“Women pastors have taken decades to put an end to opposition”

Madeleine Blocher-Saillens (1881-1971), first female pastor of French Protestantism.

Lauriane Savoy is a historian and theologian at the University of Geneva. With Pioneers. How women became pastors (Labor and Fides, 384 pages, 24 euros), she crosses religious history and gender history in a dense and demanding work, which provides precious keys to reflect on the place of women in Christianity. In an interview at Worldshe looks back on the bitter struggle of the first women pastors.

When did the first women pastors appear?

Lauriane Savoy: There are some exceptional cases of women preachers from the middle of the 19th century.e century in the United States, and at the beginning of the XXe century in Europe – Madeleine Blocher-Saillens (1881-1971), the first French woman pastor, was appointed in 1929. As part of my investigation, I for my part focused on French-speaking Switzerland, where the female pastorate appears during the 1920s.

It should be noted from the outset that this is not without controversy. For a long time, criticism of this innovation was strong and it took about forty years before the opposition died out. At the end of the 1960s, the debate was over: women pastors no longer posed any problem. Today, 40% of pastors are women in Switzerland and France. In Sweden and Germany, women pastors are even in the majority.

In this Switzerland of the 1920s on which you worked a lot, what explains why people began to accept the idea of ​​a female pastorate?

We can very simply note that women become pastors from the moment they can study. To be a pastor, the main qualification necessary is indeed to have obtained a degree in theology.

Therefore, from the moment that women have the right to study in faculties of theology, the question of their access to the pastorate arises. In Switzerland, the university really opened up to women in the 1910s. The Churches were then led to position themselves and accepted that a few pioneer women became pastors from the 1920s.

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But it is necessary to include this access of women to the pastorate in a broader social evolution. At the beginning of the XXe century, demands for women’s rights are gaining momentum. These concern civic rights, starting with the right to vote, but also the possibility of leading a more independent life, particularly in the professional field. We are going to see certain professions previously reserved for men open up to women, including that of pastor.

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