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The First Woman to be Voted Recommendation as a Pulpit Speaker by the General Conference of The United Brethren Church – 1851

The Reverend Lydia Sexton was born in Rockport, New Jersey on April 12, 1799 to a Baptist preacher named Thomas Casad and his wife Abigail Tingley Casad.  At age 20, Lydia married Isaac Cox, two years her junior. Together they had one son John Thomas, who was born February 7, 1821 in Fairfield, Ohio.  A year later, her husband Isaac went to seek work in Indiana, where he was severely injured in a fall.  He died in November, 1822.  In 1824, Lydia married Moses Moore – a United States surveyor who had traveled extensively.  He became a school principal in Middletown, Ohio.  Their son, Finley Moore, was born January 28, 1825. Within eight months the family again met tragedy – Moses Moore died.  Lydia then met Joseph Sexton.  Though he was eight years her junior, they were finally married on September 12, 1829; she was to live with him for fifty years.  Together they had three more sons, Thomas, Zadok, and David. They moved with the frontier – from Ohio, to Indiana, to Illinois, and finally to Kansas.

Convicted by remembrances of her own early family home, she began to take an interest in religion.  She visited a meeting of the United Brethren Church in Germantown, Ohio.   There she found fostering fathers and nursing mothers – a church home.

After hearing her speak at a love-feast, an elder in the church offered her a preaching license at once.  Thus began a long struggle with her call.  She refused the license, though she continued to preach.  After a year of preaching she was again offered a license and again she refused.  Finally, in 1851, her class meeting took the matter into its own hands and voted to license her. They presented their decision to the quarterly meeting of the United Brethren Illinois Conference, and she was licensed.

 After renewing her license quarterly from 1851-58, Lydia asked that it be made an annual license, saving her a great deal of travel in renewing it.  The General Conference, however, had decided to license no woman, for fear that they would ask to be elders and even bishops!  Yet they could not deny Sexton’s gifts and the validity of her ministry, so they “recommended” her as a preacher for life and gave her “credentials” as an approved “pulpit speaker” and a “useful helper in the work of Christ.”

 At age seventy, when most people’s life work is complete, Sexton moved to Spring Hill, Kansas, in 1869.  There she became the first woman prison chaplain at Kansas State Prison, serving from January 29, 1870 to February 5, 1871.  By November 1870, she had developed a class system using inmates: two “exhorters,” four class leaders, and five studying for the ministry, from a congregation which numbered only twenty in April.   Though she resigned a year later, she continued to preach and minister there until her death, baptizing and giving communion to a class that eventually numbered nearly one hundred.