On July 29, 1974, in Philadelphia, 11 women broke rank and were ordained as the first female priests in the Episcopal Church. They became known as the “Philadelphia Eleven.”
While there was no law prohibiting the ordination of women, there also was no law allowing it. After the Philadelphia protest at the Church of the Advocate, the 11 women were deemed “irregularly” ordained, and Episcopal bishops warned the church not to recognize the women as priests.
Two years later, the Episcopal Church General Convention – under pressure from the events in Philadelphia and elsewhere – authorized the ordination of women to the priesthood. Today, the church is led by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman to lead a national branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Over 40 years, the “Philadelphia Eleven” have gone on varied paths. This is what they are doing today:
Born: 1948; on April 15, 1976, she announced that she would “no longer affiliate myself with the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.”
Born: 1947; after ordination: founded Wisdom House, a Minneapolis interfaith spirituality center. Now retired.
Born: 1927; after ordination: served in St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Annandale, Va. Now retired.
Born: 1944; after ordination: assistant professor of religion and education at Andover Newton Theological School. Now retired from chief judge of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
Born: 1945 in Charlotte; after ordination: faculty at the Episcopal Divinity School.
Advice for women in the church: “Stay aware of ways in which the church does and does not empower women to be fully who they are. And to really work to celebrate for the things that have happened on our behalf and really fight for the changes that are needed. And, also, to keep connection with other people who are struggling for justice.”
Born: 1937; after ordination: faculty of the Episcopal Divinity School until retirement. Died: 2002.
Born: 1944; after ordination: chaplain at the United Methodist Retirement Home in Topeka, Kan. Returned to Episcopal Church in the 1980s.
Born: 1895; after ordination: served in St. Paul, Minn. Died: 1981.
Betty Bone Schiess
Born: April 2, 1923; after ordination: chaplain at Syracuse University; retired.
Born: 1935; after ordination: worked at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in St. Louis. Died: 2005.
Born: 1945; after ordination: Episcopal Diocese of Newark; retired.
Advice for women in the church: “ There will be a lot of bumps along the way. But don’t give up, stay faithful, show up and remember it’s not your ministry, it’s Christ’s.”