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‘Daughter of Dissent’: Celebrating Constance Coltman

14th September 2017

Coltman news mainSomerville celebrates the life and achievements of the social pioneer Constance Coltman, the first woman in Britain to be ordained as a minister in a mainstream church.

17 September 2017 will see the centenary of the ordination of Constance Coltman as a minister of the Congregational Church. Coltman was a lifelong pacifist and a supporter of women’s suffrage and women’s reproductive rights. Born Constance Mary Todd in 1889, she came up to Somerville to read History in 1908.

Constance felt her call to ministry while she was studying at Somerville. She first hoped to seek ordination in the Presbyterian Church she had grown up in, but was told this would be impossible. Then, after the Congregational Council considered the question of the ordination of women ministers in 1909, Constance was accepted to Mansfield College Oxford (at that time a Congregationalist college). This was still more than a decade before women were permitted to take their degrees at Oxford, so it was a London University Bachelor of Divinity Degree that Constance studied for at Mansfield. Even then, there was no certainty that she could seek ordination.

But Constance’s vocation remained firm, and on 17 September 1917 she was ordained into the ministry of the Congregational Union of England and Wales at the King’s Weigh House in Mayfair. Her fiancé, Claud Coltman, was ordained alongside her, and they were married the next day. Constance went on to help found the Fellowship of Women Ministers and, in 1929, the Society for the Equal Ministry of Women and Men, just after women were given the vote on the same terms as men. Constance died in 1969.

Somerville remained part of Constance’s life, not least as her daughter Mary came up to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics in 1942. In the tradition of the College, which honours all of its alumni, one of Somerville’s rooms is still named for Constance and her daughter, and a plaque in the College chapel commemorates Constance’s life.

Find out more about Constance Coltman at a free public lecture in London on Saturday 16 September and on Radio 4’s Sunday Sequence from 10 September.

On Saturday 21 October 2017 The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) will host a commemorative event to mark the centenary. Lectures and discussion will be followed by an ecumenical service of celebration at 5.30 p.m. in Somerville College Chapel which all are welcome to attend.

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