Ellen Lane (?-1889). According to Michael Bernoi, Lane is thought to be the first woman to have received a ministerial license–being licensed to preach by the Michigan Conference in 1868. In 1878, she was granted a license by the General Conference (GC). She was known as an excellent preacher (said to have been more popular than her husband!) and evangelist, and was skilled in pastoral work. However, Samuel Koranteng-Pipim in his article “Early Adventist History and the Ministry of Women: A Closer Look at Recent Reinterpretations of Adventist History, Part 1” published in the conservative journal, Adventists Affirm states that “The Michigan Conference did not license Ellen Lane in 1868, as claimed. The minutes show that the licentiates that year were ‘Wm. C. Gage, James G. Sterling, and Uriah Smith’. Though she was indeed licensed in 1878, as the chapter [in Bernoi] states, she was actually first licensed in 1875. Further, she was not the first woman licentiate among Seventh-day Adventists, a distinction that apparently belongs to Sarah A. H. Lindsey.”
Sarah A. Lindsey (1843-1912). Sarah worked in western NY & Pennsylvania as an evangelist with her husband John. She received a ministerial license in 1871.
Margaret Caro (1848-1938) was an Australian dentist and bible-worker. She held ministerial credentials and worked in Australia and New Zealand. Ellen White met her in Australia and in 1893 wrote in a letter to Jennie Inggs:
“I am greatly attached to her. She holds her diploma as dentist and her credentials as a minister. She speaks to the church when there is no minister, so you see she is a very capable woman.” (Letter 33, 1893.)
Sarepta Myendra Irish Henry (1839-1900). Intensely interested in temperance, she became the national evangelist for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Following a severe illness, she recovered at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. While there she accepted SDA teachings and, late in 1896, joined the church.
Henry was the founder of Women’s Ministry in the SDA Church. In 1898, the question of ministerial license was discussed at the GC: “Several remarked that it was their judgment that she should receive a ministerial license, which would be more in keeping with her line of work. A motion prevailed to grant her such recognition form the General Conference.” (General Conference Committee Minutes, March 30, 1898.)
Hetty Hurd Haskell (1857-1919). In 1884, Hetty Hurd attended an SDA camp-meeting in California and was converted. That year she gave up her teaching position and began 34 years of service as a teacher, bible-worker, and missionary for the SDA Church. Holding a ministerial license, she was known as a powerful preacher. Hurd was called to train workers in England (1887-1892), South Africa (1892-1897), and Australia. While working in Australia, she met Stephen N. Haskell. They were married in 1897. After returning to the US, they published the Bible Training School magazine to assist them in their work of educating workers for God.
Helen Stanton Williams (1868-1940). Stanton studied at Battle Creek College and took employment in 1887 as a Bible worker for the Michigan Conference. For two years Stanton taught worked in Grand Rapids and Saginaw, before moving to Indianapolis. She married Eugene Williams in 1890. She was a popular preacher and evangelist and was issued a ministerial license in 1897. In 1908 she travelled with her husband and two sons to South Africa. Her husband was elected president of the Cape Colony Conference and Helen was active in evangelism. In 1910 Eugene died. Helen continued to work in South Africa as a minister for four years—pastoring a church and working as an evangelist.
Lulu Russell Wightman (dates unknown). Lulu Russell Wightman was the most successful minister in New York state for more than a decade. Her ministry began when she was licensed as a minister in 1897 and continued even after she left New York State to engage in religious liberty work in Kansas and Missouri in 1908. The results from Wightman’s ministry rank her not only as the most outstanding evangelist in New York during her time, but among the most successful within the Adventist Church for any time period. SDA churches in Hornellsville, Gas Springs, Wallace, Silver Creek, Geneva, Angola, Gorham, Fredonia, Avoca, Rushville, Canandaigua, and Penn Yan in New York state were all established by Lulu Wightman.
In 1897, Pastor S. M. Cobb, wrote to the New York Conference president in reference to Lulu Wightman:
“She has accomplished more the last two years than any minister in this state…I am…in favor of giving license to Sr. Lulu Wightman to preach, and if Bro. W is a man of ability and works with his wife and promises to make a successful laborer, I am in favor of giving him license also.”
In 1901 the New York Conference president sent this note to John Wightman, Lulu’s husband: “Enclosed find a small token of appreciation from the Conference Committee for your work in assisting your wife.” Lulu Wightman was the licensed minister, and the conference sent money to her husband in appreciation for his assistance to her!
Her husband John Wightman was ordained in 1905, two years after he had been licensed. Lulu Wightman had been New York’s most effective minister for nine years, but was never ordained.
In 1910 the president of the Central Union Conference, B. T. Russell, circulated a 16-page pamphlet against his sister and brother-in-law, the Wightmans, stating that they opposed the church structure. As a result the Wightmans were dropped from church employment.
Lorena Florence (Flora) Plummer (1862-1945). In 1897 Plummer was elected Secretary of the Iowa Conference. For a time in 1900, she was acting Conference President. In 1913 she was called to head the SS Department at the GC, a position she held until her retirement in 1936.
Anna Knight (1874-1972). Knight attended Battle Creek College, graduating as a nurse. In 1898 she went to Jasper County, Mississippi where she worked in temperance and established a school for blacks. In 1901 she travelled to India as a missionary, serving for six years. She returned home to the US, and in 1913 became the Home Missionary Secretary for the Southeastern Union Conference. Six years later she was placed in charge of the Home Missionary Department. She held this position until her retirement in 1945.
Josephine Benton, Called by God, Smithsburg: Blackberry Hill, 1990.
Michael Bernoi, “Nineteenth century Women in Adventist Ministry Against the Backdrop of the Times,” in Women in Ministry, Nancy Vhymeister (ed.), Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press, 1998, 211-233.
Bert Haloviak, “A Place at the Table: Women and the Early Years,” in The Welcome Table, Patricia A. Habada and Rebecca Frost Brillhart (eds.), Langley Park: TEAMPress, 1995.
Bert Haloviak, Route to the Ordination of Women in the Seventh-day Adventist Church: Two Paths, 1985.
Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, “Early Adventist History and the Ministry of Women: A Closer Look at Recent Reinterpretations of Adventist History, Part 1” Adventists Affirm
Kit Watts, “Ellen White’s Contemporaries: Significant Women in the Early Church,” in A Woman’s Place: Seventh-day Adventist Women in Church and Society, Rosa Taylor Banks (ed.), Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 1992, 41-74.