In Oklahoma City in 1904 a woman from the Methodist Episcopal Church preached a revival in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. At this point, both groups were busy building and there was apparently some sharing of resources. Oklahoma at this time was more open to the idea of the two fractured sections of Methodism working together than the general denominational structures of both. They were also, apparently, open to the idea of a woman preaching a revival as well.
The event was duly reported in the local newspaper, with numerous tidbit or pithy quotes as was the custom, and she was referred to always as "Mrs. Mather."
She was Margaret Alice Moody Mather from Spencer, Iowa. She was born 27 January 1862 in Clayton Co., Iowa. She married in 1883 Luther Pearson Mather (b. 1838, Fenner, NY). She was mentioned in The Northwest Christian Advocate of March 17, 1897 (pg. 20) as an "evangelist" and that she assisted Pastor A.R. Cuthbert, pastor in a revival that saw many conversions. Her name would emerge in various copies of that journal as well as the Conference journals of Iowa Methodism. The 1900 Iowa census lists her as an "evangelist" and her husband as a day laborer. She was the mother of three children but as of 1900 only two remained: Leo David Mather and Alice Floy Mather. She died 1947 in Clay Co., Iowa.
Her home conference, Northwest Iowa, had this to say about her in the Christian Advocate, volume 80 (1905),"Mrs. Alice Mather, an evangelist from Spencer, NW Iowa Conference is assisting the pastor, Rev. F.L. Buckwalter. She is a loyal Methodist, a fine preacher, a sweet singer and sympathetic in her preaching. She preaches straight to the hearts of the people, and all are delighted with her...The meetings prove that Methodist preaching and methods, directed by the spirit, will still bring about genuine conviction and conversion. The people have crowded the altar..."
It was clear, Oklahoma received a rare blessing in inviting this woman to come and preach in Oklahoma City. Who knows how many she inspired in the faith or encouraged to follow where they felt they were being led vocationally?
She was not alone in this role, however, and though denominationally many groups would not sanction female ministers for many decades (if at all), expediency, obvious gifting and the work of God apparently overrode this circumstance. For example, in some parts of the Ozarks it was very hard to get ministers to stay, provided they could actually find the church! Hidden deep in hard to reach valleys or in areas subject to frequent flooding, local congregations often had to depend on the people in their group to do the work of the minister. Those with a gift, a calling, or a sense of spiritual responsibility would share a sermon, a study or read from scripture.
In a real sense the frontiers of the westward expansion provided opportunities for egalitarian leadership and activity for women both in the church and the society. Social equality movements and women entering professions combined with social activism on behalf of education, anti-liqueur efforts, and fighting social ills. Add to this the renewal movements such as 'The Holiness Movement' and the "Pentecostal Movement' who had a keen sense of spiritual imperative and evangelism, and it was natural that women and men would be seen as leaders in things both temporal and spiritual. In my family history is one such example of this. In one letter dated 9 Nov. 1877, William Terry's daughter, Matilda Terry Ennis, is said to "be one of our liveliest preachers" and a "Northern Methodist". It is possible she was a "deaconess" or merely a very active church woman, but it is interesting to note that in the Holiness Movement of the same period noted Phoebe Palmer, for example, was part of many revival efforts in the New York period from as early as 1857. This reveals a trend toward greater female participation - and some acceptance of the same - among some groups of Methodists.
More research needs to be done to uncover these women's contributions to early church work in every area. Often they would preach, evangelize or serve but leave the ministry due to family demands or financial issues. Some denominations required pastors to pay tithes to their local church district or conference. Clergy couples working among people who had little, found they also had little to live on, and thus paying a tithe to support the local denominational work was more than they could balance. Other denominational groups did not require this from their clergy but did require the congregation to tithe to support the mutual work. These 'out of site' influences are important to understand the practical reasons why some groups emerge early on with formally recognized women on their rolls as pastors, evangelists, and leaders but dwindle later. The women continued to do the "work" but were increasingly doing it as 'clergy spouses' or as single women. Over time, cultural influences often seeped back in allowing for formal limitations to be added prohibiting them or limiting their work to women and children.
"Methodists Around To New Zeal By A Woman Evangelist's Discourses" "Is a Powerful Speaker", "Interest in Revival's Becoming Intense and Numbers are Nightly Becoming Converts to the Christian Faith." (Oklahoman, April 15, 1904; pg.8); U.S. Federal Census, Iowa; The NW Christian Advocate 1905; NW Iowa Conference Report, 1911; NW Christian Advocate, 1912; Spencer Clay County (IA) News (Dec.2, 1897, p.3); The Perry (IA) Daily (Dec.14,1894, pg.1); The Alton Democrate (IA) (March 14,1896,pg.8); Monmouth Daily Atlas (IL) (March 10, 1916).