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.

Historical Overview

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.

View more historical resources.


Liz TestaLiz Testa
Coordinator for Women’s Transformation and Leadership


Lorraine ParkerLorraine Parker
Administrative Assistant for Women’s Transformation and Leadership

Events for Women in the RCA

Save the dates

New Brunswick Theological Seminary invites you to the third annual Women’s Stories Day at New Brunswick Theological Seminary, co-hosted by the Reformed Church Center and the RCA Office for Women’s Transformation and Leadership, to be held on Saturday, 2 February 2019 (snow date 9 February 2019), from 10 am - 2:30 pm. This year’s theme will be: “Taking a Stand,” featuring stories of RCA women advocating to change their world.

RSVP here. 

Building God’s Church Together Learning Event

February 16, 2019
ReNew Community Church
Ames, Iowa

People throughout the Reformed Church in America have been exploring what it means for women and men to flourish in ministry...together! In partnership with the Classes of Central Iowa and Pleasant Prairie, we invite you to join us for this day-long workshop in a retreat-like setting. We will share the joys and challenges of partnering in ministry with someone of a different gender than you. Explore scripture, hear stories, identify your current realities, and imagine new pathways that can result in greater flourishing for women and men as they partner together in your ministry context. Local leaders will be joined by Dr. Rob Dixon, Rev. April Fiet, Ms. Lesley Mazzotta, and Rev. Liz Testa for an interactive, Spirit-led day of transformation and growth. 

Register now!

Download the latest Events and Opportunities brochure; en español

Read the latest Women's Newsletter to find out more about upcoming events.