Women’s History Month

There are so many women who have shaped our Baptist faith throughout the generations.

We are excited to introduce a few of them!

Meet Ila Steinkamp

Ila Steinkamp was Second Baptist’s first woman deacon, ordained in the mid-1970’s during a time when women in leadership roles in the church was very rare and highly debated.

Ila was a very strong-willed woman. She was not afraid to speak up and was always eager to serve her church and God’s people. She was quick to share her opinions, even if she disagreed with you. Whether she agreed or not, she was always supportive of her church and her friends. She was a faithful and dependable church member and deacon and served as a messenger to the Arkansas Baptist Convention on behalf of Second Baptist Church.

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Ila stayed busy beyond her dedication to Second Baptist as well. A nurse by trade Ila was beloved by her coworkers at UAMS. She was a member of the Pulaski County Audubon Society and served on several committees throughout her tenure.

Ila blazed a trail for so many women at Second Baptist and beyond. For her life and her legacy, we give thanks!

Meet Edna Lee de Gutiérrez

Edna Lee de Gutiérrez grew up in Mexico City.

Since her father was of Chinese origin and her mother of Mexican origin, Enda grew up in an environment where all people were welcomed and respected, regardless of race, nationality, or social status. While her family was financially stable when she was born, sickness and injustice soon resulted in their poverty. Her Christian parents, however, taught their children that they were rich because they had God’s abundant wealth in Jesus Christ. Edna wrote, “There were days we didn’t have much to eat, but love, care, encouragement, faith, and hope were always plentiful.”

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Edna’s upbringing led her to commit her life to ministering to the poor and to serving the Baptist community around the world. In 1958 she married Rolando Gutiérrez, who was pastor of several churches in Managua, Nicaragua, as well as Horeb Baptist Church in Mexico City. Horeb was a small congregation, which was committed to meeting the needs of the poor and the imprisoned and working with victims of illiteracy, drug addiction, and prostitution. When an earthquake hit Mexico City in 1985, Edna led the women in the congregation to transform the church’s facility into a relief center, feeding hot meals to 6,000 people each day for three months and caring for forty-five families living in tents. When her husband died in 1997, Edna became pastor of Horeb Baptist Church and served in that position for more than eighteen months. She shared her experience and wisdom as a minister, a leader among women, and a minister’s spouse in three books: Mujer; Para la esposa del pastor, con amor; and La vida en el Espiritu.

Edna’s ministry among Baptists stretched throughout Latin America and across the world. She served as the first woman president of the Mexican National Baptist Youth Union. In addition, she was president of the Nicaraguan Baptist Convention and president of the Baptist Women’s Union of Latin America. In 1985, Edna began a five-year term as president of the Baptist World Alliance’s Women’s Department. At the Sixteenth Baptist World Congress Gathering in Seoul, South Korea, in 1990, she was elected vice president of the Baptist World Alliance. She also served on the BWA’s general council, executive committee, and church leadership commission.

Throughout her life, Edna Lee de Gutiérrez partnered with her husband and women and men in her church and around the world to do ministry. She wrote, “There is a blessing in the partnership of the ministry but let us not forget that we have our own resources. Freely we have received, let us freely give what we have.”

Meet Helen Barrett Montgomery

Helen Barrett was born in Kingsville, Ohio, in 1861, the eldest child of Adoniram Judson Barrett and Emily Barrows.

A graduate of Wellesley College and Brown University, Helen taught school before marrying William A. Montgomery and moving in 1887 to Rochester, New York. She and her husband generously committed their lives and resources to their church, Lake Avenue Baptist Church of Rochester, where Helen’s father pastored.

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At her church, Helen began what would become a 150-member women’s Bible class, which she taught for forty-four years. She often preached in her father’s place, and after his death in 1889, she filled the pulpit until the church was able to call a new pastor. In 1892, Helen was licensed to preach by her church.

Both a denominational and ecumenical leader, Helen was elected as president of the Northern Baptist Convention in 1921, the first woman to serve as president of any American Protestant denomination. During her tenure, the convention found itself embroiled in controversy. Under her wise leadership, the disagreement was settled, and division avoided.
Helen passionately advocated for world missions and authored eight books on subjects ranging from prayer to missions. Her most notable work is her 1924 translation of the New Testament into “the language of everyday life,” making her the first woman to translate the New Testament from Greek to English.

In Rochester, Helen was a pivotal figure for women’s rights in educational and civic endeavors. In 1893, she helped organize the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union, which served poor women and children. She led, along with Susan B. Anthony, in the women’s suffrage movement and campaigned for temperance. She spearheaded the movement to make the University of Rochester coeducational and served as the first woman on the Rochester Board of Education.

At the 1923 meeting of the Baptist World Alliance in Stockholm, Helen was one of only two women speakers, addressing the crowd on “New Opportunities for Baptist Women.” She preached that Jesus was “the great Emancipator of women,” who “alone among the founders of the great religions of the world looked upon men and women with level eyes, seeing not their differences but their oneness, their humanity.” She concluded, “In the mind of the Founder of Christianity there is no area of religious privilege fenced off for the exclusive use of men.”

Upon her death in 1934, Susan T. Laws wrote, “Around the world women of many lands, woman of many denominations, join hands and hearts in praising God for the beautiful life of Helen Barrett Montgomery.”

Meet Ella Pearson Mitchell

Ella Pearson was born in 1917 in the parsonage of Olivet Presbyterian Church, Charleston, South Carolina, where her father pastored.

She began her ministry as an eight-year-old girl, riding on the handlebars of his bicycle, accompanying him on pastoral visits.

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When she was older, because of her father’s busy traveling schedule, Ella often preached in his churches. While a student Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama, she majored in religion, which was no small feat given that the college did not offer a major in religion. Determined to complete the degree, Ella waited until the college hired professors to teach the necessary courses and crammed all her religious classes into her senior year. At Talladega, she also led the chapel services, where she read the scripture, delivered the messages, and sewed the cloth for the altar and the podium.

In 1941, Ella enrolled at Union Theological Seminary in New York, graduating two years later and becoming one of the first African Americans to graduate from that seminary. She then served for two years as minister of education at a Presbyterian church in New York City.

Ella married Baptist minister Henry Mitchell in 1944, and she soon became a Baptist. Together they were ministry partners for sixty-four years. Ella served as minister of education at the Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles, as associate professor of Christian education at the School of Theology at Virginia Union University, and as the first woman dean of Sisters Chapel at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. In October 1978, after thirty-five years of ministry, Ella was ordained by Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, California.

In semi-retirement, Ella and Henry served for twelve years as visiting professors of homiletics at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. She also edited or co-edited six volumes of sermon by women and co-authored two books with her husband. The ministry couple team taught at seminaries from coast to coast and in England, Russia, and Zaire.

Ella Mitchell passed away on November 20, 2008. But her preaching influence lives on through the countless women and men she taught, mentored, and inspired.

Meet Martha Stearns Marshall

Martha Stearns Marshall, along with her husband, Daniel, converted to Christianity during the First Great Awakening.

The couple eventually migrated from New England to Virginia, where they were introduced to Baptist beliefs. Concluding that scripture taught believer’s baptism, they were soon baptized and joined a Baptist church, and Daniel was licensed to preach. But both Marshalls were preachers, and Martha’s zeal apparently equaled that of her husband.

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In 1755, the Marshalls, along with Martha’s brother, Shubal Stearns, and his small congregation in Virginia, moved to North Carolina. The group settled at Sandy Creek and established a Baptist church. The church became the most influential Separate Baptist congregation in the South, and there Martha often stood alongside Shubal to preach. A few years later, the Marshalls moved to nearby Abbott’s Creek and founded a new church, and in 1771, they moved to Columbia County, Georgia, where they established in Kiokee the first missionary Baptist church in Georgia.

In all these churches, Martha provided enthusiastic leadership and evangelistic preaching. Virginia Baptist historian Robert Semple wrote in 1810: “Mr. Marshall had a rare felicity of finding in this lady a Priscilla, a helper in the gospel. In fact, it should not be concealed that his extraordinary success in the ministry is ascribable in no small degree to Mrs. Marshall’s unwearied, and zealous cooperation. Without the shadow of a usurped authority over the other sex, Mrs. Marshall, being a lady of good sense, singular piety, and surprising elocution, has, in countless instances melted a whole concourse into tears by her prayers and exhortations.”

Martha’s legacy of preaching lives on through the countless number of Baptist women who step bravely into the pulpit and share the good news.

A special thanks to Baptist Women in Ministry for providing information about these amazing Baptist women.

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