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UMW Turns 150: Claire Cunningham

August 21, 2019
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Claire Cunningham was photographed at The Women’s Council of the Dallas Arboretum Literary Symposium last year. (Courtesy of Preston Hollow People.com)

Claire Cunningham has been a member of FirstChurch since birth, calling this church home for 90 years. She has blazed new trails for women inside and outside the church. Here, she recalls a time when she hesitantly stepped into a leadership role that would end up setting the stage for women’s participation in UMC affairs for years to come.

“In 1972 I was asked to chair the first COSROW (General Commission on the Status and Role of Women) for the North Texas Conference. I wasn’t a militant feminist – that wasn’t my thing – but I stepped out because Dr. George Boswell really wanted me to do this. I went to the COSROW training in Denver, and it was a real eye –opener. The statistics were incredible, seeing the low number of women involved (in Annual and General Conferences). They taught us strategies to get women get elected to conference, etc. So I came back from that training and organized the first women’s caucus. There was a lot of conflict within UMW, because some believed that (type of advocacy) wasn’t what we should be doing.

So Annual Conference comes around, and our strategy was to hold the line – choose who you’re voting for, and just keep voting for them. Judy Gilchrist of Sulfur Springs was a delegate before – and that first vote came in and Judy was high on the list. Not only was she elected as a delegate, she was the first woman chair elected, and three out of six delegates were women.  The strategy worked.

And the men were very surprised.”

Claire went onto be the first female chairperson of the FirstChurch Administrative Board in 1979. According to the church history volume, Church at the Crossroads: “five more women held the post of Administrative Board chair over the next 15 years, and the nominating committee became “gender blind” in nominating people for any leadership position.”

We’re proud of all our trailblazing UMW women and their contributions to FirstChurch. Come celebrate this amazing organization and its members Sunday, Sept. 8 after 11 a.m. service.

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We would love to meet you! From our Rotunda Theatre to the magnificent bell tower, we have lots of corners to show you and a great history to share. We look forward to answering your questions about our ministry, theology and outreach, and invite you to join us for a tour.

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