Women and Methodism

In this page:

Secondary sources within the Methodist Archives

Printed books and pamphlets

Approximately fifty thousand printed books and pamphlets are on deposit at the MARC, dating from the sixteenth century to the present. The core of the eighteenth-century holdings is represented by the works of John Wesley, numbering over 1,300 items. The combined personal libraries of Charles Wesley and John Fletcher of Madeley comprise an additional six hundred volumes.

There is a very fine collection of eighteenth-century anti-Methodist printed material, consisting of several thousand items including several works by the Baptist Anne Dutton, and a collection of six thousand tracts and pamphlets dating from 1568 to 1933.

In addition, there are many thousands of published works covering the history and theology of Methodism and related evangelical movements in Britain and overseas, many of them from the libraries of the former ministerial training colleges at Richmond and Hartley Victoria. It is also the policy of the MARC to acquire copies of modern published books relating to the subject.

Of particular significance to women's studies is the very rich collection of local histories, biographies and collected lives. The earliest of these date from the late eighteenth century and include works concerning the pioneer of the Sunday School movement Hannah Ball (1733-92), the preacher and educationalist Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher (1739-1815), the West African Missionary Hannah Spurr-Kilham (1774-1832), and from a later period the Bible Christian Mary O'Bryan-Thorne (1807-83).

Finding Aids: Card index and printed lists.

[The Wesley Deaconess Magazine]

Front cover of an issue of The Deaconess Magazine.

The MARC has 5000 individual volumes of magazines and journals.


Since the first issue of the Arminian Magazine in 1778, the Methodist Church has been active in the publishing of magazines and newspapers. In addition to articles and letters, the Connexional (national) publications contain obituaries for men and women of all social classes as well as news from the circuits such as anniversary celebrations and chapel openings. It is also common to find detailed descriptions of conversions, deathbed narratives and other spiritual experiences.

Specialized publications exist for most aspects of Church life. Of particular relevance for women's studies are the magazines of the Wesley Deaconess Order and the Women's Network of the Methodist Church.

Manuscript sources within the Methodist Archives

Select collections of personal papers

Wesley Archive

The Methodist Archive Reseach Centre (MARC) has the world's largest surviving collection of manuscripts relating to John and Charles Wesley and other members of their family. The collection comprises approximately five thousand letters, diaries and - associated papers of the period 1700-1865.

Noted female correspondents of the Wesleys included Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon (1707-91), and the pioneer preachers Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher (1739-1815) and Sarah Crosby (1729-1804). Also represented are letters and spiritual testimonies of female Methodists from every social class. The correspondence covers a broad subject spectrum from theology and the Church to medicine and fashion.

In addition to the papers of John and Charles Wesley, the collection contains several hundred letters and diaries of female members of the Wesley family. These include their seven sisters and `The Mother of Methodism', Susanna Wesley (1670-1742). From a later period there is a particularly fine collection of personal papers relating to the gifted writer and artist Sarah Wesley junior (1759-1828).

Finding Aids:

  • Card index,
  • published transcripts of John Wesley's correspondence,
  • printed calendars of the Wesley papers.

The Fletcher-Tooth collection

One of the largest manuscript collections in the MARC, rivalling the Wesley archive in size. It relates to the evangelical clergyman John Fletcher (1729-85) and his wife, the pioneer preacher and educationalist Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher (1739-1815). A large part of the collection relates directly to Mary's life during her widowhood, and includes several thousand letters, diaries and scripture notes.


Of particular interest is Mary Bosanquet-Fletcher's manuscript autobiography, her manuscript lives of Sarah Ryan (1724-68) and Sarah Lawrence, and a collection of papers relating to her oversight of the Methodist society in the village of Madeley.

Finding Aids: Handlists

The Lewis Court Bible Christian collection

This collection of almost four hundred manuscripts, books and illustrations documents the history of the Bible Christian Connexion in Britain and overseas from 1815 to 1907 and of the United Methodist Church from 1907 to 1932. The collection includes correspondence of several female itinerants including the `Maiden Preacher' Mary O'Bryan-Thorne (1807-83) and her granddaughter Serena Thorne-Lake (fl. 1865).

Finding Aids: Printed calendar

Methodist letters and diaries

In addition to the above major collections are smaller deposits of personal papers for over four thousand ministers and lay people from the eighteenth century to the present. They include manuscripts relating to prominent female Methodists and evangelicals such as Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon (1707-91), Mary Barritt-Taft (1772-1851), Hester Ann Roe-Rogers (1756-94) and Elizabeth Tooth (d. 1864).

Finding Aids:

  • Card index,
  • handlists/printed calendars to some collections

Official archives of the Methodist Church

Important: The Archivist must be consulted regarding access to papers created within the last fifty years.

Minutes of Conference and related papers

These exist in printed and manuscript form from the first Conference of 1744 to the present. All the major pre-1932 Methodist denominations are represented. In addition to the minutes, the collection includes letter books, agendas, circulars, private correspondence and the daily record of proceedings.

The archive of the policy-making body of the Church

This collection is a primary source of information concerning all the major issues which have been faced by Methodism since the earliest days of the movement.

Finding Aids:

  • Card index and printed lists

Connexional [Church] committees

Reporting to the Conference are committees and working parties, established to examine particular issues. An example of the type of records of interest to women's studies within this collection are those concerned with the debate in the 1960s regarding the ordination of women.

Finding Aids:

  • Card index and printed lists

Circuit Plans

Circuit Plans contain the names of local preachers with a list of their appointments to preach at particular chapels or 'preaching stations'. They can be used to trace not only the names and geographical distribution of female preachers at different periods but also the way that their contribution was viewed - in the early nineteenth century many Methodist societies would only represent the names of their female preachers by initials or an asterisk.

The Circuit Plan collection at the MARC is the largest in Britain and covers two hundred years of Methodist history. It is representative of every Methodist denomination and most circuits, but it is not comprehensive.

Finding Aids:

  • Card index and a printed list of a part of the collection

Divisional Records

Divisions are Connexional departments charged with administrative responsibility for specific areas of Church life. Before the reorganization of the Church in 1995, Divisions existed for Social Responsibility, Education and Youth, Property, Ministries, Overseas, Finance and Home Missions.

Large quantities of Divisional records have been deposited at the MARC. The most important for the study of religion and gender are those for Social Responsibility, Home Missions and Ministries. The several Divisional collections include minutes, accounts, correspondence files, statistics, policy documents and publications.

Divisional collections typically date from the late nineteenth century to the present. The Wesleyan Methodist Connexion is the best represented of the pre-union churches, although there is information relating to most of the major Methodist denominations.

Finding Aids:

  • Card index and printed lists

Organizations and Special Interest Groups within Methodism

Such groups are often affiliated to particular Divisions within the Church such as the former Primitive Methodist Women's Missionary Federation or the Women's Fellowship. Others such as the Wesley Deaconess Order have an independent existence within Methodism. The deposited archives of such organizations tend to be diverse and incomplete, ranging from newsletters and magazines to selected correspondence files and minutes.

Finding Aids:

  • Card index and printed lists