Women’s ordination 1920-1940

13. Oct, 2021

Women as leaders of parishes

17 October 1919 the provisional government [of Latvia] issued “Provisional regulations for the councils of Evangelical Lutheran parishes”, which ordered that parish councils should be elected and convened as soon as possible in order to govern, along with the boards of the Church, parish life. Active and passive voting rights were also conferred on women. The first woman president of an ELCL parish was Minne Šelme in the Ezere parish.


1.Priede, Ž., LU TF Bakalaura darbs “Sieviešu ordinācija Latvijā Jāņa Matuļa laikā”, Riga, 2007. / Bachelor thesis, Faculty of Theology, Univ. of Latvia, “Women’s ordination in Latvia during the time of archbishop Jānis Matulis”, Riga, 2007.2.Dr.phil. Tēraudkalns, V. “Ceļš uz luterāņu sieviešu ordināciju Latvijā”, LU TF izdevums “Cels” nr. 57 / “The road to women’ s ordination in Latvia”, Univ. of Latvia Faculty of Theology publication Cels, nr. 57

Latvian women theologians in the first half of the 20th century

 In the first 20 years of the existence of the University of Latvia, until 1940, 32 women theology students completed studies. The first one Zenta Brauere graduated from the Faculty of Theology in 1923, but before then had studied in Zurich and Heidelberg.

In the University of Latvia until August 1940, 234 persons gained higher education in theology. 165 of them of them later went to work in the Church. The teaching staff of the Faculty of Theology were well known theologians and religious researchers, such as. V. Maldonis, K. Kundziņš, L. Adamovičs, A. Freijs, G.Mensching et al. In 1923 the Executive Board of the ELCL opened its Theological Institute, with the aim of preparing parish workers for practical work. During the lifetime of the Institute, 129 persons were registered as students. The pastors of German speaking Lutheran parishes in Latvia received their education mostly through the Theology Department of the Herder Institute.


Faculty of Theology graduates 22 May 1936 From the left: J. Vilāns, J. Ose, Ģ. Alksne, M. Ose, V. Akmeņkalēja, O. Gulbis. In the rear: A. Cimdiņš, E. Placis, E. Rubens, A. Buģis, D. Grauds, secretary V. Aivars.

The first dean of the Faculty was Voldemārs Maldonis. He also chaired the Department of Systematic Theology which included psychology of religion, philosophy of religious, dogmatics, ethics, recent history of dogmatics. (Ludvigs Ādamovičš, Teoloģijas fakultāte 1919-1939, 2nd ed., LELBA, 1981) When the Faculty emphasized its connection to the Lutheran confession, its tensions with the Evangelical Lutheran Church were smoothed out, for it was clear that the Faculty was educating the new pastors for the Lutheran Church and the need for such a faculty was shown in the continually growing number of students and graduates to work in the Church. It was the decision by the Council of the Faculty of Theology that gave the study candidates the right to the office of pastor in the Lutheran Church and to the position of Christian education teacher in schools. Here can be seen an important distinction between women and men students. Women basically were prepared to become Christian education teachers in the schools, because they could not be ordained, and the men were prepared for work as a teacher or pastor, because they could be ordained. In accordance with the regulations of the Faculty of Theology, everyone who received a mark of “ļoti sekmīgi” (excellent) on his or her thesis had the right to an academic career. (Anita Priedīte, “Latviešu teologs”/”Latvian theologian, 1920-1940”, Bachelor thesis, Univ. of Latvia, 2003).

Prof. L. Ādamovičs, in his survey of the 20 years if the Faculty of Theology, points out that among the students the number of women held at 14-20%, and was the highest during the 1932/1933 and 1935/1936 academic years. The highest number of women students (55 or 24% of the total) was in the 1935/1936 academic year.

The number of women graduates is only 30, that is, 12.5%. During the Soviet occupation two more women finished their studies. Thus in accord with E. Ķiploks calculations, during the life of the Faculty of Theology, until 1940, there were 32 academically educated Latvian women theologians. In the Orthodox Church section, among the graduates in 1943 was one woman – Irina Vasina. (E. Ķiploks, “Latvian women theologians” in Ej un saki/ Go and Tell, Ogre Ev. Lutheran parish, 1995)  

Did the women theologians, when they entered the faculty, have ordination as their goal? The biographies of Brauere and Pone confirm this. But this goal was a very distant one. Agnese Pone did not believe that she would experience this in her lifetime.

E. Ķiploks has compiled the names of all the women theologians/graduates and researched their fates:

Name           Year of                   Activities                                              Final news

                   grad. from

                   Fac. of Th.

1.Brauere      1923             First woman graduate of the Fac. of         1977

Zenta                               Theology. Before that, studied theol.

                                      in Zurich and Heidelberg. Because of

                                      her gender, not allowed to study at

                                      Tartu Univ. First president of the Soc.

                                      of Women Theologians. Stayed in

                                      Latvia, worked in school as language

                                      teacher, did not engage in church work.

                                      More about her in Ceļa Biedrs, 1977, 64.

2.Gusarte      1926             First woman graduate of Fac. of Theol.     Died 1966

Elza                                 who did all her studies in this institution.

                                      After finishing in this Fac., she gained a

                                      degree also in classical languages and

                                      worked as a Christian education, Russian

                                      language, psychology and Latin teacher

                                      in the Rūjiena gymnasium. She fled to the

                                      US and worked as a schoolteacher. More

                                      about her in Ceļa Biedrs, 1966, 6.

3.Ceimere      1927             Stayed in Latvia. While studying,              None

Ludmila                             received a prize for her works “The

                                      history and life portrayal of the Brethren

                                      parishes in Latvian literature” and “The

                                      faith and values of orphan children in

                                      the Latvian spiritual heritage”.

4.Pone          1929             Began theol. Studies 1918 in Tartu            1977

Agnese                             Univ.’s Faculty of Theology and

                                      finished in 1928. In between she

                                      studied Baltic languages at the Univ.

                                      Latvia, especially Latvian literature. In

                                      1936 she supplemented her knowledge of

                                      theology and psychology in Zurich and

                                      Basel, studying with prof. E. Brunner and

                                      prof. K. Barth. From the ECLC gained

                                      the title of predikante. She said her first

                                      sermon from the lectern at Old St.

                                      Gertrude’s Church in Riga. In Riga she

                                      worked as a Latvian language and

                                      Christian education teacher in several

                                      gymnasia, after that served as a lecturer

                                      in the Univ. of Latvia and member of the

                                      Extrnal Examination Commission in the

                                      Ministry of Education. From 1936-1937 was

                                      President of the Soc. Of Women Theologians.

                                      Fled to Germany where she served as a

                                      pastor, but with vicar status (given 1950).

                                      After 24 years of faithful service, she was

                                      ordained as the first Latvian woman

                                      pastor in 1974 in Esslingen, Germany. The

                                      ordination was performed by archbishop A.

                                      Lusis, assisted by deans J. Tēriņš and

                                      E. Rozītis.

5.Ozoliņa       1929             Was active in the Latvian Ev. Brethren parish       1963

Elīna                                as a lecturer in courses to train spiritual

                                      workers, teaching practical theology.

                                      Preached in services in the Brethen assembly

                                      halls. During the [2nd World] War, she

                                      stayed in Latvia and after the war served as

                                      deaconess in both Jelgava churches – St.

                                      Anne’s and St. John’s.

6.Zoniņa-       1929             Stayed in Latvia. Worked as a deaconess            None

Pūlina                               in the postwar period. Lived in Talsi.


7.Zīverte-      1930             Stayed in Latvia. During her study years             1931

Zālīte Milda                        received recognition for her work “Punishment

                                      and penalties in the light of ethics”; composed

                                      a work “Woman in ancient religions”.

8.Šmite         1934             Fled as a refugee to Germany. Served in            None

Marta                               the internal mission in the German church

                                      in Bremen.

9.Alksne        1936             In 1937 worked as sub-assistant in the                1970

Ģertrūde                           Univ. of Latvia Fac. of Theology and could

                                      have continued her academic growth as an

                                      instructor. As a refugee went to US. Became

                                      a librarian. More about her in Ceļa Biedrs,

                                      1970, 6.

10. Ose Milija 1936             As a refugee went to the US. Became a              –

m. Āboliņa                        gardener.

11.Akmeņkaleja       1936   As a refugee went to the US. Ordained in            =

Vera, m. Fricsone               1977 by archbishop A. Lūsis.

12.Biezuma    1936             As a refugee went to the US.                            –

Zenta, m. Ozoliņa

13.Misiņa       1936             As a refugee went to Australia.

Velta, m. Klenberga

14.Vītola        1936             As a refugee went to Canada.

Velta, m. Ozolniece

15.Redliha      1936             Stayed in Latvia.


16.Ose          1936             Stayed in Latvia. Began service in 1941.              1962

Johanna                            She was described as “one of the best

                                      evangelists-pastors”. Became an ELCL

                                      deaconess. Worked as a secretary in the

                                      Riga St. Paul’s Church and helped Rev. L

                                      Taivāns in the Jesus Church and also the

                                      Mežaparks Church. In postwar years, deputy

                                      Archbishops Kārlis Irbe offered her ordination,

                                      but she refused so “she wouldn’t be subject

                                      to pride in becoming the first woman pastor”.

                                      More about her in Ceļa Biedrs, 1962, 5. Her

                                      sermons are published in Ceļa Biedrs, 1963, 5

                                      and 1966, 5.

17.Biteniece   1936             Stayed in Latvia. Joined the Baptist Church.         None


18.Blūmenfelde        1937   As a refugee went to England. Ordained

Elvira, m. Silina                  as pastor in 1978.

19.Priedulāja            1937   Deported in 1941. Worked in the literary

Milda, m. Salume               field.

20.Ivane        1937             Stayed in Latvia.


21.Šlesere     1939             As a refugee went to Sweden.


22.Bērziņa     1939             Helped in church work.

Berzīte Elza

23.Leite, Milda          1939   Stayed in Latvia.

m. Lindeneberga

24.Krumese   1939             During her study years, gained                1939

Olga, m. Gailīte                  recognition for her work: “Life beyond

                                      the grave in Latvian folk traditions”; this

                                      was published in Univ. of Latvia Fac. of

                                      Theology journal Ceļš, 1938. Stayed in

                                      Latvia. Studied medicine and became a


[Translator’s note: The Faculty of Theology was closed down in 1940 when the Soviet Army occupied Latvia. In June 1941 15,000 Latvians – among them theology professors and students, pastors – were deported to Siberia. In 1944, when the Soviets occupied Latvia a 2nd time, many fled to the West, but others stayed – voluntarily or involuntarily. This explains why this listing mentions “stayed in Latvia” or “as a refugee went to”. – VK]

No Information can be found in the indicated sources from 1920-1940 about the following women graduates of the Faculty of Theology:

Name                     Graduate year

1.Švānbergs            1928


2.Pranka Vilma         1928

3.Rudzīte Vilma        1933

4.Niedrīte Emma       1933

5.Bērziņa Valija        1937

6.Brante Elza           1940

7.Lielmeža Elza         1940

8.Drešmane Vera     1938


1.Māc./Rev. Ķiploks, E. “Latviešu teoloģes”/Latvian women theologians” izdevumā Ej un saki / in Go and Tell, Ogres Ev. Lutheran parish, 1995.

2.Dr.phil. Tēraudkalns, V. “Ceļš uz luterāņu sieviešu ordināciju Latvijā” / “The road to Lutheran women’s ordination in Latvia” in Univ. of Latvia Faculty of Theology publication Ceļš nr. 57, pp. 28, 30.

The ELCL Synod grants permission for women to speak and teach in worship services

The ELCL at its VIII Synod, 29-31 March 1932, in the 31March meeting, in regard to the 22nd item of the agenda, made a decision with 201 votes “for” and 87 votes “against” that: “the Synod authorizes the Church’s Executive Board to allow women theologians to speak in Church from the lectern”.

“Missionary Anna Irbe – a woman ahead of her time” – Violet Stephen

Anna Irbe is the first Latvian woman missionary who for most of her life lived and served in the Latvian mission to India. In 1932 Roberts Feldmanis visited Anna Irbe in India and observed that “she was a simple person with a strong will and clear decisions, practical, cared for elementary details”. She compiled a training program for new missionaries, led meditations and Bible studies for women. Anna, who was educated in the Christian care of sick people, also organized medical care.

Debates in society in the 1930s over women’s ordination and ministry in the ELCL

Already in the 1930s there arose viewpoints and debates over women’s equal rights in religious institutions.

The first time that a call came to recognize women’s rights to all positions in the Church was at the First General Women’s Conference, held in 1925 and convened by the seven largest women’s organizations of that time.

31 March 1932 the ELCL Synod passed  a resolution indicating that “women are allowed to speak in Church from the lectern”. (Ev. Lutheran Church of Latvia Synod Protocol, 1932) Women theologians as ministers were given the possibility to preach, but they could not do this from the pulpit, only from the lectern, because the pulpit was seen as a sacred space. Women were also given the possibility to engage in mission work overseas and in Latvia. Women were active in the Church as deaconesses who cared for the sick, attended to children and concerned themselves with charity works in the parishes that were being developed in the rural areas.

The Society of Latvian Women Theologians, after the passing of the Synod resiolution, turned to the Executive Board of the Church with a petition to allow women theologians to preach from the pulpit, because the church interior space was not designed for speaking from the lectern; this caused furthere inconvenience and confusion in the audience, because the pulpit was empty. (LVVA 2413.f.apr.1., item 5, 34). Other arguments against  speaking from the pulpit were those that said that it is technically inconvenient. “In technical terms, the pulpit strongly differs from the altar which is recognized as a most holy place where liturgy and parts of the service that are connected to the sacraments take place. Therefore it is understandable that only an ordained pastor can enter the altar, while nonordained can enter the pulpit. [..]The pulpit is nothing other than a special place intended for speaking. The pulpit does not have any particular confessional importance. [..] The heaters could get the impression that it was not the true Word of God if it wasn’t allowed to be preached from the pulpit.” (LVVA 2431.f.apr.1, item 3, 55).

V. Teraudkalns in his study of that period’s discussions in the press shows that in the popular newspaper Jaunakas Zinas/Latest News in 1932 there was an article by Saeima (Parliament) deputy Berta Pipina calling for dialogue. The author voiced her opinion that the negative attitude of pastors to women’s ordination was linked to their fear of strong competition. As a pragmatic argument for the need for women pastors, she mentioned that fact that at the time 35 Lutheran parishes were without pastors.

An article in Zemgales Balss/Voice of Zemgale expressed the conviction that “you cannot deny women the honor that in the religious sense they are superior to men”. In another publication, referring to the notion of woman’s special essence, the author writes that it is exactly women “who can best understand mental sufferers and provide them help”.

The view, in another publication, that “women pastors will never succumb to the sin of alcohol”, sounds naïve, but we should note that in women’s groups in many countries there was the widespread view of women as the traditional preservers of values and morals, especially in comparison to the destroyer image of men. These groups did not try to portray women as equal in all aspects to men, but to show the distinctive characteristics of each gender.

The socio-political activism of women theologians contrasted with the prevailing emphasis by many parish women’s committees on the cultivation of personal spirituality. This reality is well illustrated in A. Zvirbule’s lecture “Obstacles to women in spiritual work”, which was read in the August 1933 Conference of women’s committees of the Valmiera deanery. The lecturer mentions as external obstacles family duties, nonbelieving family members and work conditions.

The possibilities given to women to preach could be seen as a small step towards women serving as pastors. However even this permission was overshadowed by the centuries old understanding of the sacred space and the status of persons who served in this space, which symbolically showed who is “on top” and who is “on the bottom”. Women were allowed to preach from the lectern, but not from the pulpit. They kept the possibility to serve in mission work overseas (like Anna Irbe) and in Latvia. In the Baltic German Lutheran parishes the Women’s Diaconal Aid Society worked. Several Latvian women were active spiritual workers in the Latvian Evangelical Brethren Society, under the wing of the Lutheran Church. This Society tried to keep alive regular activities in the remaining Hernhutters’ assembly halls. Women were irreplaceable in such an internal mission as “evening mission” (that’s how they called work with prostitutes).

Research by [pastor, church historian] Edgars Kiploks reveals that women theologians were allowed to work in schools as Christian education teachers. One woman theologian said to Kiploks: “While I was studying (theology), women theology students were invited on Mother’s Day to preach from the lectern in the altar space. The memory of so many Latvian churches is unforgettable. Women served with God’s Word also in student organizations”.


1) Ķiploks E. “Latviešu teoloģes” izdevumā “Ej un saki”, Ogres Ev. lut. draudze, 1995 / “Latvian women theologians” in Go and tell, Ogre Ev. Lutheran parish, 1995.
2) Dr. phil. Tēraudkalns V. “Ceļš uz luterāņu sieviešu ordināciju Latvijā”, LU

TF izdevums Ceļš nr. 57 / “The road to women’s ordination in Latvia”, Univ. of Latvia Faculty of Theology publication Cels, nr. 57
3) Priede Ž. LU TF bakalaura darbs “Sieviešu ordinācija Latvijā arhibīskapa Jāņa Matuļa laikā”, Rīga, 2007 / Bachelor thesis, Faculty of Theology, Univ. of Latvia, “Women’s ordination in Latvia during the time of archbishop Janis Matulis”, Riga, 2007.

The Society of Women Theologians

In order to popularize the importance and potential of work done by women theologians, the Society of Women Theologians was founded in 1931.

As more and more women gained higher education in theology, as it became more necessary for women to assert their rights in the academic sub=culture, women began to form professional societies. For this reason, the Society of Women Theologians was formed.

In the meetings of the Society, the members analyzed the sermons of members, discussed books, worked out strategies for the activities of women theologians in parishes and general society. It is striking that among the various themes that were reviewed in SWT meetings the issue of women’s ordination was not brought up. In the Society’s second meeting 24 October 1932, Zenta Brauere was elected to preside (LVVA 2431 f., apr.1, items 2., 7).


Members of the Society of Women Theologians 1934 with Zenta Brauere in the middle. From the right Milija Ose (Abolina), Milija Cabele, Zenta Brauere. First row, from the left: Nora Vartukapteine (Asare), later completed Baltic Languages studies. Upper row from left: Petersone, nezt to her Velta Ozolniece (Vitola) and E. Zibina. Who can help to identify the others?

 In one of the meetings there was discussion about how “theologians are the core of the university. For this idea to be true among others, one must know how to behave politely. You must not talk loudly, smoke, flatter, toady, gossip and you need to maintain inner and outer purity. In society you must behave in such a way as not to attract everybody’s attention. The lack of tact in society is the result of lack of sensitivity.” (LVVA 2431.f., apr.1., item 2., 45). Although we no longer live in the society of that time, what these women are saying is like a “mousy” person’s syndrome. Maybe what they say sounds lofty, still it seems denigrating. Of course, we need to respect other speakers and to consider them as equal among equals, without losing respect. Women’s attitudes can be like this, in order for them to start to fight.

Many times during the meetings there was talk about “Mother’s Day”. “The mother is not only the center of the family, but also the shaper of religious life. The mother’s heart is the first altar, where we learn everyday, eternal values and truths. It is because of our mothers’ sense of the divine and religious upbringing that we have become believers.”  The celebration of Mother’s Day is one of our most noble celebrations, and so also we can understand the great response and welcome shown by all who participate in the festivities. On Mother’s Day there was a great demand for women theologians. Then everyone was busy: women preached, lectured, spoke in old people’s homes and cemeteries,”  writes Agnese Pone, “Latviešu teoloģes” / “Latvian women theologians”, Cela Biedrs, 1977, nr. 2 (41)

The celebration of Mother’s Day started in Latvia in 1922. Some organizations and parishes celebrated this day in late autumn or winter, while others observed it the first day of spring. The Ministry of Education formed a special Mother’s Day Committee. Its assignment was to come up with a program for Mother’s Day and to give advice to this day’s organizers, allowing them however free rein. The committee decided this day should be observed annually on the second Sunday in May. Thanks to this Day, women theologians affirmed their abilities in this field of work and gained greater recognition. In 1938, following president Karlis Ulmanis proposal, Mother’s Day was renamed as Family Day. The reason for this is that we should not forget the man’s importance in the family. This does mean that the woman’s role in the family is diminished, but a truly whole family is one where the responsibility rests upon the shoulders of both man and woman. There is no evidence that the renaming of Mother’s Day meant less work for women theologians. (Anita Priedīte, “Latviešu teoloģes/Latvian women theologians”, Bachelor thesis, Univ. of Latvia, Fac. of Theology 2003, p. 27)

In the SWT meetings there was talk about how women theologians need to learn to speak freely and how to present sermons, because in practical work everyone would have to do it. (LVVA 2431.f., apr.1., item 2., 4). The women took advantage of this possibility, as the members evaluated the skills of their colleagues. For the first time the subject of women’s rights to assume all positions in the Church was raised in the SWT. In 1930 the SWT became a member of the Council of Women’s Organizations.

During the authoritarian rule of Karlis Ulmanis, the Society of Women Theologians experienced difficulties with re-registration. In October 1937 then president Agnese Pone (in 1936 she took over the office from Z. Brauere) announced that she had received news about the possible closure of the SWT. She associated this with “the pushing aside of women from societal and academic work”. After almost two years the SWT succeeded in re-registering. Zenta Brauere again became the president.

In September 1940 the last official meeting of the SWT took place. Bowing to the Soviet occupation power, the Society resolved to liquidate itself. “In view of present conditions and the small number of members, we resolve to cease the activities of the Society of Women Theologians. With this meeting, we consider the Society of Women Theologians to be liquidated as of 20 September of this year.” (LVVA 2431.f., apr.1., item 2., 53)


1.Priede, Ž. LU TF Bakaraura darbs “Sieviešu ordinācija Latvijā arhibīskapa Jāņa Matuļa laikā” (2007, Rīga) / Bachelor thesis “Women’s ordination during the time of archbishop Jānis Matulis”, Faculty of Theology, Univ. of Latvia, Riga, 2007.

2. Dr. phil. Tēraudkalns, V. “Ceļš uz luterāņu sieviešu ordināciju Latvijā” (LU TF izdevums Ceļš nr. 57) / “The road to Lutheran women’s ordination in Latvia” in Univ. of Latvia Faculty of Theology publication Ceļš nr. 57.