On March 10, we commemorate the deaths of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. Both women rose from the shadows of slavery to roles of leadership, had an abiding faith in God, and have left legacies that have continued to inspire generations who’ve heard their stories.
The ELCA, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2013, has seen its fair share of trailblazing women who spent their lives working to do God’s work of restoring and reconciling communities in Jesus Christ’s name throughout the world.
Here is a list of some of the Lutheran female pioneers who have contributed greatly to this church.
Lutheran missionary Anna Sarah Kugler, M.D., worked 47 years in service to the people of southern India. Anna was the second woman to be sent as a missionary by the General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States, setting sail to India in 1883. She initially worked as a teacher so that she could be in India at the beginning of medical work among its women. In December 1885 Anna was called as the first Lutheran medical missionary.
Elisabeth Fedde was a Lutheran deaconess from Norway. In 1883, at the age of 32, she traveled to New York City and established the Norwegian Relief Society for the Norwegian-American immigrant community. In 1885 Sister Elisabeth opened a deaconess house for the education of women to help her in her ministry. The deaconess house, which consisted of a nine-bed hospital, became the Lutheran Medical Center of Brooklyn. In 1888 she moved to Minneapolis, where she established the Lutheran Deaconess Home and Hospital of the Lutheran Free Church. In 1895 she returned to Norway and married Ola Sletteb. She died on Feb. 25, 1921, and is commemorated on that date.
Elizabeth Platz was the first woman in North America ordained by a Lutheran church body, the Lutheran Church in America. Her ordination took place in late 1970, and earlier that year the ordination of women was approved by both The Lutheran Church in America and The American Lutheran Church. One month later The American Lutheran Church ordained Barbara Andrews as its first female pastor.
Addie Butler was the first African American to hold the ELCA’s top lay position when she was elected vice president of this church in 1997. Addie was born in Philadelphia, and at the time of her election she was a resident of Germantown, Pa. She was assistant to the vice president for academic affairs, Community College of Philadelphia, until 2007. Addie currently is a chapter leader and a national board member of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.
April Ulring Larson was elected the first female Lutheran synodical bishop (ELCA) in North America and the second female bishop in the world in 1992. She served the La Crosse Area Synod as bishop for three six-year terms. April was among the first 10 women to graduate from Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. She and her husband, Judd Larson, were the first married couple to attend Wartburg together.
Kathryn Mary Lohre, director of ecumenical and inter-religious relations for the ELCA, is the first Lutheran and ELCA member to serve as the president of the National Council of Churches as well as the one of youngest women to do so. While her presidency marks these two historic firsts, it is also the first time a woman has succeeded a woman as president of the council. Before joining the ELCA churchwide staff, Kathryn was assistant director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, a research project on the changing religious landscape in the United States. Kathryn participated in a responsive reading at the 57th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service on Jan. 22, 2013.
Jessica Crist, an ELCA pastor and bishop of the Montana Synod, was elected chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops in October 2011. Jessica, who serves a four-year term, is the first female synod bishop to hold this position. The Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of this church that includes the ELCA’s 65 synod bishops, presiding bishop and secretary. Jessica is a member of the ELCA Task Force on Communal Discernment, the Conference of Bishops’ Liaison Committee for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations and its Domestic Ready Bench. She is an ELCA delegate to the National Council of Churches and represented The Lutheran World Federation at the Global Christian Forum.