Sparks Flew over Electing Women to the Vestry, 1966

The annual St. George’s congregational meeting began innocuously on January 24, 1966 with a cover dish meal followed by a meeting with “about a hundred persons present” an hour later. Votes were collected to elect the 1966 Vestry and while the counting was progressing, various reports were presented, typical during congregational meetings. Mrs. Carroll Quenzel, president of the St George’s Churchwomen (precursor for the ECW), finished her speech and was given a standing ovation. She had ended her speech with the following: “My only regret is that some of our women are not more active.” That was a hint of things to come. 

After a speech by Rector Tom Faulkner, recognizing the accomplishments of various St. Georgians, the following was recorded in the newsletter: “The air of happy spontaneous enthusiasm and agreement which had pervaded the meeting was broken momentarily when Dr. Carrol H. Quenzel, at the call for new business, moved that women have the privilege of serving on the vestry. His motion was seconded and he spoke in support of it. Then “sparks flew” on both sides and some families split on the vote which found 25 in favor of it, 41 against, 29 abstaining.”  

Since the 17th century only men served on the Vestry. The number was always 12.  Women occasionally sat in representing the “churchwomen.”  The minutes of the vestry always opened with the phrase “Vestrymen present were….”  The decisions of the Church were made by the men in contrast to today where 5 of 12 of the Vestry are female.

A few words about Quenzel are in order. Quenzel was the librarian at Mary Washington College at a time when it was only a female institution. Obviously, he could see the potential of women leadership at the college.  Pete Myers who was at the congregational meeting remembers Quenzel as somewhat of an eccentric who would go to barbecues in his best clothes and abruptly hang up the phone when he was through talking. Betty Stephens worked for him in her first job and remembers as a very kind person but may have been “a closet liberal.” Quenzel is known for authoring the history of the Church published in 1951. Tom Faulkner III remembers his many roles in the Church and called him a “rock” of St. George’s.

Quenzel’s unsuccessful moment may have been more successful than perceived. By February, 1968 Avis Harris had taken her seat as one of the “vestrymen”. While women served, many customs from the past remained.  It was not until 1978 that “vestrypersons” replaced the term “vestrymen” in the minutes.  Incidentally, I could find no record in the archives of the Vestry taking a position of admitting women to the men’s club.

Possibly the Vestry was caught in the changes that the 1960’s brought to America.  However, I would venture the newsletter itself was an agent of change. It was started in part since the Vestry was having difficulty making calls to individual parishioners to update them on the happenings of St. George’s.   The newsletter itself spotlighted the actions of women, the youth group and outreach as they never had in the past.

The story above was taken from History of St. George’s Episcopal Church 1946-1976- The Faulkner Years. With the help of Vicki Lewis, Mary Faulkner collected the newsletters of the Church in three volumes from its beginning in October, 1963 until the time Charles Sydnor became assistant rector in November, 1973, and Tom Faulkner was ready to retire.  She provided her own comments at the beginning of the first volume and the end of third volume. A reading of this collection is a fascinating look not at the Church but of another time and how conventions have changed.  For example, women were always referred to as “Mrs. John Jones” rather than “Betty Jones” in the 1960’s, but by 1971 women were being referred to their own names.

It is not surprising that Quenzel and Mary Faulkner were the editors of the newsletter at the time.  Tom Faulkner III remembers his mother as wanting to spotlight the accomplishment of lay persons within the Parish in the newsletter.  The newsletter was successful in that it brought the life of the Parish to more people.  As Mary wrote in the 2004 introduction: “It is my hope that whoever reads these issues of The St Georgian will see the spark of love and support that all of these wonderful people of St. George’s gave to the continuation of their church and its mission.”