The Vote for Women's Ordination

By the time the House of Deputies met again in 1976, eleven women and three bishops had defied the Church leadership and had conducted an ordination ceremony in Philadelphia’s Church of the Advocate, and the Church was in an uproar. Presiding Bishop John Allin had convened an emergency meeting of the House of Bishops and, though a majority of bishops favored women’s ordination, the house voted overwhelmingly to find the ordinations invalid on the basis of episcopal authority, and issued a statement urging members on both sides to “wait on and abide by” the results of the 1976 Convention. The House of Bishops then voted to censure the three bishops who had performed the ordination. This censure caused Charles Willie, Vice President of the House of Deputies and member of Executive Council, to resign in “protest against the inhumane treatment of women in the Episcopal Church, particularly women priests.” He told the 1976 General Convention that his resignation was the only way he could counter “the sin and folly of sexism” in Church structures.

The General Convention in 1976 had not only the issue of women’s ordination but a new Prayer Book to consider, and the atmosphere in Minneapolis was extremely tense. The House of Bishops received the resolution to amend the Canons for women’s ordination first and it was widely assumed that the Bishops were prepared to adopt the measure, which they did on September 15th. As the House of Deputies cast their votes to accept or reject the resolution the following day, the convention hall was packed and, one observer recalled, utterly silent: 58 clerical votes and 57 lay votes were required for passage. The resolution passed both orders, with 60 clerical votes and 64 lay votes. After years of debate, prayer, and protest, women had gained the right to ordination as priests in the Episcopal Church.

The House of Deputies prepares to vote on women’s ordination before a packed gallery, visible on the right. 1976.

The Vote on Ordination, 1976. Dean Collins narrates recordings from the legislative floor during the lead-up to the vote, and the reading of the results.

Archbishop's Address, 1976. Archbishop Coggan addresses the House of Deputies following their vote on women's ordination.

Charles Willie speaks to Betty Bone Schiess, one of eleven women irregularly ordained in Philadelphia on July 29, 1974, after Willie tendered his resignation as Vice President of the House of Deputies in protest of the Bishops' decision to rule the ordinations invalid. His son James clings to his back.

Charles Willie's Statement, 1976. Charles Willie’s statement to the 1976 General Convention, explaining why he resigned over the censure of those involved in the ordination service in Philadelphia.

Convention Daily, 1976. Not every woman was a proponent of women’s ordination. The Convention Daily profiles Deputy Loretta Swinford of Lexington, who strongly opposed the measure.

Convention Daily, 1976. The Convention Daily headline for Sept. 16, 1976, celebrates the passage of women’s ordination.