Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Only God Knows the Opposition We Face: The Rhetoric of Nineteenth Century Free Methodist Women’s Quest for Ordination

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Ellen Gorsevski (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Alberto Gonzalez (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Catherine Cassara (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Ellen Berry (Committee Member)


This study focuses on two prominent evangelists, Ida Gage and Clara Wetherald, who served as two of the earliest women delegates to the Free Methodist General Conference and argued in defense of their ministries. Rhetorical artifacts include historical writings from both Gage and Wetherald. To illustrate the tension these women faced in gaining acceptance for their ministry, the 1890 and 1894 General Conference debates on ordaining women are analyzed to provide a broader religious and cultural understanding. Using archival research methods, the dissertation emphasizes constructing a rhetorical history narrative about the debates in the Free Methodist Church on women’s place in ministry and in the home. The rhetorical concept of “passing” is used to illustrate how both Wetherald and Gage had to construct their narratives in a way that would allow them to be accepted in the male dominated profession of ministry. Additionally, the concept of silence as a rhetorical device is also used to demonstrate how both Wetherald’s and Gage’s ministries and impact in the denomination quickly vanished after the issue of women’s ordination was defeated and both became divorcees. However, while their ministry gains suffered setbacks within the Free Methodist Church, the fact that Wetherald went on to have a thriving preaching career and Gage inspired both her children and grandchildren to start successful ministries outside of the denomination illustrates their long-lasting impact on nineteenth century ministerial culture.