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Pioneers in Methodism: Elizabeth Upham Yates (UMCom)

“A prophet and dreamer whose dreams have come true”

In 1920, following the passage of the woman’s suffrage amendment, Elizabeth Upham Yates became the first woman in the United States to run for high state office when she was nominated for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket in Rhode Island. At the time of her nomination, she was described as “a pioneer suffrage worker who has lived to see her dreams come true.”

Born in Round Pond, Maine, in 1857, Yates was one of the earliest women in the Methodist Episcopal Church to receive a license to preach. She was the first Methodist woman from Maine licensed to preach and one of the first in New England, along with Anna Howard Shaw and Anna Oliver.

In 1880, Yates became the first woman from Maine to be sent as a missionary to China under the auspices of the newly organized Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society. The New England Branch of the Society reported that she was very successful “in laboring among the women, having a real love for this ‘personal’ effort so essential to the missionary effort anywhere.” She subsequently published a book titled “Glimpses into Chinese Homes.”*

Upon returning to the United States, Yates became deeply involved in both the temperance and woman’s suffrage movements, lecturing across the country.  In the 1890s, she was often on the stage with other well-known suffrage advocates such as Shaw and Susan B. Anthony. Yates was a popular lecturer, described as having a “splendid voice, … an eloquent and finished orator” and “one of the ablest lady public speakers in America.”