Lydia Sexton (1799-1894) was the first woman licensed as a preacher by The United Brethren Church. She was born in New Jersey but moved to the Midwest in her teens and was widowed twice before marrying Joseph Sexton in 1829. She was converted and joined a United Brethren congregation in Ohio, shortly thereafter feeling the call to preach. Believing it an improper vocation for a woman, she resisted the call, even turning down the first few offers of a preaching license. She changed her mind after a son fell severely ill and she bargained with God to save him (she already had lost two sons to death). In 1851 a congregation voted to license her and took the decision to the quarterly meeting of the United Brethren Illinois Conference, which officially licensed her – for a quarter of a year. For seven years she traveled to conferences every three months to renew her license before finally asking that it be made an annual license instead. In 1857, however, the General Conference had decided not to license women, fearing they might ask to be elders – or even bishops. Recognizing her gifts, the General Conference instead “recommended” her as a preacher for life and gave her credentials as an approved “pulpit speaker” and “useful helper in the work of Christ.” For many years, she and her husband traveled throughout the Midwest as she organized congregations and led revival meetings to such success that she didn’t have the time or energy to preach all the revivals to which she was invited. At age 70, she was the first woman appointed a prison chaplain, working at Kansas State Prison, a position she held only a year because of her failing health. She still ministered to people for years, however, and was said to have preached her last sermon at age 93.
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Some copies of her autobiography can still be found