Olympia Brown Willis

Olympia Brown Willis

Olympia Brown was the first woman to graduate from a theological school in the U.S. and the first fully ordained female minister.

A Universalist, Brown attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1854. The following year she transferred to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Inspired by the preaching and example of Congregationalist Antoinette Brown Blackwell, whom she persuaded to speak at Antioch, Brown pursued a career as a minister. She attended Canton Theological School at St. Lawrence University and was ordained in 1863.

Brown went on to serve as minister at Universalist churches in Wisconsin, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Connecticut. According to her autobiography, she particularly enjoyed her time at the Universalist Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where her most famous parishioner was P.T. Barnum.

Brown worked throughout her life to expand rights for women. Like MHC alumna Lucy Stone before her, she kept her own name after marriage. She was a founder of the New England Woman’s Suffrage Association; she also served as president of the Wisconsin Woman’s Suffrage Association for more than 30 years and as vice-president of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association.

In November 1920, at the age of 85, Brown cast her ballot in the general elections. Of the pioneering suffragists—among them Lucy Stone, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton—only Brown lived long enough to witness the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment.

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Mount Holyoke College

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