Women's Ordination Conference Records
Historical Note/Scope and Content

Records of a United States based organization promoting "the ordination of women as priests and bishops into a renewed priestly ministry in the Roman Catholic Church," including minutes and reports of meetings, newsletters and other publications issued by the Conference, subject and project files, and other records documenting the group's activities.

Related material is in the Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz Papers, Burke Library Archives, Union Theological Seminary, and the Rosalie Muschal-Reinhardt Papers, Women and Leadership Archives, Loyola University Chicago.

Gift of the Women's Ordination Conference, 1988; additions received from the conference and its members, 1996-2009.

Processed by Jenna Popovich and Phil Runkel, 2010-2011.

The Women's Ordination Conference was founded in 1976 to promote the right of women to pursue ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood, as called for at a national meeting of the same name, held in Detroit, Michigan, on the previous Thanksgiving weekend. Under the leadership of a "core commission" of nineteen women (succeeded by a smaller board of directors in 1986) and those who staffed its national office (notably Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, Ruth Fitzpatrick, and Rosalie Muschal-Reinhardt), WOC has employed a variety of means to advance its cause in the face of the Vatican's refusal to discuss the issue. These have included liturgical demonstrations, protests at meetings of the U.S. Catholic bishops, a dialogue with members of the Bishops' Committee on Women in Society and in the Church, a registry of women called to the priesthood, and publication of a bimonthly (later quarterly) newsletter, NewWomen, NewChurch.

A serious threat to WOC's survival emerged following its 20th anniversary conference in 1995, when keynote speakers Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Diana Hayes opposed ordination into the present hierarchical system and a major budget deficit forced the resignation of long-time coordinator Ruth Fitzpatrick. WOC weathered the storm, however, and recommitted to its mission, "to advocate and pray for the ordination of women as deacons, priests, and bishops into an inclusive and accountable Roman Catholic Church." It created the Young Feminists Network to help rebuild its constituency, formed alliances with groups such as Catholic Organizations for Renewal (COR) and We Are Church/USA, and played a significant role in founding the international coalition Women's Ordination Worldwide. WOC presently supports the women "illicitly" ordained by Roman Catholic Womenpriests and other groups.

See also:

Daigler, Mary Jeremy. Incompatible with God's Design: A History of the Women's Ordination Movement in the U .S. Roman Catholic Church. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2012.

Garry, Laurie Wright.  "The Women's Ordination Conference (1975-1994): An Introduction to a Movement." Ph.D. dissertation, Marquette University, 2000.

Henold, Mary J. Catholic and Feminist: The Surprising History of the American Catholic Feminist Movement. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

Women’s Ordination Conference website.


Scope and Content


Series 1, Core Commission Files, 1976-1986, contains correspondence, minutes, and reports of the group that set policy for the conference from its founding until 1986. It is arranged in alphabetical order by subject or type of record, and chronologically thereunder.

Series 2, Board of Directors Files, 1987-2005, includes correspondence, meeting minutes, and reports of WOC’s policy-making body, arranged chronologically. Audio recordings of meetings in 1990, 1992, and 1993 are in Series 11.

Series 3, Conferences, Workshops, and Awards Dinners, 1974-1996, documents the gatherings sponsored by WOC, notably the major conferences in 1975, 1978, 1985, and 1995. Records include minutes of planning meetings, publicity, reports, and related correspondence. It is arranged in chronological order by meeting dates, and alphabetically by type of record thereunder.

Series 4, Subject Files, 1976-2005, contains information on a variety of activities and issues of concern to WOC. Of note are files on the organization’s dialogue with the Bishops’ Committee on Women in Society and in the Church and its response to the bishops’ projected pastoral letter on women. The arrangement is alphabetical by subject and chronological thereunder.

Series 5, Project Files, 1977-2002, documents four projects of WOC: Project Priesthood, which sought to identify women who felt called to be priests; RAPPORT (Renewed And Priestly People Ordination Reconsidered Today), a "base community" of women seeking ordination), We Are Church: A Catholic Referendum, a petition campaign for church reform; and the Young Feminist Network, which grew out of the 1995 gathering. It is arranged alphabetically, first by name of project and then by subject or type of record, and chronologically thereunder.

Series 6, State and Local Groups, 1976-1999, contains information on WOC chapters and other groups focusing on the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church. It is arranged alphabetically by state and chronologically thereunder.

Series 7, General Correspondence, 1974-2005, contains letters to and from the WOC coordinators, related to the organization’s policies, procedures, and mission. It is arranged chronologically.

Series 8, Publications, 1976-2017, contains WOC’s newsletter, NewWomen, NewChurch, and other publications issued by the conference. It is arranged chronologically by title.

Series 9, Writings about WOC, 1976-2007, is composed largely of newspaper clippings, arranged in chronological order.

Series 10, Photographs, 1975-2005, contains photographs of WOC staff members and supporters and photographs taken at board meetings, conferences, and demonstrations. It is arranged alphabetically by name or subject.

Series 11, Audio/Visual Recordings, 1975-2000, consists mainly of audiotape recordings of conference sessions and board and planning meetings, arranged in chronological order.

Series 12, Ephemera, 1977-1978, 1987, 2000, undated, contains banners, bumper stickers, buttons, and the like.

Series 13, Curated Website Captures, 2011-, provides access to versions of WOC's website.