Marjorie Swank Matthews (1916-1986) was the first woman bishop for any Protestant church. Elected by The United Methodist Church in 1980, she served the Wisconsin Annual Conference until her retirement in 1984. Ministry was her second career; Matthews worked as a secretary for an auto parts manufacturer for 17 years while raising her son. At 47, Matthews started working on a college degree while simultaneously serving as a lay preacher to several small congregations. She was ordained an elder at the age of 49 and, after serving as a pastor, was the second woman to be named a district superintendent in the UMC. She was known for her firm leadership, her gentle sense of humor and her intellect – she earned a doctorate in Old Testament scholarship. Bishop Judith Craig, in her book “The Leading Women,” describes the elation in the room as the diminutive Matthews was escorted to the platform at the North Central Jurisdictional Conference upon her election to the episcopacy. “She stood before us, so small in stature, yet so huge in presence,” Craig wrote. “The moment was like the gushing up of a new spring that would stream out into a great river of history.”
Do you want to know more?
This video on early UMC women bishops features footage of Matthews. (Episcopal Series, Claremont School of Theology, 2004)
1984 Milwaukee Sentinel interview with Matthews as she prepared to retire
Her obituary in The New York Times
Judith Craig's book, The Leading Women