Celebrating Women's History Month in the WNCC: Lucy Henderson Owen Robertson

March 29, 2023

By: Jim Pyatt, WNCC Archivist & Historian

Lucy Henderson Owen Robertson (September 15, 1850 - May 28, 1930)

On August 6, 1890, three months after the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South had created the Western North Carolina Conference, twenty-three women met at First MEC, South in Salisbury to organize the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the WNC Conference. Mrs. Lucy Robertson acted as temporary Chair for the meeting and was subsequently elected to the presidency. (Mrs. W. R. Harris, Fifty Years of Missionary Achievement, pp. 9-10) Mrs. Robertson served as President until 1912. In that year the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society merged with the Woman’s Home Mission Society to create the Woman’s Missionary Society of the WNC Conference. Mrs. Robertson was then elected as President of the newly merged organization until her resignation in 1926. Under her leadership the Woman’s Missionary Society of the WNC Conference grew in all ways.

Mrs. Robertson also provided exemplary leadership in education. An 1868 graduate of Chowan Baptist Institute (now Chowan College) in 1868, she and her family moved in 1872 to Greensboro, where she began her teaching career in 1878 as an assistant in the literary department at Greensboro Female College (now Greensboro College). By 1890 she was head of the English language and literature department. In 1893 she left to become head of the History Department at the State Normal and Industrial College for Girls (now UNC-Greensboro). Seven years later she returned to Greensboro Female College to become lady principal and to teach history. In 1902 she was elected President of Greensboro Female College, making her the first female college president in the South. Mrs. Robertson served in this capacity until her retirement in 1913, when she was named President Emerita. In 1925 a chair of religious education was established in her honor. (www.ncpedia.org/biography/robertson-lucy-henderson)

The leadership which Mrs. Robertson provided to the school was critical for its survival. A year after she was elected President “the Trustees decided to close Greensboro Female College and sell its assets. However, thanks to the efforts of Robertson and alumna Nannie Lee Smith, $25,000 was raised to keep the college afloat.” (www.ncpedia.org/greensboro-college)

Be sure to read the other biographies written by WNCC Archivist & Historian Jim Pyatt:

Juanita "Nita" Tillman Henderson, the first woman to Chair the WNC Conference Council on Ministries, a position which she held from 1980 to 1988.

Rev. Dr. Nancy Burgis Rankin, the first woman in our conference to serve as Senior Pastor of a church with more than 1000 members.

Roberta Blackwell, served in the Charlotte District were as District Director of Church and Society 1979-84, member of the District Committee on the District Superintendent 1980-93, and as a member of the Charlotte District Trustees 2010-12.

Rev. Dr. Arnetta E. Beverly, the first African-American woman to serve as Director of Nurture and Ethnic Ministries, to serve as a District Superintendent in the WNC Conference, and to serve as a Director of Connectional Ministries in the Southeastern Jurisdiction.

Rev. Dr. James Walter Ferree, Sr., involved in realigning the North Carolina-Virginia Conference into what is now the three separate North Carolina, Western North Carolina, and Virginia Conferences.

Rev. Cecil Harvey Marcellus, Jr., the first African-American elected to the Reidsville City Council, where he served for three full terms and part of a fourth term.

Dr. David Dallas Jones, the president of Bennett College from 1926-1955.

Rev. William Hornbuckle, a Native American ordained Deacon in 1928 and Elder in 1931.

Daphine Strickland, part of the Task Force that led to the organization of Triad Native American Church, the first Native American congregation in our Conference outside of Cherokee.

Thomas Queen, the Director of the Cherokee Mission from 1973 until his death in 1992.

Jeremiah Wolfe, the first Native American to be elected a delegate to General Conference from the WNCC in 1976.

Rev. David Ortigoza, the Director of Hispanic and Latino Ministries for the SEJ in 2003.

Rev. Diana Wingeier-Rayo, the first Hispanic/Latina woman to be received into full clergy membership in the WNC Conference.

Raul Adriano, the first known person of Hispanic/Latino heritage to be elected by The WNCC to serve as a Lay Delegate to General Conference.

Rev. Carlos Alberto Rodriguez, a key figure at the Board of Missions Office of The WNCC in 1961.

Rev. Dr. Abraham Kim, the first Asian-American to be elected as a clergy delegate to Jurisdictional Conference from the WNC Conference.

Rev. Karen Miyoshi Kagiyama, the first Asian-American women to be ordained an Elder in the WNCC.

In Muk Kim, the first Asian-American to be elected as a delegate (clergy or lay) to Jurisdictional Conference from the WNC Conference.

Rev. M. B. Lee McCrary, the first woman to become a full clergy member of the Western North Carolina Conference. 

Rev. Dolores Barus Queen, the first woman to serve as District Superintendent in the Western NC Conference.

Bishop Charlene P. Kammerer, the first (and to date, the only) woman to serve as Bishop of the Western North Carolina Conference.

Mrs. Jettie Morrison, a key figure in the Women's Society of Christian Service and the integration of The United Methodist Church in 1968.

Bishop L. Scott Allen (May 4, 1918-September 18, 2004), the first (and to date, the only) African-American to serve as Bishop of the Western North Carolina Conference.

Mrs. Effie Miller (September 17, 1930-September 1, 2008), a leader in the Western North Carolina Conference and the United Methodist Church, especially with regard to the United Methodist Women.

The Rev. Dr. J. C. Peters (July 10, 1925- July 2, 1998)the first African-American to serve as a District Superintendent in the Western North Carolina Conference.

Mr. Clarence Winchester,  a leader in the North Carolina Conference (Central Jurisdiction) and in the WNC Conference.

Dr. Isaac Miller (September 26, 1920-November 1, 2008), a leader in Higher Education and in the United Methodist Church.

#BeUMC Personal Reflections