Throughout history, many women were called to preach and to use their gifts of evangelism. Although some denominations shut women out of speaking and teaching roles, historical records corroborate the important role these female preachers held.
Notable names include the Waldensian women of the 13th century. These women began a Christian movement in southern France and portions of Italy that spread across Europe. Many of the Waldensian women were preachers who believed in the literal interpretation of Scripture. They also promoted social justice and respect for religious diversity. Although a great number of the Waldensian women were burned at the stake for their beliefs, the church still exists in Italy.
The Lollards, a Christian movement in England from the 14-16th centuries, merged with the Protestants due to the preaching of many Lollard women. These women also helped to translate the Bible into a vernacular English.
During the 17th century, the Baptists and the Quakers employed many women preachers. One of them was Susannah Wesley, mother of John Wesley. She often traveled to neighboring villages to preach and teach. Through his mother’s example, Wesley learned to treasure the leadership gifts of women. When he founded his London Society in 1742, 49 of the 66 members were women.
Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643) was a preacher in Massachusetts. During the time of the Puritans, women were barely allowed to think for themselves, but as a young girl, Anne developed an interest in theology. She read widely from her father’s library and questioned religious leaders of the day. In 1643, Anne and her husband and their 15 children sailed to America. She initiated a Bible study in her home where she preached the doctrine of salvation by grace rather than works. As her study grew, so did her influence. She was later excommunicated because she acted “as an unseemly woman.”
Sarah Crosby (1729-1804) was a famous Methodist preacher whose work influenced scores of people for over 20 years.
Several Victorian women served as evangelists and preachers. Some also organized charities. Among those were:
• Phoebe Palmer (1807-1874)
• Antoinette Brown who became the 1st ordained Congregationalist minister in 1853
• Catherine Booth who was a preacher before she married William and together they founded the Salvation Army.
• Maria Woodworth-Etter (1844-1924) who was a famous evangelist
• Eva Burrows – an Australian evangelist
• Agnes Ozman (1870-1937), a Pentecostal evangelist
• Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944) who may have been the most famous woman evangelist of the early 20th century.
We are indebted to these courageous women who fulfilled the call God placed on their lives and used their teaching and preaching gifts to further the Kingdom of God.