Institutionalised lay leadership for women, 1850 approx – 1914
1) Wesleyan women were able to use the structures of Methodism to create their own space and thus to develop a new kind of leadership. The setting up of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society in 1817 led to the formalisation of ‘missionary work’ (as opposed to ‘an overseas appointment’ for preachers), and the development of a discourse which acknowledged ‘missionary work’ as a vocation for women, albeit accessed only through marriage. In Britain, Ladies’ Auxiliaries played a major role in fund-raising among adults, and women also took the lead in administration, teaching and publicity in Juvenile Missionary Societies. Structures were similar in the other branches of Methodism. In 1858 this activity led to the formation of ‘The Ladies’ Committee for the Amelioration of the Condition of Women in Heathen Countries, and for Education etc.’ – the first women-only central structure in British Methodism. This committee and its successors (with changing titles and with ever-closer integration into the general structures and funds of the Methodist Missionary Society, and final merging in 1987 with all women’s groups to form ‘The Women’s Network of the Methodist Church’ (since 2010 ‘Methodist Women in Britain’) gave an institutional base for a significant network of power and influence in the life of the Church.  The original Ladies’ Committee drew on (1) local support, (2) a group of well-connected women – wives, daughters and mothers of male Connexional leaders, (3) the advocacy of women including former missionary teachers with non-Methodist organisations (4) a ‘safe Methodist’ place for the training of teachers (the main emphasis of the Committee) in the Westminster Normal College, founded in 1851, and in 1872, Southlands College was established for a similar purpose. Other Connexions set up their own central women’s organisations around the end of the century.
2) Jennifer Lloyd points out that the programmes of chapel-building in which all branches of Methodism engaged (beginning with the Wesleyans in the 1830’s and followed by the Primitive Methodists and Free Methodists from the 1850s and the Bible Christians from the 1860’s) led to societies incurring huge debts and needing to run major fund-raising programmes. Women played a major part in these, particularly in organising bazaars and tea meetings.
3) When revivalist preaching returned to Britain, following the revival led by Charles Finney in the United States from 1837 onward, women were offered a new justification for insisting on their right to preach. Finney’s teaching offered an entirely internal, individualist experience of justification (Christian perfection), as against the mediation of that experience through Christian fellowship as in the classic Methodist schema. Linked with this experience was the obligation to ‘give an account’, which justified public speaking. Women called to revivalist preaching in this tradition generally tended to move out of the mainstream Methodist organisations in which many of them had begun: Catherine Booth of the Salvation Army is the best-known British example. The confidence given by the assurance of the Holy Spirit gave a spiritual justification for women removing themselves from unsympathetic environments, rather than making the best of it as the earlier women Methodist preachers had done.