Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana Archives

Women's Auxiliary - Episcopal Church Women

Women have played an important role from the beginning of the Episcopal Church, though they were excluded by canon law for much of its early history from serving with men in any formal leadership role. That included serving on vestries or representing parishes at annual convocations. Accordingly, women developed separate organizations within individual parishes, raising money for buildings and rectories, socializing, and promoting other charitable work. They cared for vestments and altar linens through the formation of altar guilds, and, until some bishops outlawed them, they hosted community fairs where they sold food and knitted articles they had produced, raising at times substantial funds that they kept separate from general parish funds.

After the Civil War, church women sought to organize their efforts more formally at the national level. The result was the Women's Auxiliary, founded nationally by the General Convention of the Church in 1871 in Baltimore. Its founding members intended it as both a social and missionary outlet for women's service at a time when the overall church structure remained highly patriarchal. Chapters of the Women's Auxiliary were founded both in parishes and at the diocesan level. These chapters raised money for a variety of causes, including education, health, child protection, and alleviation of poverty, both at home and abroad. Many members worked actively for women's suffrage, though it was not officially part of the Auxiliary's mission. These women were also involved in many other civic organizations, promoting parks, playgrounds, boulevards, and other city beautification efforts.

The Diocese of Northern Indiana chapter of the Women's Auxiliary traces its origin to 1904 and continues its work under a different name into the twenty-first century. All women canonically resident in the diocese are eligible for membership. Its ministries include the Bishop's Emergency Discretionary Fund, the Memorial Fund (which funds scholarships), the Church Periodical Club, Episcopal Relief and Development, and the United Thank Offering. The latter organization encouraged church members to embrace and deepen a personal daily discipline of gratitude, to give thanks daily to God in prayer, and to offer financial contributions for each blessing using a UTO blue box. All of the raised funds then went to support the mission and ministry of the church within the Anglican Communion.

In 1963, the Auxiliary was renamed the Episcopal Church Women or E.C.W. The organization remained extremely popular throughout the 1960s and 1970s as both a social and a service organization. Every parish in the diocese had an active chapter and continued to send representatives to diocesan-level events. Women cooked, hosted parish dinners, made a variety of crafts, published cookbooks, and raised money for a variety of missionary and outreach causes.

Changes in American society in the 1960s brought pressure on Episcopal Church leaders to change its long-standing patriarchal rules and allow women a greater participatory role in church governance. In some dioceses, this change occurred more quickly than in others. At some length the canons of the Diocese of Northern Indiana were amended by convention in 1967, allowing women to serve as diocesan and parish officers. Women began serving on vestries, but the change occurred gradually. Ann Washington Bromley became one of the first woman to serve on a vestry in 1971 at St. Augustine's in Gary, followed soon after by Alice Bird of Trinity, Fort Wayne. Nancy Moody of Gethsemane Church in Marion served as a representative to the General Convention in 1969.

By the 1980s, membership in the E.C.W. began to evolve. Many women had begun to enter the workforce in the 1970s and had less time for church club activities during the week. Many of those who remained active in E.C.W. were often of an earlier generation who had not worked outside the home. In some parishes, the E.C.W. and other social guilds died out, while in others their work continues, albeit on a much smaller scale than in its heyday. Traditional gender roles in other areas have blurred. In some parishes, men now play an active role with women on altar guilds.

A variety of other organizations for women and girls existed during the first century of the diocese. A popular organization in some parishes is the Daughters of the King, whose members pledge to follow Jesus as Lord of their lives and devote themselves to prayer, service, and evangelism. Membership also includes women in the ELCA Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church. Other typical organizations were guilds, often named for some female saint, which usually had a social or missionary purpose.

Many other women's organizations are now largely defunct in the diocese. The Girls' Friendly Society, which became popular in the 1920s, had originated in England and sought to empower girls and young women aged 5 to 25 by "encouraging them to develop their full potential through programs that provide training, confidence building, and other educational opportunities." Many parishes had their own chapters. The Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor, a non-denominational organization, provided a service and fellowship opportunity for youths of both sexes. The Church Service or Social Service League and the Church Periodical Club, both of which were later incorporated into E.C.W., offered another opportunity for missionary work. The Church School Service League provided classes on a variety of topics to its members. The St. Barnabas Guild for Nurses was a non-denominational Christian organization for nurses in the Church. Between 1919 and 1930, the diocese produced printed reports of these groups in combined form, including reports from many individual parishes.

At the diocesan level these organizations participated in provincial conventions held annually in different cities. Northern Indiana belonged initially to the Synod of the Mid-West, which was later further divided into smaller provinces, including Province V. Published minutes of these gatherings reflected a wider effort to promote the ministry of the Church to larger regions of the country where it had little representation.


Mary S. Donovan, A Different Call: Women's Ministries in the Episcopal Church, 1850-1920  (Connecticut: Morehouse Publishing, 1986).

Diocese of Northern Indiana, Church Service League Annual Reports, 1924-1930.


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