50 years Ago – First Woman Reader Licensed in Church of England

In July 1969, Rosamund Essex was the first woman to be licensed as a Reader in the Church of England. She was educated at Bournemouth High School for Girls, and at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, where she obtained her M.A. She was the editor of The Church Times from 1950 to 1960.

In her biography (Woman in a Man’s World) she wrote “The highlight of all my work in the Church came in 1969 when quietly, almost unnoticed by the Church at large, a canon law was given royal assent which allowed women to be readers. Few people recognized at once what a revolutionary step this was.”

This happened only 10 years after a motion asking the Convocations to consider such a change was carried in the House of Laity of the Church Assembly, the predecessor of the General Synod. (10 years is remarkably quick for the Church of England).

In 1959, when the motion was proposed, Mr C. E. Jones, of Chester, suggested that only in the Church did the “heavy shackles of sex prejudice” hamper women’s advancement in society. “If we are afraid to risk unpopularity, we shall never get anywhere.”

In December 1961 the Bishop of Southwell, Dr F. R. Barry, asked “If a woman can become a Minister of the Crown, the Vice-Chancellor of a university, or the Queen of England, why cannot she be a lay reader in the Church?”.

Between October 1969 and December 1970, forty-four women were licenced as lay readers

In March 1994, the first group of women were ordained priests at Bristol Cathedral.

In January 2015, at York Minister, the Revd Libby Lane was consecrated as the first woman bishop in the Church of England.

We give thanks for the sterling work of all Readers, Priests and Bishops, whether male or female, without whom the church as we know it would not exist.