Women of Righteous Discontent

Who was the first woman ordained a deacon of the AME Zion church?

Julia A. J. Foote (1823–1901), of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church, became the first woman ordained a deacon on May 20, 1894. Foote became the second black woman elder in 1900. Bishop Alexander Walters, whose family Foote lived with from 1884 to 1901, ordained two black women elders in the AME Zion church—Mary J. Small in 1898 and then Foote in 1900. They became the first women of any race in the Methodist denomination to achieve the full rights that ordination as an elder provided. Born in Schenectady, New York, Foote was the fourth child of former slaves. She went to live with a prominent white family in 1833, where she enrolled in an integrated school. In 1836 she moved with the family to Albany, New York. In 1838, when she was fifteen years old, Foote received a religious conversion. She married in 1839, moved to Boston, and joined the AME Zion Church. Like Foote, all members of the church had left the Methodist Episcopal Church in search of greater religious freedom and affiliation with a black denomination. Until her conversion, Foote made it known that she opposed women in the ministry; however, she said later that she had to preach in response to a call from God. For over fifty years Foote was an evangelist and a pioneering black Methodist holiness preacher. She traveled and lectured widely, speaking at camp meetings, revivals, and churches in several states. Later she wrote about her experiences in her autobiography, A Brand Plucked from the Fire.


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