Rev. Anna Howard Shaw

The Rev. Anna Howard Shaw (1847-1919)

Anna Howard Shaw portrait courtesy of the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College Libraries

Anna Howard Shaw became one of the first women granted a license to preach by the Methodist Episcopal Church. Later, she became the second woman to graduate from Boston University School of Theology. However, her calling hit a snag when the New England Conference refused to ordain her.

The Methodist Protestant Church did. While a pastor in Massachusetts, her sense of calling broadened, and she earned a medical degree from Boston University. At 39, she added “master orator” to her skillset, lecturing throughout the world on behalf of temperance, world peace and women’s suffrage. She also was president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association for 11 years, serving as a bridge between the Seneca Falls generation and younger suffragists who would go on to advocate for equal rights in all aspects of American life.

Shaw died in 1919, one year before the ratification of the 19th Amendment that ensures women access to the ballot box. Today, her namesake center at her United Methodist alma mater works to promote women’s empowerment.

“Anna Howard Shaw realized that her call was beyond the local church,” said Margaret Wiborg, the first full-time director of the Anna Howard Shaw Center.

“In her autobiography, ‘The Story of a Pioneer,’ she says that after seven years of ministry on Cape Cod her soul ‘sent forth a sudden call to arms … I could find but one solution for women — the removal of the stigma of disfranchisement.’”

March is Women’s History Month. Activists today may be inspired to hear the stories of six historic figures who advocated for women’s voting rights as part of their Christian calling.   Anna Howard Shaw was a Wesleyan women who helped form a more perfect union even as she was going on to Christian perfection.
This article is written by Heather Hahn and published by the United Methodist News Service on Nov. 3, 2016.
Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or


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