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The Rev. Dr. Linda Anderson, Unitarian Universalist Community Minister in Affiliation with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook

I was asked to write for the Ask the Clergy Column in Newsday on the question "Who are the most significant female figures in your faith tradition?" Below is my answer.

At a time when hardly any denominations would ordain women to the ministry, the Universalist Convention of New York, in 1863, ordained Olympia Brown. She was the first woman to be ordained in my faith tradition and indeed the first woman whose ordination was recognized by an entire denomination. This was a symbolic, highly significant gesture affirming the acceptability of all women to preach the word of God.

On a more concrete level, Brown serves as a model for women to persist in the struggle for what they believe is just. Not only did Brown serve as a minister (in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Racine, Wisconsin), she was among the first suffragettes calling for women to be granted the right to vote. When it finally came about, in 1920, that women could cast ballots for their candidates of choice, Brown was the only one of the original suffragettes left alive to do so. Not only did she work for women’s rights; not only did she serve her call to ministry, she married and raised a family. Her husband, John Willis, stood by her and supported her in her work.


Unitarian Universalists assert that women need to see other women in positions of significant authority in the faith as an affirmation of the inherent value and equality of women. Brown blazed a trail for Unitarian Universalists to more fully live our commitment to human rights and to embody the love which those early Universalists taught that God has for each and every one of us.

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