Anna Howard Shaw

Anna Howard Shaw (1847-1919) was a suffragist, physician and one of the first women to be ordained in the United Methodist tradition.  She was born in England but came to the U.S. with her family at the age of 4. She started teaching at age 15, then became a local preacher to support her college education, which her family would not fund because she wouldn’t abandon her plans to become a minister.

At the Boston University School of Theology, she was the only woman in her class of 43. Despite having served as local preachers for some years, both she and Anna Snowden Oliver were refused ordination in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1880. Shaw then moved to the Methodist Protestant Church and was ordained after much protest that same year.  For years Shaw had been believed to be the first woman ordained in the United Methodist tradition, but in researching “Courageous Past, Bold Future, the Journey Toward Full Clergy Rights for Women in The United Methodist Church, Author Patricia J. Thompson found three others that predated her, although their stories are not nearly as well known or documented.   In 1886, Shaw earned a medical degree from Boston U, although she never practiced medicine.

She had a reputation as a masterful orator and spent 11 years as president of National American Woman Suffrage Association.   She died at the age of 72, only a few months before Congress ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

Want to know more?

Shaw's biography in the National Women’s Hall of Fame

An episode of the television comedy “30 Rock” featured the main character suggesting Feb. 14 be celebrated as “Anna Howard Shaw Day”

A Women’s History Month blog post by Adrienne Trevathan honors Shaw

The Anna Howard Shaw Center at Boston University School of Theology

The city of Big Rapids, Mich.,erected a statue of Shaw. Information about the statue and Shaw’s life can be found at this site.

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