A History of Women in the RCA
Countless women have helped shape the Reformed Church into what it is today—a church that accepts and celebrates all of the gifts of women.
Women have made vital contributions to the Reformed Church in America (RCA) throughout its nearly 400-year history. To view a historical video, click here.
Women’s involvement in church activities began as early as 1800. Sarah Doremus, a member of South Dutch Church in New York City, organized the Women’s Union Missionary Society, which spurred other Reformed churches to collaborate.
In 1869 the RCA sent its first female missionary, Mary Kidder, who was a schoolteacher in Japan and founded a seminary there.
Between 1875 and 1900 the newly established Women’s Board of Foreign Mission raised nearly $750,000 to be used to support women missionaries, girls’ schools, and seminaries. With auxiliaries in nearly every congregation in 1890, the women of the Reformed Church were well organized for mission.
From the 1950s through the early 2000s there existed a vibrant women’s organization, which eventually became known as Reformed Church Women’s Ministries (RCWM). The organization encouraged congregations to form women’s guilds, which promoted education, spiritual life, and service, and enabled women to develop their gifts and serve the church. Every third year from 1962 to 2007, a large, multi-day conference called Triennial was held. Triennial gathered women for meaningful fellowship, continuing education, and deep spiritual renewal. Among the keynote speakers over the years were Maya Angelou and Anne Lamott.
In 1972 the denomination opened the offices of deacon and elder to women, and by 1979, women were accepted for ordination as ministers of Word and sacrament.
In 1992 Beth Marcus was the first female to serve as General Synod president. She was followed by Carol Mutch in 2000, Carol Bechtel in 2008, and Lisa VanderWal in 2011. Recent General Synod Council moderators include Gloria McCanna and Christa Mooi.
Today, women in the RCA serve as pastors, elders, and deacons. They also contribute their gifts, influence, and resources through the Commission for Women; through other denominational commissions and councils; in classis, regional synod, and general synod staff positions; as faculty and administration of seminaries and colleges; and in countless local ministries.
Explore the stories of RCA women in leadership
This printable booklet features stories of RCA women who served in leadership and paved the way for future generations from throughout the denomination’s history. A new edition, featuring even more women’s stories, is on its way.