The stories of the leaders in the Franconia Mennonite Conference
have been recorded in the official histories. J.C. Wenger's History
of the Mennonites of the Franconia Conference, published
in 1937, and John L. Ruth's Maintaining the Right Fellowship,
published in 1984, tell the stories. But few of us know what
women did. Filling this gap is difficult since sources are incredibly
scarce. Looking, searching, talking, and reading between the
lines may give insight into the contributions of women in Franconia
Conference history. The telling of the stories that follow, though
incomplete, wide-ranging, and meandering, is an attempt to to
read between the lines in order to illuminate a few of the shadows.
The Lot and the Library
First, to prepare for this paper, I checked the indexes of our
two Franconia histories, but the name of Catherine Delp Kulp
(1772-1844) does not appear.. J.C. Wenger tells a story about
the ordination of her husband, Jacob, at Doylestown in 1818.
When the congregation decided they needed another minister, nominations
were received from the men of the congregation. But somehow Catherine
was asked who she would nominate for a new minister. Catherine
said she hardly knew anybody in the congregation, since her family
was from Lower Salford and Hilltown, but she knew that her husband,
Jacob, could preach. From her recommendation, Jacob's name was
put into the lot, and the lot fell on him.
Although Wenger records this delightful story, Catherine's name
does not appear in his index, only her husband's name. John Ruth
finds this story in Wenger's book, and recounts it in his history.
But Ruth doesn't tell us her name; he only tells us she is "Jacob
Another example of a woman whose name was not recorded is in
an essay published in The Pennsylvania-German in April
of 1909. An article about Preacher Jacob Mensch (1835-1912) from
Skippack gives information about his "exceptional library."
The anonymous writer says this about the library: "the nucleus
of his collection having been laid by his grandfather and then
added to from year to year by his father and himself." Someone
has underlined the word "grandfather" with a line out
to the margin and written in a very shaky hand in pencil, "Grandmother
Bechtel." She was the mother of Mary Bechtel (b. 1808),
who married Abraham Mensch, and the grandmother of Jacob Mensch.
Grandmother Mary Bechtel was born in 1773, the daughter of Rosina
Weiss (1747-1806) and Garret Bechtel (d. 1796). This "exceptional
library" is now called "The Jacob Mensch Library,"
and is in the possession of the Mennonite Historians of Eastern
Pennsylvania. Did any of us know that Grandmother Bechtel also
had a part in accumulating this collection?
Wills and Windows
We find the descriptions in early wills written by husbands and
fathers to be generally quite caring and concerned about the
economic and social condition of their wives and families.
As an example, the Bucks County will of John Landis (b. 1720)
of Lower Milford Township, which was probated in 1750, provides
for the family in the following way. Their youngest son was nine
years old when his father died. The will mentions by name only
Samuel and Jacob, both of whom were of age at the writing of
the will. It seems there were nine children in the family, but
it is unclear how many children were under eighteen when their
father died. John Landis gives to his wife Ann, "our Bed
& Bedstead two Cows of her choosing amongst my Cows and the
Still Kettle, and one Horse (Paul) of my Horses, and three Sheep
. . . one third part of my Estate real and Personal be it Lands
or Cattle or any other thing. [She is to have] Privilege to live
on my land in my House and of the Stove room Kitchen, Cellar
and what room she has occasion for . . . but if her having room
in the said House and Stove Room could not be Effected in Peace
and Unity then a house with a warm Room shall be built and added
to my House and firewood ready for use be delivered to her Door."
She is also to get portions of the following crops: "Yearly
twenty Bushels of Grain--to witt one half part to be Wheat and
the other part Rye, one hundred and fifty Pounds of Pork and
fifty Pounds of Beef, one third part of the Kitchen Garden, and
one third part of the orchard Fruit and thirty pounds of flax
the said above mentioned Parts and things my said Son Samuel
Landus shall give unto his Mother out of my said Lands, besides
her share of the said one hundred and fifty Pounds and he shall
keep for her in free fodder and stabling, two Cows, a Horse,
or Mare and three sheep as well Provided for as his own."
John Landis' will is typical of how a husband prior to his death,
made plans that his wife would be adequately supplied and cared
for after his demise. Husbands did this in their wills by instructing
the sons in the family to care for their mothers.
Share and Share Alike
Though there was inequality in may areas, sons and daughters
seemed to be treated equally by parents. Both sexes were educated
in the meetinghouse schools where students studied in quarter-terms,
taught by competent schoolmasters who were members of the congregation,
or who were well situated residents of the community. Perhaps
girls received more days of schooling than boys. An inventory
of 118 fraktur bookplates in manuscript hymn tune note books
made for children in Bucks and Montgomery County meetinghouse
schools from 1780 to 1845 show that of 118 surviving examples
66 were made for daughters.
Parents kept books in which they recorded in great detail items
given to each child. The Clemens family book (1749-1857) notes
the careful recordkeeping of several generations, detailing how
the family wealth was shared. The dowry for daughters consisted
of furniture, kitchen utensils, linens, animals and garden equipment.
Indeed, in reading some of these lists, one wonders what the
husband brought to the household! Later the daughters received
sums of money to equal what the sons had obtained in buildings
and lands. If the land a son received was valued higher than
what his siblings were given, he paid this off in equal shares
to his siblings. If everything was not equal when the last parent
died, the will made provisions for continuing the sharing of
the parent's wealth. Henry Lederach's will of 1799 mentions "My
Book" and tells how son John is to pay off the real estate
in equal share to his five sisters and one brother. Henry reveals
his hope for his children when he writes, "Everyone has
his full equal share and that my children shall share and do
all in peace and quietness is my hearty desire."
Interestingly, this "share and share alike" tradition
continued in the Lederach family into my generation. My father,
Willis Kulp Lederach (1896-1983) a careful keeper of financial
records had a book in which he recorded all funds given to his
four children. Although we all graduated from Goshen College,
my siblings studied at universities in Ohio, California and Texas.
I did my graduate work in Philadelphia and obtained an assistantship
which paid all expenses plus a stipend. Years after I had finished
my graduate work, my father came to me with a sizable check.
He said, "Jane, this is your share to equalize what I paid
for the graduate studies of your siblings." I can remember
the feelings of love, acceptance and worth conveyed by this unexpected
The Knack for Making Money
Although the traditional primary role of a woman in the Franconia
Mennonite Conference community was to be a keeper of the home
and family, there were exceptions. A few women were involved
in the economic growth of the community. Some had special gifts
Ann Garges (1801-1885) married to Henry Lederach (1797-1876),
a blacksmith in the village of Lederach, was a 19th-century general
store proprietor. An account published in 1888 records that "Ann
Garges, like nearly all the Gargeses, had the knack for making
money." Ann, who lived in the village of Lederach, started
a store in her home which was located on a main thoroughfare
where three roads converged at a five-point intersection. Everyday
the stage coach, which ran between Allentown and Norristown,
stopped at this crossroad. When Ann first started her store "there
were no shelves in the room, for she commenced on a small scale,
a large table con[tained] all the dry goods. Groceries and other
things were kept in small quantities, and the stock was increased
no faster than the funds increased, thus doing a sure and safe
business. Gradually, however as he (Henry) worked at his trade
and she tended her store, the funds increased until they had
not only shelves in their room but the shelves full of goods,
and groceries and other things in large quantities, as was becoming
to a country store."
Another general store was opened across the corner at the Lederach
village intersection. However, this competing store did not succeed
because the Lederach store was so well managed that "to
run opposition against them was [like] running against the wall."
God Loveth a Cheerful Giver
Salford Church records show that women contributed significantly
when special funds were requested by the Salford trustees. An
1850 proposal to build a meetinghouse records that from a list
of 67 contributors, ten were women. A March 29, 1856 trustees'
report on the expansion of the cemetery contains a list of 98
contributors of which fourteen were women. In 1874 money was
collected to assist migrating Russian Mennonites and eight women
In 1924 the entire congregation was solicited for funds to build
a new meetinghouse. Three booklets record the names of all contributors
with the amount of the gifts listed. Each booklet begins, "Dear
Brother and Sister: Greetings in Jesus' name. We as a building
committee solicit your aid in the erection of our new meeting-house
which is to cost fifteen thousand dollars. God loveth a cheerful
giver. II Cor. 9:7." These records show 152 contributing
units. Some of these units consisted of wives and husbands as
one unit, some were single men and some were single women. Of
the 152 units, 46 were women contributing in their name alone.
This was a remarkable 30% of the contributors.
The young Lizzie M. Alderfer Heckler (1896-1987) who was widowed
in 1918 when her husband, Harry B. Heckler, died from the flu
epidemic at Camp Mean during WWI, gave $150. Lizzie did not remarry,
but during her long and active life, she supported herself in
the market and restaurant business in Philadelphia. Kate K. Delp
(1847-1926) gave $1000 toward the 1924 building. If $1000 were
converted to current dollar value, the significant amount of
Kate's gift would become obvious.
Given to Hospitality
A wonderful, early example of a generous act of hospitality occurred
about 1783 in Coventry Township, Chester County. There the almost-70-year-old
Susanna Longacre "who labor[ed] under great bodily infirmity"
gave food and drink to four weary, hungry travelers. Susanna's
husband, Jacob, was not home when the travelers stopped. A young
girl of eight or nine years was the only other person in the
house with her. When the travelers arrived, Susanna not only
fed them, but also, at their request, gave them directions to
a site in the community. These travelers turned out to be spies
sent by the Pennsylvania government to see if citizens were assisting
British prisoners. Susanna explained that she fed these travelers,
just as she did any other person who stopped at her door. She
was cited by the authorities and ordered to pay a 150 pound fine
or to receive 117 lashes on her bare back as punishment. She
petitioned the state for relief from the penalty because, she
said, her dwelling place is by the side of a public road, where
the needy traveler has generally partaken of such refreshment
as the house afforded. She said that what she did was "as
act of hospitality corresponding with her general conduct for
many years past." 54 of her neighbors supported her petition
for relief from the punishment.
Feeding tramps and providing sleeping space for the homeless
was part of daily life for 19th-century families. Although accounts
of hospitality are recorded in the name of the male member of
the household, it was the women in the home who did the work.
Jacob Mensch kept 300 tramps in one year. "After giving
them suppers he would shelter them and then give them their breakfasts;
but in no instance would he accept their labor for his hospitality."
Jacob's wife was Mary Bauer (1831-1906). Her daughter Barbara
assisted in serving these meals, and even when her parent s were
not home, the welcoming of visitors continued. On May 25, 1888,
when Barbara was 22, she wrote to her parents who were traveling
in central Pennsylvania, "I had 8 persons for supper Mond.
Other records of hospitality include the account of Souderton
minister Henry C. Krupp, who lived on Smokepipe Road in Franconia
Township, Montgomery County. He fed 180 tramps in 1895, but surely
it was Elisabeth Nice (d. 1900), his wife, who did the actual
feeding and work. Jacob S. Rosenberger, who lived on Cherry Lane
in Souderton, close to the railroad, recorded in 1897 that he
lodged a total of 1148 tramps! This remarkable number of vagrants
sheltered and fed surely caused an inordinate amount of work
the women of the household. Anna G. Heebner (b. 1850) was his
wife, and the daughters were Lily, who was 18, and Annie, who
was just seven years old that busy year.
Good-Hearted, Kind-Hearted, and Peace-Loving
Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the eminent Lutheran pastor at Trappe,
Pennsylvania, records in his journal the death and funeral of
a pious widow, 90-year-old Ann Marie Reiff, who was buried January
8, 1753. He wrote, "she heard the Word of God regularly,
proved herself to be a true widow, lived in solitude, put her
hope in the living God, and was instant in prayer day and night."
Her son joined others in "testifying with tears that she
had been a pious widow, a domestic preacher, an intercessor and
a model of godliness." Affirming her son's testimony, "other
impartial friends concurred, adding that she had been too little
esteemed." Muhlenberg delivered the funeral address for
widow Reiff in the Skippack Mennonite meetinghouse. She is buried
in the Skippack Meetinghouse cemetery.
Anna Marie Reiff had a daughter-in-law, also named Anna. The
younger Anna is remembered through an unusual document which
she wrote in 1773. The manuscript was written with "a neat
hand in English," quite exceptional because Ann lived in
a German-speaking community from which most surviving hand-written
papers are in German.
A story about Catherine Freed, who married George Heckler in
1764, was passed orally through several generations in the Heckler
family. A descendant writing 100 years after Catherine's death,
remembered the family relating that "Catherine was good-natured,
kind-hearted, and peace-loving, and she was generous and kind
to the poor." Catherine was particularly noted in her father,
Peter's, will, written October 29, 1784. He instructed that she
and her sister, Elizabeth, receive extra pounds "for their
faithful attention to him in his old age."
Sabrina Garges, was a resident of Lower Salford Township, whose
18-year-old son, Jacob, bought a farm in 1810. The young Jacob
was a productive, prosperous farmer, but Sabrina, was credited
for his achievement. "[She] stood by him and he succeeded
Miss Gehman's Hospital
Emma Gehman Ruth (1881-1951) was born on the family farm in Bally.
She was baptized in the Bally meetinghouse when she was fifteen.
During her childhood she experienced unusual health problems
which continued into her teen age years. Because of her illness,
she lived in Philadelphia with a woman doctor where she received
treatment and recovered completely.
Possibly because of this unusual circumstance of living outside
of the Mennonite rural, farm community, Emma, as a young women,
traveled alone to Canada, California and Florida. In California
Emma took nurses's training and began to work in the health profession,
concentrating particularly on assisting mothers in childbirth.
On one occasion while working in Florida, she assisted in the
delivery of an unwanted baby. She brought this child north with
her and found a home for him with the family of her brother,
John in Quakertown.
In 1921 Emma bought a house at Third and Juniper Street in Quakertown.
In this house she opened a hospital and convalescent home, a
facility recorded in various sources as "Miss Gehman's Hospital",
"The Gehman Hospital" or "Gehman's Maternity Hospital."
Her facility prospered and became a respected hospital in Quakertown.
In 1927 when it became clear that the community needed a larger
hospital, Emma Gehman was on the committee formed to plan a new
facility. Her building was purchased by two doctors who converted
it to their offices. On June 29, 1927, Emma's services to the
community were recognized as she turned the first spade of dirt
at the ground breaking ceremony. She appears, in her uniform,
on a photograph of officials at the occasion.
As part of her sales agreement in closing the hospital, Miss
Gehman promised not to open another health center within ten
miles of Quakertown. The new hospital opened in 1930 and is today
a major regional facility. After leaving Quakertown, Emma moved
back to her hometown of Bally, married Harvey Ruth, and opened
"Ruth's Convalescent Haven."
"Jacob, Be Quiet About The Ram Once"
Women filled roles as helpers to their ordained husbands. This
co-worker relationship between husbands and wives is first noted
in Franconia Conference history in 1769, when Christian Funk
was about to be ordained as Bishop for the Franconia circuit.
Christian Meyer, Jr., a confirmed deacon at Franconia, objected
to the ordination of a bishop. At a meeting where the ordained
men had gathered, those present seemed unable to change his thinking.
Whereupon Magdalena, Christian Meyers's wife, called him out
of the meeting. When he returned, the meeting proceeded. Christian
no longer registered objection, and the lot was used to ordain
Christian Funk as bishop. This incident may indicate that 250
years ago, wives were present at meetings and were influential
This pattern continues in the dispute Bishop Christian Funk had
regarding his position of support for the colonial government,
instead of continuing loyalty to Britain. Christian Funk was
the only recorder of this incident and possibly presented himself
in a favorable manner. However, his recording of the events that
led to his censure and the years following his excommunication,
is informative in noting how wives addressed issues and were
involved in the discussions as decisions emerged. Those events
When Henry Rosenberger & Jacob Oberholtzer came to Christian
Funk's house to tell Funk he could no longer give communion,
Funk's wife, Barbara Cassel, was present and told Henry Rosenberger
& Jacob Oberholtzer, " You always cause such quarrels
before communion." Then Rosenberger and Oberholtzer spoke
harsh words to Barbara that hurt her deeply.
Next Christian Funk visited the fourteen people who had complained
about him. Funk felt that twelve of them were not totally negative.
But two were. These were Maria Oberholtzer Bechtel, the wife
of Samuel Bechtel, and Elizabeth Bechtel Gehman, the wife of
Abraham Gehman. This mother and daughter team had husbands who
were ministers at Rockhill. When Christian Funk asked them "Did
you complain about me in the inquiry?" Maria Oberholtzer
Bechtel, the mother, replied, "Yes, we did . . . because
you have paid taxes (to the colonial government)." Funk
said that Maria conveyed anger in her speech. Funk told them
this was untrue; he had not paid taxes to the colonial government.
Then, Funk writes, Maria and Elisabeth began to cry and indicated
peace with him. Funk said he did not know if their husbands agreed
with them. Does this mean the husbands were not present during
Referring back to the initial conversation when Jacob Oberholtzer
had told Christian Funk he could no longer give communion, Christian
asked Jacob Oberholtzer if he had made peace with Christian's
wife, Barbara. Oberholtzer said Funk should tell Barbara he had
been in a uncontrollable rage that day when he said things that
hurt Barbara. This continues the pattern showing Barbara had
a persistent role in this conference conflict.
In 1778 when four of the ordained brethren came to Christian's
house to tell him that he was being excommunicated, Christian
was waiting for them with his support group, his wife Barbara
and he sister Frone. Barbara and Frone were actively involved
in the confrontation. At one point his sister Frone said to Hans
Bergey, "Do you call (my brother) a liar to his face."
Hans Bergey replied, "We're not calling him a liar."
And Frone, not quiet and submissive, said, "You won't take
him at his word."
In 1783 after the war was over, and the country was free from
English rule, the controversy did not end, but became more heated.
Specifically in 1783 Christian Funk was charged with the following:
(a)Christian had cheated the township of about 25 pounds (money);
(b) he had taken Jacob Bergey and Christian Meyer's good flour
and replaced it with old wormy flour; (c) he had stolen and secretly
sold Christian Meyer's ram; and (d) he had wanted to take a ram
from Jacob Oberholtzer. In a meeting of ministers, with their
wives sitting by and listening, Oberholzer accused Funk of trying
to take his ram. Jacob Oberholtzer said that Funk had cut off
one of the ram's ears. At that, Oberholtzer's wife, Elisabeth
Clemmer, could not remain silent. She said, "Jacob, be quiet
about the ram once."
Years later, in 1804 to 1806, these men acknowledged that the
accusations had been fabricated. And in 1807, Jacob Oberholtzer,
who had accused Funk of cutting off a ram's ear, approached Funk
in humility and asked forgiveness. Apparently, in the heat of
pettiness of the 1783 charges, Elisabeth Clemmer Oberholtzer
was the one voice of reason. It seems she realized the absurdness
of the charges and told her husband to drop the issue of the
ram's ear. This account shows that the wives of these ordained
men were present when problems were processed; in this case,
they were deeply involved in the incident.
Anna and Annie, Sallie and Caroline
Anna Overholt (1855-1909) married Abraham M. Hunsicker. They
were members at Blooming Glen, but their home was on Fourth Street
in the town of Perkasie. In 1908 Anna became seriously ill. During
this time she became concerned about the children who played
on the streets in front of her home, children who had no access
to Sunday School. She told her husband to contact William M.
Moyer from the Blooming Glen congregation to ask him to buy the
vacant lot close to her home and build a church on the lot. On
January 18, 1909 Moyer had a meeting and by January 30, 1909
the lot was purchased.
The building was quickly erected and first occupied for worship
on August 8, 1909. But alas, Anna died May 5, 1909 and never
entered the building about which she had dreamed.
Annie C. Funk (1874-1912), a missionary in India from the Eastern
District congregation at Hereford, wrote an insightful letter
written from India in 1908. In the letter she lamented her ability
to understand the culture in which she served: "I'm sure
we do many things here which the Hindu mind misunderstands, because
we do not understand them." Again in 1911, , she writes
with discernment, "to present the truths in such a way that
they can grasp the idea is such a difficult matter, because their
mode of thought is so different."
Annie was a passenger on the ill-fated Titanic when it sank,
April 15, 1912. She was returning to her home in Bally for her
An interesting story concerns Sallie M. Alderfer (1899-1994),
who was married to preacher Elias Landis from Salford. In 1928
Enos Godshall placed Elias's name in the lot for preacher at
Salford. Although there were three others in the lot and Elias
was the last to pick one of the four books, the lot fell on him.
Several months after he was ordained, someone in the congregation
asked Enos Godshall why he had nominated Elias, commenting, "Why,
he isn't a good speaker." Enos Godshall gave this reply,
"I knew Sallie would make a good preacher's wife."
She was Sallie M. Alderfer, and she was indeed a dedicated minister's
wife. Elias died in 1957 when Sallie was 58 years old. She lived
to be 94. During those 36 years she continued her ministry, even
though she had lost her role as preacher's wife. One Sunday morning
, several years before she died, I found her in the large main
foyer at Salford This was unusual because she was almost always
in the smaller front foyer. I commented to her that it was uncommon
to find her in the main foyer. She spread her hands apart and
said, "These are my people." She once talked about
the time "we were ordained," very clearly understanding
herself to be a part of that ordination with her husband.
Other women, who were not minister's wives, also filled nurturing
roles. At Salford Caroline A. Alderfer (1915-1991) taught Sunday
School and gave flannelgraph lessons for decades. Recently, her
niece, Linda Alderfer Martin, asked everyone in the congregation
who had been taught by Caroline to stand. A large proportion
of the congregation arose. Linda said that on every birthday
of her many nieces and nephews, Caroline would telephone and
sing her own version of Happy Birthday with words that included,
"Happy Birthday and Jesus loves you".
Missions: Keep The Place Clean
New opportunities for women who were single or who were married
to unordained men opened up when the Franconia Mission Board
was organized in 1917. The first Franconia Conference sponsored
mission started at Norristown in 1919. All the superintendents
who served from 1919 to 1936 were, of course, men. In Wenger's
list of superintendents, Willis Kulp Lederach's term spans the
years from 1921 to 1928.
During these years Willis (1896-1983) and his wife Mary Heckler
Mensch (1898-1980) lived at the mission home at 21 West Marshall
Street. While Willis went to work at the Bridgeport National
Bank, Mary met with and related to people who lived near the
mission home. Prior to their marriage Willis and Mary had been
accepted by the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities as
workers at a Chicago mission. In a letter dated May 10, 1921,
S. E. Allgyer wrote to Mary, "I just want to inform you
that your examination papers have passed through the hands of
the committee and been returned to me, and are marked O K, Br.
Willis the same . . . I am wondering . . . when we can look for
you in Chicago."
Mary and Willis were married on June 1, 1921. During the summer
months, their plans changed when the Franconia Mission Board
invited them to go to the mission in Norristown instead of going
to Chicago. Several decades later, Mary reflected on their seven
years of service at Norristown, "Living at the Mission from
1921 to 1928 was a blessed experience. My time was spent cooking
and cleaning, entertaining and making contacts, visiting S. S.
children's homes and shut-ins, with the unexpected happenings
often challenging both one's know-how and endurance. Missions
stations in the '20's served as free hotels for traveling Mennonites.
One never knew who was coming, or when." In another essay,
Mary wrote, "Washing the linens for overnight guests and
preparing meals for travelers never ceased."
Mary taught in the Sunday School and filled in when visiting
preachers from the surrounding country churches failed to appear
for the worship service. Willis recorded this in his journal,
noting the name of the expected, but absent preacher and adding,
Both Lederachs lamented their lack of wise counsel and preparation
for the mission assignment. Mary wrote, "For the most part
the Mission Board could give very little helpful advice (about
how a mission was to be conducted) ....Some of them (the Mission
Board members) evaluated you proportionately to your reliability
in handling the money in the offering boxes and your ability
to keep the place clean." On the same issue, Willis wrote,
"No examination to take, not told what we were expected
to do. I think one of the Mission Board members told us to take
the offering out of the boxes."
Single women were intensely involved there as mission workers.
After the Lederachs had children, Cora Landes came to help. Mary,
writing in 1928, records, "Cora Landes is the worker here.
The Mission Board pays her a sum each week for support, and we
support our selves." Many single women commuted from surrounding
towns to be "workers" on Sundays. At Norristown Wenger
lists Martha Moyer, Mamie Freed, Alice Keeler, Grace Souder,
Frances Lerch and Verda Moyer.
By 1935 the Mission Board had opened eight mission stations,
providing many service opportunities for women. Interestingly
the Gardenville Sunday School was started in 1920 because an
aged Mennonite sister, Annie A. Kramer from Deep Run, gave $100
to start a Sunday School. And in 1939 Mary Henry Ziegler (1866-1944)
donated a tract of land in Bucks County, adjoining her fruit
farm in Montgomery County, to the rural Finland mission to build
a meetinghouse. Because of her gender, Mary did not speak at
the dedication of the new building.
Early in this century, the Doylestown congregation pioneered
the involvement of women in congregational activities and mission
work. This seems to have been a congregation that promoted mission
activity and affirmed and used women's gifts. Hettie Kulp (1874-1965)
became interested in mission work in 1896 when John S. Coffman
of Elkhart, Indiana held evangelistic services in the Franconia
Conference. After attending Elkhart Institute for two years and
graduating with the class of 1900, she married Jacob D. Mininger
from Souderton. They met when both were teaching at the Philadelphia
Mennonite Home Mission. After the marriage in 1904, Jacob immediately
transferred his membership to the Doylestown congregation. They
would later be mission workers in Kansas City, Kansas.
A list in Wenger's book, remarkable because such a Franconia
Conference record is unusual, lists women from Doylestown who
had worked in mission activities: Catharine B. Kulp at the Los
Angeles Mennonite Mission, Rebecca Histand Graybill at the Reading
Mennonite Mission, Esther Histand at the Cottage City, Maryland
Mennonite Mission, and Ruth Histand Moseman who sailed with her
husband, John to Tanganyika, Africa. In 1935 the Sunday School
gave $127.18 toward the support of Sister Esther Vogt.
Among the Franconia Conference Churches, Doylestown had the first
sewing circle which began in 1908. Lydia M. Gross (1872-1938)
and Mattie Detweiler learned of clothing needs and drove a team
to the home of Preacher A.O. Histand and asked for permission
to start sewing circle work. He was quite enthusiastic about
this new venture and announced the first meeting to the congregation.
Beginning in 1908 the Doylestown circle supplied clothing and
bedding to Mennonite missions in India and South America, and
to eastern Pennsylvania missions, the Eastern Mennonite Home
and the Christ Home at Warminster.
Looking through the lists of women who served with the churchwide
Mennonite Women's Missionary Society the only person recorded
from the Franconia Conference was Lydia Gross from Doylestown.
She was elected to a two-year term as district representative
on August 30, 1917 at a meeting at Yellow Creek near Goshen.
Lydia Gross was involved in the discussions beginning in 1915
concerning the Mennonite Women's Missionary Society request to
become an auxiliary to the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities.
The appeal was rejected. Lydia Gross reported in November 1917
that although sewing circles and raising money for mission purposes
was acceptable, the Franconia Conference leaders preferred that
all money be channeled through the conference. Lydia wrote, "They
do not approve of women having a separate board." Later
this Women's Missionary Society was dissolved and all women's
activities came under the name of "sewing circles".
This Lydia Gross from Doylestown was the only person born and
raised in the Franconia Conference who served on the churchwide
women's organization until 1965 when another Doylestown woman,
Marie Althouse Stoltzfus was appointed. (Between 1917 and 1965
Lois Gunden Clemens served as Secretary of Literature. Lois,
born in the mid-west, lived in Indiana prior to her marriage
to Ernest R. Clemens of the Plains congregation in Lansdale).
Sadly, it seems that the native-born Franconia Conference women
did not have the freedom or encouragement to be involved in churchwide
These stories illustrate how, in the continuing story of the
Franconia Conference, women were effective in directing their
interests and gifts. The stories also speak to women's involvement
in church and community life and in family systems. By recording
and taking a fresh look at these stories, by reading between
the lines, perhaps some shadows have been illuminated and some
insights have been gained.
--Mary Jane Hershey, Harleysville, Pa., was a founder of the
Mennonite Historians of Eastern Pennsylvania, and currently serves
as president. She is also co-owner of Hershey Farm Agency, Inc.
This article was first presented at The Experience of Mennonite
Women Conference, October 20-22, 1994, Harleysville, Pa.
Alderfer, Joel D. Peace Be Unto This House: A History
of the Salford Mennonite congregation.
Bower, Henry S. A Genealogical Record of the descendants of
Daniel Stauffer and Hans Bauer.
Harleysville, Pa. 1897.
Funk, Christian. A Mirror for All Mankind. Norristown,
Heckler, James Y. History of Lower Salford Township in Sketches,
Commencing with a History of Harleysville.
Harleysville, Pa., 1888.
Keyser, Alan G., ed. The Account Book of the Clemens Family
of Lower Salford Township, Montgomery
County, Pennsylvania, 1749-1857. The Pennsylvania
German Society, 1975.
MacMaster, Richard K. Conscience in Crisis Scottdale,
Munro, Joyce Clemmer.Willing Inhabitants, Souderton, Pa,
Muhlenberg, Henry Melchoir, The Journals of Henry Melchior
Muhlenberg in Three Volumes.
Philadelphia, Pa., 1942.
Rich, Elaine Sommers. Mennonite Women: A story of God's Faithfulness.
Scottdale, Pa., 1983.
Strassburger, Ralph Beaver. The Strassburger Family and Allied
Families of Pennsylvania. Gwynedd
Valley, Pa., 1922.
"A Farmer Shelters Tramps for Forty Years," The
Pennsylvania German, Vol. X,
Mennonite Historical Bulletin, October, 1995