Since 1861 women have been deaconesses in the Church of England but no women became full deacons until 1987. During the First World War women were appointed as lay readers and even led missions and churches, but that practice stopped after the war and was only started again in 1969. The first women priests were ordained in 1994, twenty years ago. In 2010 more women were ordained than men. The wider Anglican Church has ordained bishops for several decades, but the Church of England has held fast against promoting women until just recently. Although there was some dissent, the vote in favor was significant at all levels, including in Parliament.
A descendant of the founders of Drexel University in Philadelphia, Katharine Drexel was born into a philanthropic family. At a private audience with Pope Leo XIII, Katharine asked the Pope to send missionaries to the Native Americans whose plight had come to her attention during travels to the Western United States. The Pope’s answer was to suggest that Katharine become a missionary herself. She followed that call and used her own fortune to establish 50 missions for Native Americans in 16 states.
Katharine Drexel then turned her attention to blacks living under Jim Crow laws. In spite of threats from the Klan and other segregationists, she founded a secondary school for blacks, the first institution of its kind in the United States. Eventually she established schools for blacks in 13 states and her first secondary became Xavier University.
Today a prep school in New Orleans bears her name. I took this photo of the Katharine Drexel Preparatory School marching band during Mardi Gras last year.