After about a 5-year break, I am returning to the topic of 19th-century women’s ordination. Currently, I’m working on tracing the stories of the Free Methodist General Conference female delegates from 1890, Anna Grant, (Northern Indiana), and 1894, Clara Sage (Wabash, Ind,), Mrs. Colemen (Wisconsin) & Mrs. Barnhart (Pittsburg). More on what I have found to come.
While my dissertation traced the stories of the two women delegates who spoke up in defense of their ministry (Clara Wetherald & Ida Gage), I have begun to wonder about those who were silent. Why didn’t they speak; what did they think? Some disagreed with women’s ordination (Barnhart & Coleman), while others (Grant & Sage) were supportive and in the case of Grant had an active ministry as an evangelist.
However, as I was research these women I stumbled across a letter in the February 17, 1892 Free Methodist from Clara Wetherald.
This update is almost exactly two years to the day (Feb. 25, 1891) Clara’s husband John was accused in the Saginaw News of falling for the “gay ladies” of Saginaw.John was expelled as a Free Methodist minister; Clara divorced him and then seemed to disappear for about three years until reappearing in 1893 as a ministerial candidate in the Gaylord Mich. Congregationalist Church. This letter fills in the gaps of those missing years.
From Sister Wetherald
Dear Brother Jones: As I am receiving letters calling for help almost constantly, and it is almost impossible for me to answer, will you allow me space in The Free Methodist to state how I am, and that will be sufficient for all? I have labored almost constantly for twenty-five years, never having been laid aside for six months at any one time, until two years ago this month, when I was taken with nervous convulsions, caused by over labor and sorrow. The doctor who attended me forbade my laboring at all until all the strange feelings should have entirely left my head. I was confined to my bed for some time, and have not been able to hold a protracted meeting of any length since, except the meeting held here one year ago, when I assisted what I could during a three month’s siege. When the last trouble came upon me my physical strength gave way and I was again prostrated. Since then I have been unable to labor.
I consented to dedicate the church at Scranton City, Iowa, and took pains to rest and be ready so if possible I could continue meetings after dedication, and go to the other places they desired me in that State; but the day before I was to take the train I was taken violently ill and could not leave my bed.
Many times have my dear ones gathered around my bed to see me pass into eternity; but still I am spared. God, through all these months of affliction and sorrow and trial, has marvelously sustained me, I cannot tell you what a cross it has been to be obliged to retire from the field, where I have labored so long; but I am enabled still to whisper,
I want to thank you all for your forbearance and words of comfort and cheer, and the grace with which you have borne with me in my weakness and imperfections, and especially for the kind advice and comfort afforded by dear Brother and Sister B.T. Roberts. God bless them! Surely many will give them a hearty welcome into the paradise of God. While I have love and fellowship for all Christians, and am glad to co-operate with all I can, yet there is no place like home to me as our beloved Zion. Pray for your sister in Jesus,
Clara L. Wetherald
Holly, Mich. Feb 2, 1892.