Celebrate Helen Barrett Montgomery’s Birthday, Today
Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934) was born 146 years ago, today, 31 July 1861. A friend of Susan B. Anthony and, like Anthony, a pioneer feminist and suffragist, Montgomery was active in social reform and became elected to the Rochester, NY city council–in a day when it was still considered shocking for women to walk outdoors unaccompanied or to speak up in mixed gender public assemblies. A graduate of Wellesley College(A.B., 1884), Montgomery placed first in her Greek course, which came in handy later. A Baptist layleader, Montgomery worked hard for the cause of missions, writing books on missions and prayer. She also became the first known woman to translate the New Testament from Greek to English and have the translation published professionally. Montgomery’s translation of the New Testament was published by the American Baptist Publication Society (forerunner of Judson Press) in 1924 as a celebration of ABPS’s 100th year of publication–which is why it was called the Centenary New Testament. It remained in print until the 1990s (and I used to give it to women ministers when they were ordained). Montgomery’s translation appears to have been the first to put titles on chapters and sections of the Bible and moved the verses to the side of the page to make it easier to read the text in paragraphs.
In 1921, Montgomery was elected President of the Northern Baptist Convention (now American Baptist Churches, USA), the first woman to serve as head of a major Christian denomination and one of the few laypeople to hold such an office. Although never ordained, Montgomery was licensed to preach and frequently led the worship at Lake Avenue Baptist Church, Rochester, NY when the pastor was absent. For ten years she was president of the Women’s American Baptist Missionary society and she was also elected president of the National Federation of Women’s Boards of Foreign Missions.
In addition to missions and the struggle for universal suffrage, Montgomery also championed such causes as the elimination of poverty, free public education, and peace.
Happy Birthday, Sister Helen! May your life and witness inspire many today, especially among women and Baptists!
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