The Women of the Eighth General Assembly

by Stan Ingersol
Ingersol, S. (August, 1993). Nazarene Roots; The Women of the Eighth General Assembly, Herald of Holiness, 7.

The Women of the Eighth General Assembly gathered in Wichita, Kans., to participate in the highest governing conference of the Church of the Nazarene. They constituted 30 percent of this General Assembly of 1932—more than half the lay delegates and 1 in every 15 clergy delegates. Female participation was rising. In 12 years, women would compose 44 percent of the Eleventh General Assembly. Only three persons in the Wichita auditorium had been ministerial delegates to every General Assembly since 1908, and two were women: Revs. Mary Lee Cagle and Elsie Wallace. (The third was W. G. Schurman. H. F. Reynolds was an ex officio member of each assembly and John Goodwin an ex officio member after 1915.)

The women of the Eighth General Assembly represented diverse places and ministries. Mary Lee Cagle, approaching the end of her career, was attending her last General Assembly as a delegate. In 1895, she began earning the title "Mother of Holiness in West Texas" (bestowed by publisher C. A. McConnell) by fearless preaching in the area around Abilene. She planted numerous churches and in 1902 formed the Texas Council of the New Testament Church of Christ, later the nucleus of the Abilene (West Texas) District of the Church of the Nazarene. Founder of 18 congregations (including Lubbock First) and cofounder of many more, she had been elected district evangelist on the New Mexico and Abilene districts, and assistant district superintendent of the latter. She was often the first clergy member elected to General Assembly by her district.

Agnes Diffee came to Wichita representing the Arkansas District. She stood on the threshold of the most successful years of her ministry, for this was the year she became pastor of Little Rock First Church. She would lead Little Rock First while it grew into the largest church in the denomination, and she would begin a radio broadcast known throughout Arkansas. By 1950, the Church of the Nazarene would be known in Arkansas as "Sister Diffee's church."

Susan Fitkin represented the New York District. Raised a Quaker, she became a pastor and evangelist in that tradition until uniting with the Nazarene parent group in New England. Her most enduring legacy to Nazarenes was her role in founding and leading the Woman's Foreign Missionary Society (now NWMS). In this, her pastoral vision had led her to try and unlock the hidden power of Nazarene laywomen by bringing them into the wider ministry of the church.

Olive Winchester attended the Eighth General Assembly as a delegate from the Idaho-Oregon District. Winchester taught theology and biblical studies at Northwest Nazarene College, where she was also academic dean. The first woman to earn a divinity degree from the University of Glasgow (Scotland), Winchester also had taught at Eastern.

Among the other women clergy delegates was Elsie Wallace (North Pacific District), the only woman in the group who had been a district superintendent; Martha Curry (New England District), a popular pastor and evangelist who had been interim president of early Eastern Nazarene College; Edna Wells Hoke (Chicago Central), Mattie Wines (Indianapolis), and Florence Davis (Colorado); and others.

Notable women were also lay delegates. Mrs. Paul Bresee headed the lay delegation from Southern California. Daughter-in-law of Phineas Bresee, she was a cofounder with Fitkin of the WFMS. Her advocacy of women's contribution to worldwide missions was well known through the pages of the Herald of Holiness and The Other Sheep.

Rhea Miller, lay delegate from New York, had published her famous song, "I'd Rather Have Jesus," 10 years earlier. Lue Miller Roberts, delegate from the Abilene District, was matron of Rest Cottage for unwed mothers at Pilot Point, Tex. Consecrated a deaconess on the Kansas District in 1916, she supervised the Rest Cottage in Kansas City for 25 years before moving to Texas and marrying Rev. J. P. Roberts. There were many other lay delegates, each notable in her own way.

These were the women of the Eighth General Assembly. May we see their like in 1993!