajo Mission School, Farmington, NM.
Their textbook for 1940 was “Through Tragedy to Triumph” by Basil Mathews. The group met the second Tuesday in member homes and had officers covering various projects (President, Recording secretary, correspondence secretary, treasurer, spiritual department chair, world service chair, social and recreational chair, mite box secretary)
The WSG had formed at Wesley in 1926 under the guidance of Maude Thomas Wolf and existed until the merger of women’s groups in 1973. In a 1964 church self-study report the group was noted as still being active with some 26 members.
At Wesley there was also the unique “Sorelle Club.” It was organized in the church parlor in 1929 by Frances Wahl McAlister (Mrs. Wade), Mildred Robinett (Roscoe) and Sarah Paul Potts (Mrs. Ruhl). Charter members were: Deborah Heep Lower (Mrs. Paul), Iris Jenkins Miller (Mrs. Lewis), Hazel Ruedy Hornung (Mrs. Gerald ), Naomi Doty Matheney (Mrs. Jesse), Jessie Gowen Fuller (Mrs. Guy Edward), Thelma Varvel McCreight (Mrs. Warren), Mrs. Theresa Cranfield, Mrs. Cora Hayward, Thelma Carr (Mrs. Harold), Velda Marks (Mrs. karl), Betty Salmmon (Mrs. Herbert), Margaret Ireland (Mrs. “Brick”), Birdie Lasater (Mrs. Frenchie), Rilla Warner (Mrs. Judd), and Thelma Saxon Baker (Mrs. Marion).
It was organized by newlyweds and young mothers who wanted church activities and fellowship different than the Circles then offered at the church. The first presidents were: Frances McAlister. Mildred Robinett, Sarah Potts, and Thelma McCreight. The name was submitted by a committee of organizers and means “sister.” It was reorganized in 1938 by Mrs. Hugh B. Fouke, wife of the pastor, into a spiritual, educational, and social club with meetings held in the parsonage parlor.
In 1940, they reflected that new threefold purpose “spiritual, educational and social.” It was noted they used the “panel method” for their discussions and programs. They met the third Thursday at 12:30 in the Wesley Church parlor. The officers included a Counselor (the pastor’s wife in 1940), chairman, program committee, hostess chairman, secretary and treasurer, telephone chairman
The Woman’s Society of Christian Service (WSCS) was formed in 1939 as a result of the merger between the M.E., North, the M.E., South and the Methodist Protestant churches to form the Methodist Church. The first president at Wesley was Mrs. Joe Morgan (Ione) (1939-1940).
Ladies Bible Study
Flesher Class for Young Girls. In 1921 Wesley had a Sunday school class for college and business people sponsored by Mrs. W.E. Flesher. In the summer or fall of 1922, Mrs. Flesher became the teacher of a Sunday school class for 9th or 10th grade girls, ages 14 or 15 years. According to Helen Sellers the Flesher Class for Girls “really started the Sunday Mrs. Flesher took the class as a substitute teacher, it was then taught by Mary Lanham (Arbuthnot).” Sellers identified the following as charter members of the class: Elva Brown; Jean Alexander; Mildred Armor; Elizabeth Dailey; La Vaughn Reneau; Elizabeth Hoffman; Mary Emma Brown; Sarah Paul; Ramona Parrick; Thelma Todd; Thelma Keel; Mildred Jines.
Malla Moe was a group limited to single women who are members of the Two-In-One Class (Sunday School) and took its name from Miss Malla Moe of Norway, who a missionary to South Africa. In the early 1960’s, there were approximately 70 members, with an average attendance of 30 at the potluck luncheon on the first Tuesday of each month. The group also held a lunch together every third Sunday after church. Special activities included projects for Crippled Children’s Hospital.
Nursing Home Auxiliary
The United Methodist Women
In 1973, United Methodist Women became the women’s mission organization of The United Methodist Church.
Women in Ministry and Leadership
In 2007 Wesley had appointed the first female senior minister. Rev. Diana Cox Crawford served from 2007-2012. She had previously pastored across Oklahoma and served in various capacities in the conference as an elder. She was not, however, the first woman to serve in ministry roles at the church. Changing times, terms and denominational ministry classifications have meant that often these women were overlooked and their significant contributions - and history - unknown.
Women such as:
Miss Eureath White (1932-1933), found under "Pastoral Assistants" in the 1975 'History of a Dynamic Church' she is in a list which includes many recognized clergy and indicating the importance and value of the role in the life of the church. She may be the woman who later taught sociology at Southern Methodist Univ.
Nina B. McCosh - (1937-1945?). Born ca. 1893 in Kansas, Nina attended the "Kansas City Methodist Training Institute", now part of St. Paul's Seminary, a special school for 'Deaconess and Missionaries' in the years before women were recognized by the Methodist denominations for ordination. Such schools allowed women to be specially trained to serve in specific pastoral and social justice arenas. These women organized missions, ministered to families, communities, and saw to the spiritual formation of people in the parish. The role answered the need for more qualified, trained, and committed people to serve as leaders within the church but did not grant those clergy role or status. Yet, they did minister in real and powerful ways within congregations. A local news article illustrates the potential scope of her work at Wesley when it says that she was replacing the "assistant pastor" Rev. S. Lewis Stockwell (who was taking a church in Kansas). She was from Colorado Springs and had worked just previously in Guthrie for five years as a "helper" (Oklahoman, Sept.20, 1937:6).
In an undated list in the 1975 "History of a Dynamic Church" (pg.3) are included the names of some other female "Wesley Resident Ministers":
Mrs. Mabel Crabtree - She is mentioned in a 1932 article about five city church leaders to serve on the faculty of the state Epworth League at Guthrie. From Wesley she joined other instructors from various other Methodist Churches. Epworth League was the youth organization of the Methodist Church.
Alice M. David - In her 1942 obituary she is noted to have been ordained in the 1929 in the M.E. Church. She led a long and active fight against drink being a local and state leader of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. She was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. She died at 82 on Jan.17, 1942 and her funeral was held at Wesley in Oklahoma City.
Joyce Webster - She was listed in the 1968 book, Oklahoma Methodism in the Twentieth Center" by Clegg and Oden as being a current clergy member of the conference who had entered it in 1927.
In an undated list in the same source are included some female "Local Preachers Whose Names are found on the Several Records of Wesley":
Mrs. Mabel Crabtree- She is mentioned in a 1932 article about five city church leaders to serve on the faculty of the state Epworth League at Guthrie. From Wesley she joined other instructors from various other Methodist Churches. Epworth League was the youth organization of the Methodist Church.
Mrs. Alice M. David nee Harris- In her 1942 obituary she is noted to have been ordained in the 1929 in the M.E. Church. She led a long and active fight against drink being a local and state leader of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. She was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. She died at 82 on Jan.17, 1942 and her funeral was held at Wesley in Oklahoma City.
Neva Davidson - In 1934 she was pastoring at Capitol Hill and removed to Wichita Falls, Texas.
Harriette Davis - No information found
Nina B. McCash (should read McCosh)
Joyce B. Webster - She was listed in the 1968 book, Oklahoma Methodism in the Twentieth Center" by Clegg and Oden as being a current clergy member of the conference who had entered in 1927.
Grace E. Garten - On August 2, 1988 a special retirement luncheon celebrated the life and legacy of Miss Grace E. Garten in the life of Wesley UMC in Oklahoma City. It was held in the Scarab Room at Oklahoma City University. Fittingly, the cover of the program read "Amazing Grace!" and included the lines of that well known hymn. (see list of participants in the program below).
Grace was born, according to a biography she typed for her retirement celebration, "on a farm near Piedmont, Okla. and moved to a farm east of Hennessey when I was five years old. I had an older brother and sister who were twins (Alma and Albert). I always said that I was a middle dot in the "five spot", as in dominoes/ With a pair older than me and a pair younger, I was more or less alone.
Growing up on a farm, I learned to do what other farm girls did: milk cows, wash the separator, feed calves and pigs, dress chickens, cook for harvest men and threshers, churn butter, etc.
I heard the Bible read every morning - also had Family Prayer together each day. I must have heard the Bible read through several times before I left for college. An old-fashioned one-room rural school called College Corner was where I received my education in grades 1-8.
I attended a Christian Union country church near my home from early childhood through high school - was active in all youth activities - was given a license to preach while a teenager - also participated in the program of the County Sunday School Conventions which included all Protestant denominations.
I worked my way through high school and college graduating from Oklahoma City University (OCU) with a major in Religious Education and Philosophy, also a major in Education. Following graduation, I became a teacher in the Oklahoma City School System. I became a Methodist in 1933 when I joined First Methodist Church here in Oklahoma City.
In 1939, I studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. The remainder of my seminary training was at Garrett, a Methodist College on the campus of Northwestern University at Evanston, Ill.
My first position as Director of Christian Education in a local church was in Dallas, Texas at Tyler Street Methodist Church. I joined the Wesley Methodist Church staff as Director of Christian Education Sept. 1, 1944 when Dr. Nuell C. Crain was pastor.
1963-1967: was Director at Travis Park Methodist Church, San Antonio
1967-1970: was Director at Crown Heights Methodist Church, Oklahoma City
In July of 1970, when Dr. Blanton was senior pastor, I accepted the invitation to return to Wesley as Christian Education Director - the last 13 years I have served as Parish Visitor.”
In addition to this information she also had certifications for specialized Christian education and church work:
1955 (?) -- Certified Director of Christian Education
1974 -- Consecrated Lay Worker
1977 --Diaconal Minister"
1955 (?) -- Certified Director of Christian Education
1974 -- Consecrated Lay Worker
1977 --Diaconal Minister"
On September 1, 1944, Wesley's program had grown so much that a new employee was decided on to head the growing groups in the church. Grace E. Garten, a public school teacher, was hired as the first full-time Director of Education.
In 1941, an article in the Oklahoman, "Parents Criticized for Books Children Read" (Nov.3,1941;5) she was reported as having spoken to a group on behalf of the Oklahoma Council of Churches as it Religious Education Director. She urged parents to "have good books available in the home."
Church records note she re-established the 'Junior Church' in 1944 and when the Baker Chapel was built in 1954 this group met in that area.
In 1948 (that year she is listed in a city directory and gives Wesley as her place of employment).
In 1952 there is an article in the Ada Weekly News (Ada, OK) that Miss Garten would be conducting lectures there on Christian Education at the First Methodist Church of Ada.
She would remain at Wesley for many decades and in near retirement years became the official Parish Visitor. She finally retired fully in 1988.
She was well respected, at Wesley and around the state, as Education Director. She conducted numerous workshops for churches addresses issues and methods to improve their programs. She was affiliated with Council of Churches education program.
In 1940 she penned a lovely poem, later used in a church devotional booklet:
"What God does not do as God
He does do as man.
For it was through Jesus
That came the redemptive plan.
So God reaches out to the world through me.
Not alone through my Godlikeness
But through my humanity.
For there is a call in the human touch
That lost man understands.
And when the world is brought close to God
'Twill be through human hands."
Grace E. Garten, 1940.
In the late 1980's she conducted programs for senior centers and other locations bringing along her large collection of crosses. She died in 1990 in Oklahoma City.