The Rev. Anita Schell preaches at Trinity Church during a special Evensong to commemorate the anniversary of women's ordination in 2014.
On July 29, 1974, the feast of Martha and Mary of Bethany, 11 women were ordained to the Episcopal priesthood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1970, and again in 1973, the Episcopal Church defeated resolutions to allow the ordination of women. But on that July day in 1974, three resigned or retired bishops and the active Bishop of Costa Rica declared that “obedience to the spirit” required them to perform the ordination.
Dr. Charles Willie, the first African-American elected vice president of the House of Deputies, preached at the ordination, calling it an act of “tender loving defiance,” and called the new priests to faithfulness as priests and change agents in the world.
Several of the women were the daughters of priests. The Rt. Rev. Edward R. Welles, one of the retired bishops, participated in the ordination of his daughter, the Rev. Katrina Swanson. Additionally, the eldest of the women ordained, Jeanette Piccard, was the first woman to enter earth’s stratosphere, which she did in a hot-air balloon in 1934.
Later that year the House of Bishops determined that the ordinations were invalid, though many bishops continued to support canonical change allowing women’s ordination, including the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, Bishop of New York.
In 1976, however, the church made ordination officially available to men and women, and in 1977 the women were officially allowed to serve as priests.
The first woman to be ordained at Trinity was Anita Schell in 1984. She began serving at Trinity in 1983, when she was deacon. The article below appeared in the July 1983 issue of Trinity News.