Women and the Bible

Women were an integral part of the early narrative of Scripture as well as Jesus’ life and ministry.  Throughout the history of the Church women have read and studied the Scripture and shared its truths with others through numerous ways – as scribes, translators, missionaries, queens, mothers, and teachers.  Drawing mainly on items in the Dunham Bible Museum’s collection, this special exhibit opens a window into some of these aspects of “Women and the Bible.”

Women in the Bible

Ruth in Boaz's Field
“Ruth in Boaz’s Field”, by Julius Schnorr von                             Carolsfield, 1828

Ruth is one of two books in the Bible named after a woman. Ruth, a Moabitess, had married a Jewish man who had moved to Moab with his parents and brother when a famine came to Israel.  When Ruth’s husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law all died, Ruth stayed close to her mother-in-law, Naomi, followed her back to Israel, and promised “wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God…” (Ruth 1:16) Back in Israel, Ruth went to work in the fields of Boaz, who took notice of her and married her.  Besides being a beautiful love story and picture of personal redemption, the story of Ruth fits into the grand story of our redemption through Jesus.  Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David and an ancestor of Jesus.

The second book of the Bible named after a woman is EstherEsther was among the Jewish exiles in Babylon, and under the care of her uncle Mordecai.  When the King of Persia was looking for a new wife,

Esther and Mordecai
“Esther and Mordecai “by Aert de Gelde, c. 1685, Museum of Fine Arts,, Budapest. Artist Aert de Gelder was a student of Rembrandt’s, and his style very much follows his master’s.

Mordecai encouraged Esther to be considered, and Esther soon became Queen Esther.  When a plot at court threatened to destroy the Jewish people, Esther, with Mordecai’s encouragement, courageously approached the King and was able to find reprieve for the Jewish people.  The book of Esther beautifully shows the working of God’s Providence in history and through a woman whom God had placed as queen “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)

Annunciation painting
Annunciation” from Merode altarpiece tryptich by Robert Campin, c. 1425-1430




Paintings of the annunciation very often show Mary reading the Scriptures when Gabriel comes with his announcement that she will bear a son.  As Mary is taking in the written Word of God, she also will conceive the living Word of God.  That Mary was a woman of the Word is evident from the song of praise she sings when she meets Elizabeth (Luke 1:46-55), which contains over thirty quotes or allusions to Scripture.  Look carefully at the painting, and you can see a baby Jesus bearing across entering the room through the left The Holy Women at the Tombwindow

“The Holy Women at the Tomb”, etched by E.M. Latin after a painting by W.A. Bouguereau., from The Holy Bible, vol. XII, Boston, Merrymount Press, 1904; #165 of limited edition.

When Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans, he had never been to Rome, yet he knew many of the Christians the Tombthere.  At the end of his letter, he greets 28 people by name, at least eight of whom are women.  He begins his closing greetings by commending Phoebe, “our sister” who was “a servant of the church in Cenchrea,” a port near Corinth.   Phoebe was a businesswoman who brought Paul’s letter to Rome.  What a treasure she carried over the many Roman miles!

Paul’s Romans later was important in the conversion of Augustine, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and countless others.  John Calvin wrote, “When anyone understands this epistle, he has opened to him…the understanding of the whole Scriptures.” Thank you, Phoebe!

The Women of Scripture
The Women of Scripture, by Clara Lucas Balfour, London, 1862

The Women of Scripture recounts the stories of Scriptural women under several headings: Leadership (Miriam & Deborah), Friendship (Ruth & Naomi), Maternal Piety (Hannah), Hospitality (The Shunammite), Female Patriotism (Esther), Humility (the Virgin Mary), Piety in old age (Elizabeth & Anna), Action and Contemplation (Mary & Martha), Inquiry and Repentance (woman of Samaria), Fidelity (Mary Magdalene), Christian Benevolence (Dorcas & Lydia), and Christian Intelligence (Priscilla & Phoebe).



Women and the Bible in the Early Church

Saint Jerome with the Saints Marcella, Paula, and Eustochium
“Saint Jerome with the Saints Marcella, Paula, and Eustochium”, by Jan Hovaert, c. 1665 Church of Santa Maria Maddalena, GenoaJerome was a leading church father of the fourth century who translated the Bible into Latin, a translation which became known as the Vulgate, or the common translation.  This translation was the authoritative Bible used for one thousand years.

Jerome was supported in his work by three wealthy Roman ladies.  Marcella, whose family lived in a palatial home on the Aventine hill in Rome, held Bible studies in her home and paid scribes to copy Scriptures which she distributed.  Paula and her daughter Eustochium came to Christ through Marcella’s witness. Paula especially was Jerome’s patron, buying manuscripts for him to use in his translation work.  Jerome dedicated several of his translations and commentaries to them.

Biblia, Christopher Plaintin, Antwerp, 1565.


Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible, known as the Vulgate.  Paula, Marcella, and Eustochium supported and aided Jerome in his translation.



Women and the Bible in the Middle Ages

 Bible Lectionary
Margaret of Scotland’s Bible Lectionary, Bodleian Library

Margaret (1045-1093), daughter of the exiled English Prince Edward of Wessex, married Malcolm II, King of Scotland (the same Malcolm who killed Macbeth in Shakespeare’s famous play).  Malcolm was a rough guy, but he could not help but be moved by Margaret’s Christian spirit and devotion.  Margaret spent time each morning reading the Scriptures and in prayer.  Though Malcolm could not read, he cherished Margaret’s copies of the Scriptures out of love for her, and had them illuminated with gold and bound with precious stones.

Coventry Martyrs
Coventry Martyrs, from John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments

When John Wycliffe translated the Scriptures into English in the 14th century, many women learned to read so they could read the Scriptures.  Several women were active in Scripture distribution.  With Scriptures scarce, some women memorized long passages of Scripture they could recite in meetings. Many of the church authorities were horrified that women would be so open to the Scriptures. On April 4, 1519 a widow Smith was among those burned at Coventry for teaching her children the Lord’s Prayer in English.

The New Testament in English
The New Testament in English, Translated by John Wycliffe, Chiswick: Charles Whittingham, 1848.

Wycliffe’s Bible is the most abundant of medieval English manuscripts.  This is the first printing of Wycliffe’s work.  Wycliffe’s English Bible was a forbidden book, and there were women and men executed for having even a portion of the Wycliffe Bible.  The Bible is open to the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer.

Women and the Bible in the Reformation

Katharina von Bora Luther
Katharina von Bora Luther, c. 1528, by Lucas Cranach the Elder

The Reformation had an important effect on women, as reading the Scriptures encouraged literacy and as the role of wife and mother received renewed honor.  Katharina Luther (1499-1552) became a model for many.  When she was five, Katie’s father sent her to a Benedictine cloister for her education.  At nine she moved to a Cistercian monastery where her aunt was a member.  When she began reading some of the works of Martin Luther, Katie became dissatisfied with life in the monastery.  She and several other nuns contacted Luther to help them flee the monastery.

Die Ganze Heilige Schrift
Die Ganze Heilige Schrift, D. Martin Luther. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, c. 1900

Two years after her escape from the nunnery, Katie and Martin Luther were married.  Their family helped demonstrate that life could be lived for God in a family setting, not just in a monastery. Martin Luther believed even women should learn to read so they could read the Bible, a truly revolutionary thought for his day.  Luther encouraged his wife to memorize Scripture.  She especially loved the Psalms.  After Luther’s death, Psalm 31, which she memorized years earlier, especially comforted her.

Katherine Zell
Katherine Zell (1497-1562) was wife of the reformed pastor in Strasbourg. She was active in caring for refugees in her home and wrote several works based on her study of Scripture.


Katherine Zell (1497-1562) was wife of Matthew Zell, the reformed pastor in Strasbourg. When persecution of Protestants intensified in Europe, many found refuge in Strasbourg.  Katherine provided for many of the refugees in her home. She wrote a letter to the women of one town facing persecution, encouraging them to look to the Word of God as sufficient for salvation. She pointed the women to the Beatitudes, which gave a special blessing to those persecuted for righteousness sake.

Latin Bible
Latin Bible printed by Yolande Bonhomme, 1526,
courtesy of Bridwell Library, SMU



Women were involved in the copying of Scriptures from the early centuries of the church.  The first woman to print a Bible was Yolande Bonhomme (c. 1490-1557), the daughter of Pasquier Bonhomme, a printer for the University of Paris.  She married Thielman Kerver, a very successful printer.  When her husband died in 1522, she continued to manage his print shop.  Like her husband, she specialized in Books of Hours, but in 1526, she printed a Latin Bible, becoming the first woman to print a Bible.

Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn

In England it had been illegal to have any portion of the Bible in English since 1408.

Tyndale's New Testament, 1534
Anne Boleyn’s copy of Tyndale’s New Testament, 1534, in British Library.

Yet, Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn (1501-1536), was a supporter of the Reformation and encouraged her court ladies in scriptural piety.  Anne’s copy of William Tyndale’s 1534 translation of the New Testament, which in her day was still outlawed, is now in the British Library.  On the cover is the queen’s coat of arms.

Queen Catherine Parr
Queen Catherine Parr, National Portrait Gallery




Queen Catherine Parr (1512-1548), Henry VIII’s last queen, had a regular Bible study in the palace for her ladies in waiting.  She encouraged the translation of Erasmus’ Paraphrases of the Scriptures into English and helped with the translation of “Matthew” and “Acts”.  Princess Mary Tudor, later Queen Mary I, translated the”Gospel of John” for the Paraphrases, though when she became queen she had the Paraphrases removed from the churches and destroyed.

First Tome or Volume of the Paraphrase of Erasmus
The First Tome or Volume of the Paraphrase of Erasmus upon the newe testament, Desiderius Erasmus; London: Edward Whitchurch, 1551, second edition

This English Paraphrase of Erasmus combined Coverdale’s Great Bible translation of the New Testament with an English translation of Erasmus’ Latin Paraphrase of the New Testament.  This first volume contained the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.  Queen Catherine Parr, King Henry VIII’s last wife, encouraged the translation of the Paraphrases into English, and the book was dedicated to her.  The Queen probably translated parts of “Matthew” and the “Acts of the Apostles”; Mary I, while a princess, translated the “Gospel of John”.

In 1547, King Edward VI ordered a copy of this work placed in every church in England.  Erasmus’ commentary thus became the authorized commentary of the Church of England.  When Mary came to the throne, she favored a return to the Latin Vulgate and ordered all copies of the Paraphrases destroyed, even though she had translated John’s Gospel.

 Lady Jane Grey
Thought to be a contemporary portrait of Lady Jane Grey, discovered in Streatham House in early 21st century.

Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554) was an extremely well-educated teenager who knew Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and corresponded with leading reformers on the continent.  Queen for nine days after the death of King Edward VI, the people did not accept Jane as queen, and Queen Mary assumed the throne.  Mary executed Jane for treason in 1554.  The day before her execution, Jane gave her Greek New Testament to her sister Katherine.  At the back of the Testament, she wrote a letter expressing her Christian faith:

I have sent you, my dear sister Katherine, a book, which although it be not outwardly trimmed with gold, or the curious embroidery of the artfulest needles, yet inwardly it is more worth than all the precious mines which the vast world can boast of: it is the book, my only best, and best loved sister, of the law of the Lord: it is the Testament and last will, which he bequeathed unto us wretches and wretched sinners, which shall lead you to the path of eternal joy: and if you with a good mind read it, and with an earnest desire follow it, no doubt it shall bring you to an immortal and everlasting life: it will teach you to live, and learn you to die: it shall win you more, and endow you with  greater felicity

Before she was beheaded on February 12, 1554, Lady Jane recited Psalm 51.

 Women and the Bible in the 17th-18th centuries

These two paintings by Rembrandt and one of his students show Rembrandt’s mother reading the Dutch Estates-General Bible.

Woman Reading the Bible
“Woman Reading the Bible” (“Rembrandt’s Mother”) by Gerard Dou,
a student of Rembrandt’s, Rijksmuseum
Hannah Reading the Bible
“Prophetess Hannah Reading the Bible” (“Rembrandt’s Mother”) by Rembrandt, 1651, Rijksmuseum











Biblia, dat is De gantsche H. Schrifture Dordrect
Biblia, dat is De gantsche H. Schrifture Dordrect, publishers Hendrick and Jacob Keur, 1682

The King James Bible inspired this Dutch translation of the Bible, commissioned by the DutchEstates-General of the Netherlands in 1626. This first official translation of the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into the Dutch language was first published in 1637. The Estates-general Bible, as it cae to be known, was the standard Dutch translation for Dutch Protestant churches well into the 20th century.

This 1682 edition of the Estates- General Bible was printed by the Keur brothers in Dordrect and contains over 200 finely crafted engravings.

A pastor of a church in Amsterdam gave his church’s Bible to Jan Willem Knegtmans for safekeeping from the bombing during World War II. At the end of the war, the church had been destroyed, and Knegtmans never was able to find the pastor. The Bible was brought to America when the family later immigrated. Jan Knegtmans’ grandson and his wife donated the Bible to the Dunham Bible Museum

bible gallery

Exquisitely executed steel engravings of 18 women of the Bible are accompanied with narration.  Women like the Queen of Sheba, the wife of Potiphar, Athaliah, the mother of the Maccabees, and others are included.  Beautifully bound in full, white leather with abundant gold stamping, the binding is in excellent condition.

Anne Dutton
Anne Dutton (1682-1765) was a writer and poet who wrote extensively on theological subjects.





One 18th century woman diligent in her study of the Bible was Anne Dutton (1682-1765).  Anne was a poet and theologian who wrote extensively on theological subjects.  Many of her works were published Discourse Upon Justificationanonymously, for in her day many thought it improper for a woman to be writing publicly on theological subjects. Anne, however, considered her writings as private conversations with her readers and not in any way like public preaching.  Many of her writings addressed aspects of evangelism and conversion, such as justification and the new birth.  The wife of a Baptist pastor, Dutton corresponded widely with leaders of the Evangelical Revival in England, including John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Selina Hastings.  Whitefield especially encouraged the publication of Dutton’s letters and works for the wider Christian audience.

Gospels in Old Slavoni
Gospels in Old Slavonic, belonged to Czarina Catherine the Great of Russia, 1776.

Catherine II was Czarina of Russia from 1762-1796, the country’s longest reigning female ruler. Under her leadership, Russia grew in power. The silver-covered Gospels have five enamel medallions on the cover.  The central one depicts the resurrected Christ.  The other four represent the four Gospel writers.  The Gospels are written in Old Slavonic in the Cyrillic alphabet.  Beautiful though they are, there is little evidence that Catherine ever read or had an interest in the Scriptures.

Mary Jones
15-year-old Mary Jones walked 26 miles to buy a Bible. Her story was inspirational to the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society.

Mary Jones (1784-1864), from a poor Welsh family, had wanted her own Bible since she was a child.  She saved up money she earned from chores, and by the time she was 15 she had enough money to buy a BIble.  She walked 26 miles, often barefoot to save her shoes, to Bala to buy a Bible from Rev. Thomas Charles, the only person with Bibles for sale in the region.  Rev. Charles was so impressed with Mary’s devotion, that he wrote her story in a tract for the Religious Tract Society and proposed that an organization be established to supply Wales with Bibles.  This proposal led to the establishment of the British and Foreign Bible Society in 1804.  Today the Bible Society continues to provide Scriptures across the world and encourages the reading of the Bible among the people.

The Holy Bible
The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Covenant: Commonly called the Old and New Testament: translated from the Greek by Charles Thomson, late Secretary of the Congress of the United States, Philadelphia: Jane Aitken, 1808.



Women and the Bible in the 19th Century

Jane Aitken inherited her father’s printing business on his death, a business which also included a bindery.  When she printed Charles Thomson’s translation of the Holy Bible in 1808, she became the first woman to print an English Bible in America.

Charles Thomson made the first English translation of the New Testament published in America and the first translation of the Septuagint into the English language.  Charles Thomson was Secretary of Congress during the American Revolution and was the only person who signed the original Declaration of Independence with president John Hancock.  After the adoption of the Constitution, Thomson resigned from Congress and spent 20 years working on his Bible translation.

Biblical annual
Biblical annual: containing a fourfold translation of the book of Ecclesiastes, or, The Preacher with illustrative notes, London: Hamilton, Adams and Co., London, 1832



This little book contains Ecclesiastes in four parallel translations – the King James Version, and new translations from the Hebrew, Greek Septuagint, and the Latin Vulgate.  The translations were a family affair. One teenage girl translated from the Hebrew, while her younger sister translated from the Latin Vulgate.  The father of the teenagers made the translation from the Greek Septuagint.  The names of the girls or the father are not given and are not known.

Harriet Beecher
Harriet Beecher Stowe by Alanson Fisher,
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian

The best-selling novel in 19th century America was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe.  The novel contains nearly 100 Biblical references and reflects an evangelical perspective on slavery.  Themes of sin, suffering, repentance and salvation are woven throughout the powerfully influential book.   Harriet was a member of a prominent Christian family.  Her father Lyman Beecher and brothers Henry Ward, Charles, and Edward Beecher were all famous preachers, as was her husband, Calvin Stowe.  Harriet wrote thirty books, all reflecting her biblical faith.    One of her earliest books was The Child’s Bible by a Lady of Cincinnati (1834).  Harriet had moved to Cincinnati in

Child's Bible
Child’s Bible by a Lady of Cincinnati, who was Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1834

1832, when her father, Lyman Beecher, became President of Lane Theological Seminary.  Harriet married Calvin Stowe, a professor at Lane Seminary, in 1836.  Both were very active in abolitionism and supporting the Underground Railroad. Harriet stated the purpose for this little Bible in its preface:

The Bible is the best book in the world…We have made this small book, dear children, on purpose for you…After you read this through, you will wish to know more about the Bible…Your mama will get you one or let you take hers, and you will learn much more than we had room to tell you.

Woman in Sacred History
Woman in Sacred History by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1873, 1st edition

Harriet Stowe, along with a number of women writers of the 19th century, believed that wherever Christianity flourished, there the position and role of women was elevated.  After the Civil War, Harriet published Woman in Sacred History: A Series of Sketches Drawn from Scriptural, Historical, and Legendary Sources. She said the purpose behind this book was, “to show, a series of biographical sketches, a history of Womanhood under Divine Culture, tending toward the development of that high ideal of woman which we find in modern Christian countries.”  The book is beautifully illustrated with chromo-lithographs, bringing European art into American homes.

Old Testament Stories
Old Testament Stories by Aunt Laura, Buffalo, New York: Breed, Butler & Co., 1862



“Aunt Laura” actually was Francis Elizabeth Barrow (1822-1894) of South Carolina, who wrote several series of popular children’s books in the middle of the 19th century, some of which were translated into French, German, and Swedish.  Her Old Testament Stories was a popular “Thumb Bible”, miniature books named after Tom Thumb the midget.


Women of the Bible
Women of the Bible by Mrs. S.T. Martyn, New York: American Tract Society, 1868

Sarah Towne Martyn (1805-1879) was a descendant of New England Puritans.  Her father, a clergyman who had fought in the American Revolution, provided an excellent education for Sarah.  She learned several modern languages as well as Greek and Hebrew.  Sarah became very supportive of the temperance and antislavery movements and was active in the Female Moral Reform Society of New York, editing its journal, Advocate of Moral Reform. Sarah wrote numerous works of historical fiction set in the Reformation era, including one on the English Bible translator William Tyndale.  Her most well-known work is Women of the Bible, an illustrated gift book that retells the stories of 28 women in the Bible.

The New Testament
The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
The Common English Version, corrected by the Final Committee of the American Bible Union, 2nd revision, New York: American Bible Union, 1869.

In 1879, this New Testament was presented to Alice W. Hayward, “A friend of the poor and the destitute who has collected $1.54 cts. To furnish copies of the Word of Life to those who are not able to pay for them.”  The American Bible Union, founded in New York in 1850, was a Baptist organization which promoted the revision of the King James Bible.  In their 1863 revision, they claimed to correct 24,000 errors in the King James Version.  This revision paved the way for the Revised Standard Version published in the 20th century.



Emily Taylor interleaved a New Testament
Emily Taylor interleaved a New Testament with poems and illustrations on the Scriptures. Many of the poems are written by herself. (Click on the picture to enlarge).

Emily Taylor (1795-1872) was an English poet, hymn writer and author of numerous books, especially for children.  She had scarlet fever at an early age, which affected her hearing and made it impossible for her to attend school, but she was well educated by her father and aunts (her mother died when she was an infant) and went on to live a productive life as both a teacher and writer.  In 1826, she published Poetical Illustrations of Passages of Scripture.  The Dunham Bible Museum has a fascinating volume put together by Emily Taylor.  It is a New Testament put together from two different years.  Matthew 1:1-5:6 is a commentary Bible from the early 1800s; the section beginning with Matthew 5:16 dates from the 1700s.  The portions of these volumes were bound together with blank pages between many of the printed Bible leaves.  Written on the interspersed pages in lovely Spenserian script are numerous poems, almost all in iambic pentameter, on specific verses of Scriptures.  Hundreds of small woodcut illustrations have also been glued on the additional pages next to the appropriate text.  Many of these are labeled “1556” and apparently came from a book printed at that time.  Many of the poems are by several identifiable poets – Bernard Barton, John Newton, James Montgomery, as well as Emily Taylor.  A comparison of the script used with Emily Taylor’s known autograph confirms that this interesting New Testament was indeed put together by Emily. (Click link for a typescript of the numerous poems on Scripture)

Julia Evelina Smith (1792-1886) was the first woman to translate the Bible into English from the original Hebrew and Greek.  After studying the Bible in the original Greek to determine the authority for William Miller’s prediction of the end of the world, she concluded that the King James translation was not literal enough.  She taught herself Hebrew and translated both the Old and New Testaments word for word.  Julia published the Bible at her own expense in 1876.  Scholars recognized the accuracy of her translation, but her literalness often led to awkward English, which hurt sales.

Julia Evelina
Julia Evelina Smith was the first woman to translate the Bible into English from the Hebrew and Greek.
Proverbs 31
Proverbs 31 from Julia Smith’s translation of The Holy Bible, 1876

Julia Evelina Smith (1792-1886) was the first woman to translate the Bible into English from the original Hebrew and Greek.  After studying the Bible in the original Greek to determine the authority for William Miller’s prediction of the end of the world, she concluded that the King James translation was not literal enough.  She taught herself Hebrew and translated both the Old and New Testaments word for word.  Julia published the Bible at her own expense in 1876.  Scholars recognized the accuracy of her translation, but her literalness often led to awkward English, which hurt sales.


Margaret Smith Gibson
Margaret Smith Gibson (1843-1920)
Agnes Smith Lewis
Agnes Smith Lewis (1843-1926)











Agnes and Margaret Smith were twins whose mother died shortly after their birth.  Raised by their father, he promised to take them to visit any European country once they learned the language of the land.  They ultimately learned twelve languages and travelled throughout Europe.  After their father’s death, they journeyed to the Mideast, throughout Egypt and Palestine – a very amazing journey for two ladies in the 19th century.  Fluent in Greek, Syriac, and Arabic, they became interested in biblical manuscripts and traveled to St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai.  There they discovered an early Aramaic version of the Gospels.  They also catalogued the Syriac and Arabic manuscripts in the Monastery’s library.

Helen Barrett Montgomery
Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934)

All of her life Helen Barret Montgomery (1861-1934) was involved in Christian education, social reform, and international missions.  She organized and taught a women’s Bible class at the Lake Avenue Baptist Church in New York for 44 years, all the while active in the Northern Baptist Convention, of which she was elected President in 1921.  Helen as a strong advocate for women’s education and worked for reform in the public school system.  She served as president of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society and worked tirelessly in the cause of missions and improving the position of women throughout the world, writing several books on women’s work in foreign lands – all of this in addition to translating the New Testament from the Greek into contemporary English.

Centenary Translation of the New Testament
Centenary Translation of the New Testament: Published to Signalize the Completion of the First Hundred Years of Work of the American Baptist Publication Society, Helen Barrett Montgomery, translator, Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1924.

Helen was concerned that the boys in her Sunday School class did not understand the Bible in the King James Version.  Since she had excelled in Greek at Wellesley College, she decided to make her own translation and “make it plain” for all to understand.  The Bible was printed in ordinary paragraphs with verse numbers in the margins.  Helen put titles on chapters and sections to further aid in understanding. Helen was the first woman to translate the New Testament from the Greek and have it professionally published (Julia Smith had self-published her translation.), and Helen’s is the only published translation by a Baptist woman.  The version was reprinted and called The New Testament in Modern English.

A Translation of the Old Testament Scriptures
A Translation of the Old Testament Scriptures from the Original Hebrew by Helen Spurrell, London: James Nisbet & Co., 1985 reprint of 1885 1st edition

Helen Spurrell (1819-1891), the wife of a pastor, was a talented musician and sculptor.  She began learning Hebrew after she was 50, and within 15 years published her Old Testament translation.  In addition to the Hebrew, Helen also consulted the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint.  She printed the text in paragraphs with poetic sections laid out as poetry, something only later done by the Revised Version.  Critics were very positive in reviewing her translation.  Helen is the only woman to have published a translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew.  For all who read her translation, Helen wished, “May every man exclaim, as the translator has often done when studying numerous passages in the original, I have found the Messiah!”  A warehouse fire destroyed many of the 1885 edition, making them extremely rare.


Women and the American Bible Society

Women stitching in Astor Place Bible House
Women stitching in Astor Place Bible House, 19th century

Women have been involved in the American Bible Society, established in 1816, in a number of ways.  In 1845, the Bible Society began on-site printing of Bibles and three years later began on-site binding.  From the earliest times, women were involved in the printing department.  By 1851, 230 females and 56 males worked in the printing department.  Women were involved in sheet-folding and straightening, stitching, binding, and finishing, and also worked as typesetters and compositors.  In 1922, 5 female workers retired from the bindery; each had worked at the American Bible Society for fifty years.

Helen Keller
Helen Keller received a Braille Bible
published by the American Bible Society in 1931.




Helen Keller (1880-1968) became both blind and deaf from an illness contracted at 19 months.  Yet, Helen learned to speak and communicate.  She became the first blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.  Much of her life she gave lectures throughout the world, advocating for people with disabilities.  In 1931, the American Bible Society presented Helen Keller with their first Braille Bible.  She then gave them her 1908 raised-letter Bible.

In 1842, Samuel G. Howe, director of the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, printed the first Bible in America for the blind.  Howe went to Paris to purchase type and a press for a new system of type using raised letters.  The American Bible Society and other Bible societies financed efforts to produce books for the blind using this “Line Letter” system, as it was called. (Bible for the Blind, Using Raised Letters, American Bible Society, 1909)

The point system of reading for the blind was developed in France by Charles Barbier and perfected by Louis Braille.  It did not replace the “Line Letter” system in America until the end of the 19th century.  The first American Braille Bible was published in 1911.  The American Bible Society published its first Braille Bible in 1931.  The Dunham Museum’s copy of the Braille Bible, published in 1936 by the American Bible Society, has the first 16 volumes, which include the Old Testament and the Gospels

Margaret Thorndike Hills (1898-1972) spent 37 years working at the American Bible Society, beginning as a secretary to the Society’s General Secretary and then becoming, in turn, Librarian, Assistant Secretary of the translation Department, and Secretary for Historical Research.  Some of Margaret’s accomplishments at the American Bible Society included the following:

  • The American Bible Society’s library became the most comprehensive collection of printed Scriptures in America and was second only to the British and Foreign Bible Society’s library in London. The Bible Society Record noted that “No one can contemplate this collection with anything but awe at the variety of languages, the amazing labor of translation, and the monument that it is to the Christian gospel.”
  • In her work as Assistant Secretary of the Translation Department, Margaret corresponded with translators and supervised the publication of the translations. In 1938 she published The Book of a Thousand Tongues, which provided a bibliography for the Bible in over 1000 languages.
  • She arranged exhibits on the Scriptures, supervised publications, and answered numerous questions on old or rare Bibles.
  • Her Bibliography of Editions of the Bible and New Testament Published in America, 1777-1957 continues a standard reference work today.

     Reference History of the English Bible
    Ready Reference History of the English Bible by Margaret Thorndike Hills, American Bible Society, 1976 revision.
  • Margaret also wrote numerous pamphlets and articles for the American Bible Society on the Bible and its history.


A Ready Reference History of the English Bible was first printed in 1935 to commemorate four hundred years of the printed English Bible.  It concisely tells the moving story behind the history of the English Bible.







Women Bible Translators

In 1936, Eunice Pike and Florence Hansen became the first single women to go out on their own with Wycliffe Bible Translators.  Within six years they had learned Mazatec, an indigenous Indian Language of Mexico, and had translated the New Testament from Mazatec.  Today, women make up 85% of the translators of Wyclife Bible Translators.  Many women have been involved in Bible translations, some of whom are pictured here.


Eunice Pike and Florene Hansen
Eunice Pike and Florene Hansen were the first single women to go out with Wycliffe Bible Translators, in 1936.
Anna Eliza Robertson
Anna Eliza Robertson translated the Scriptures into the Creek language of Muskegee
Joanne Shetler
Joanne Shetler translated the Scriptures into the Balangaos language of the Philippines.
Marianna Slocum and Loren Gerdel
Marianna Slocum and Loren Gerdel translated the Scriptures into Tzelta in Mexico
Pandita Ramabai<
Pandita Ramabai translated the Scriptures into Marathi of India
Salamo, a native of the Congo, helped missionaries in their translation work.

Many missionary wives worked with their husbands on Bible translations, including the following:

  • Burmese – Adoniram and Ann Hasseltine Judson
  • Arabic – Eli and Sarah Smith
  • Amiesha of Peru – Martha Duff Tripp,Ppeter and Mary Fast, and Mary Ruth Wise
  • Bahnar dialect of Vietnam – John and Betty Bank
  • Hindi of India – Ashis and Natalie Kotak
  • Maco – Davey and Marie Jank
  • Quiche in Guatemala – Dr. James and Carla Cocking
Gordoni Vu’a Maiu’ina: The New Testament
Gordoni Vu’a Maiu’ina: The New Testament in Mangalasi, the language of Papua New Guinea Wycliffe Bible translators, 1975

There are about 5000 Managalasi speakers living southeast of Mount Lamington and southwest of the mountain ranges called the Hydrographers in the Northern District of Papua.  Jim and Judy Parlier lived in the jungle and worked among the stone age people there for twenty years.  They developed a Managalisi alphabet, taught the natives to read, and translated the New testament into Managalasi.  They then taught native people to evangelize and teach others.


Yompor Po’non
Yompor Po’non: Nent atto Yepartshshar Jasucristo e’ne etserra a’pocataterrnay,  Wycliffe Bible Translators, 1978

This New Testament translated into the Amuesha language of Peru was the 100th New Testament translation by Wycliffe Bible Translators.  The Amuesha language is spoken in 23 main villages in the foothills of the Andes at elevations of 800 to 4000 feet, with population about 4500 in 1978.  The Amuesha Bible School and an association of nine Amuesha churches includes over 1000 believers.  Wycliffe translators were Martha Duff Tripp, Peter and Mary Fast, and Mary Ruth Wise.


The New Testament in the dialect of the Maco, a remote tribe in the Amazon jungle of Venezuela, was translated by Davey and Marie Jank.  The Maco had heard about a book that had “God’s Talk” and had pled for missionaries to bring it to them.  Davey and Marie were the first outsiders to live among the Maco in 1991 and began to learn their language.  They developed an alphabet and worked on a Bible translation, completing the New Testament in 2013.  The Maco can now hear God’s talk to them in their own language.  (Dios Iwene [God’s Talk] Jesus Ichaja Ikenasa’ye [The Book Written After Jesus Came] The New Testament in Macao, 2014).

The Quiche Bible from Guatemala
Tzij Re Dios pa Quiche, The Quiche Bible from Guatemala, 1995

The first translation of the New Testament into the Quiche language was made by Paul and Dora Burgess with the help of native Patricio Xec Cuc, born in 1905.  Patricio then worked on the Old Testament with several translators, but the work of the Old Testament was abandoned by 1980.  Patricio invited and urged Dr. James Cocking and his wife Carla to join him in completing the Old Testaments translation.  The United Bible Societies sent consultants to help with the project, and the first complete Quiche Bible was printed and dedicated in August of 1995.


Bible Women Among the Poor

Ellen H. Ranyard (1810-1879) worked among the poor in London, providing them Bibles and helping the sick and needy.  She established a ministry of Bible Women to work among the poor which became a model for missionaries throughout the world.  Under the initials

Ellen Ranyard
Ellen Ranyard established a ministry of Bible Women to work among the London poor, in addition to writing numerous works and tracts on the Bible.

“L.N.R.”, Ellen wrote numerous books and tracts on the Bible, archaeology, and the Bible Women.  Following are the instructions to the Bible Woman working with the

London Bible and Domestic Missions:

  1. Your first and principal work is to ascertain who are without the Holy Scriptures, and willing to purchase at a cheap rate.
  2. Take with you in a bag, with which you will be provided, a variety of Bibles and Testaments, and should any of the parties you visit be able and willing to pay the whole price at once, take it; if not, offer to receive payment by small weekly installments, for which you will regularly call.
  1. Let the people understand that you are not supplying them at profit, but, in many instances, at a loss to the Bible Society, and that the good people who employ you are only seeking to promote the benefit of the poor.
  1. You will be expected to devote five hours every day, Saturdays excepted, to your work, for which you will receive 2s. per day.  The Bible Work is to be done by itself, and the Domestic Mission Work at another time.  You will follow the directions that will be given you as to the localities in which you are to labor for both objects.
  2. As the Bible Work leads to other benevolent schemes, you will be directed by your Superintendent how to proceed in taking subscriptions for clothing and bedding, also inducing the poor no longer to live content with dirt, rags, and discomfort.  You will then be able gradually to instruct them in needlework, cooking, and cleanliness.
  3. It will be expected that you will live in or near your district, and a room there will also be available for the purposes of the Mission.
  4. If you are able, it is desirable that you should keep a Journal in which you will give true statements of the things you meet with.
  5. You will present to your Superintendent a Weekly Report of all your proceedings, at the time and place appointed, and according to a form with which you will be furnished.
  6. The lady who has kindly promised to superintend your work is _______________.
The Missing Link
The Missing Link; or, Bible-Women in the Homes of the London Poor by L.N.R. (Ellen H. Ranyard), New York, 1861, 1st American edition.

The Missing Link recounts experiences of the Bible Women in London, sent out by the British and Foreign Bible Society to bring the Scriptures to the London poor.  The women were from the poor themselves and were trained by the Bible Society to reach out to those in their community with the Word of God.  The pattern of Bible Women among the London’s poor was adopted and used by missionaries throughout the world.

The Book and Its Story was written to commemorate the Jubilee of the British and Foreign Bible Society, established in

The Book and its Story
The Book and its Story: A Narrative for the Young by L.N.R. (Ellen H. Ranyard), London, 1853, 2nd edition

1804.  With access to the records of the Bible Society, Ellen Ranyard told the story of the writing of the Scriptures, the history of the English Scriptures, the history of the Bible Society, and the spread of the Scriptures throughout the various parts of the world.  Ellen concluded her account by quoting Isaiah 55:11, “My word shall not return unto Me void; but it shall accomplish that which I please, and shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”

The Woman's Bible
The Woman’s Bible, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, ed., 1974 reprint of 1895

Like many feminists today, Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), leader of theearly women’s suffrage movement in the United States, believed that religion was the chief cause of oppression of women.  She edited The Woman’s Bible to liberate women from what she felt was such religious oppression.  A committee of 26 women worked on the project, none of whom had any biblical or theological training.  The commentary on the biblical text was full of radical feminist positions, such as the Trinity was composed of a “Heavenly Mother, Father, and Son” and that prayers should be made to the “Heavenly Mother.”  Though the book became a bestseller, it brought a lessening of Stanton’s influence in the women’s suffrage movement, as many women sought to distance themselves from Stanton’s anti-Christian views.


Women and the Bible in the 20th Century

The Twentieth Century New Testament is considered the first translation of the Bible into modern English.  The project was launched by Mary Ann Higgs (1854-1937), the daughter and wife of Congregational ministers, when she wrote to prominent Victorian journalist W.T. Stead about the need for a Bible translation which would “grasp the sense of the original Greek” and express it in modern English.

A committee of about 25 was assembled to work on the project and rules were drawn up for the translators.  About half on the committee were pastors, but others were drawn from other professions.  Mary Higgs was one of two women on the committee and worked on the Gospel of Mark.

The Twentieth Century New Testament had a definitely modern format.  The text was arranged in a single column with paragraphs, and chapters and verse numbers were in the margin.  The modern “you” replaced the antiquated “thou.”  The order of the books followed the chronological pattern of the Greek text of Westcott-Hort.


Amplied New Testament

The Amplified Bible was the first project of the Lockman Foundation.  The aim of this translation was to take both the word meaning and context into account.  Explanatory alternative readings and amplifications helped the reader understand the Scripture.  Francis Siewert was the official Research Secretary behind the Amplified New Testament.  She had dedicated her life to the study of the Scripture and had a command of Greek and the archaeological background of the Bible.  A committee of Greek consultants reviewed Francis’ work.  In 1954 Francis wrote, “Every day, almost, I find myself bubbling with the thrill of discovering some shade of meaning in the original Greek that had never been evident to me before.  I have averaged 4 hours a day of serious Bible study since 1914, when I was already a theological seminary graduate, and yet I am finding daily evidence of the fact that there are countless Scripture passage which have been obscure to me until now.”
The Amplified New
Testament, The Lockman
foundation, Grand Rapids,
Michigan: Zondervan, 1958,
1st edition

Annie Vallotton's drawing
Annie Vallotton’s drawing of Ruth in the fields, from The Good News Bible
Annie Vallotton
Annie Vallotton (1915-2013) was the artist who provided the illustrations for The Good News Bible

The Good News Bible is a “common language Bible, a simple and clear translation faithful to the Hebrew and Greek texts, Annie Vallotton (1915-2013), a Swiss artist, provided the illustrations for the Bible.  Harper Collins claimed Annie was the best-selling artist of all times, since sales of The Good News Bible exceed 225 million. Annie said her aim in her drawings was “to make people want to read the Bible…I tried to make my illustrations…arouse interest in the reader and provoke questions to make him apply the text to himself and to dip further into the text.  In a word, I want the text to become more alive and intelligible.”

Annie Cressman (1913-1991) was a missionary of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada in Liberia, translating and teaching the Bible in the Tchien dialect.  In the 1950s, while teaching in an English language Bible School in Liberia, Annie began translating passages of Scripture into an easier form of English than the King James Version.  Her New Testament translation was published in 1969 as Good News for the World: The New Testament in Worldwide English.  In 1996, the second edition was published as The Jesus Book – The Bible in Worldwide English – New Testament.

Butterfly Edition, New Testament
Butterfly Edition, New Testament, American Bible Society, 1992
Eleanor McCollum
Eleanor McCollum supported many Christian causes and was on the board of the American Bible Society for 47 years.

Eleanor McCollum (1908-2002) was a wealthy philanthropist who contributed to musical, Christian, and medical causes throughout the world.  For many years she sang with the Billy Graham Ministries and was a soloist in churches of all denominations, as well as with the United States Air Force Band and at Presidential Prayer breakfasts and civic events.  Eleanor was on the Board of the American Bible Society for 47 years.  In 1992, she produced the Butterfly Edition of the Good News New Testament and provided for its distribution through the American Bible Society.  Eleanor and her husband Leonard McCollum, oilman, cattle rancher, banker, and philanthropist, made their home in Houston. A supporter of Houston Grand Opera, Eleanor established the “Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers Concert of Arias.”

The Bible Tell Me So


Dale Evans (1912-2001) was a singer, songwriter, actress, and wife of singing cowboy Roy Rogers.  Dale and Roy had starred in movies together and their very successful television series The Roy Rogers Show.  Dale and Roy often appeared at Billy Graham crusades and travelled throughout the country singing gospel songs and giving their testimony.  Among the 200 songs Dale wrote was “The Bible Tells Me So.”

The Study Bible for Women
The Study Bible for Women, Dorothy Patterson & Rhonda Kelley, eds., Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2015



Drs. Dorothy Patterson and Rhonda Kelley are both trained in theology and the original languages of the Scriptures.  Together they edited Women’s Evangelical Commentary of both the Old and New Testaments, The Woman’s Study Bible, and The Devotional for Women.  This collection is designed to help women in the study of the Scriptures and living their lives for Christ’s glory.

Over 1.5 million of The Study Bible for Women have been sold since its first publication in 1995.  Written by an editorial committee of women with theological training and with a knowledge of biblical Greek and Hebrew, The Study Bible for Women aims to help women find meaning in the text of Scripture.  Free from the gender lens of the feminists, The Study Bible for Women aims to be a catalyst for personal study as well as a resource for women teaching the Scriptures.  Each book of the Bible includes an introduction, a key verse, an outline of the book’s themes, explanations of foundational doctrines, and a devotional application.  Marginal notes address difficult passages and focus on issues particularly relevant to women.

Women and the Bible
Women and the Bible: Heroines and the Lessons They Can Still Teach Us, American Bible Society & Time Home Entertainment, Inc., 2014

Women of the Bible examines experiences of 70 women from the ancient, biblical world to reveal timeless stories of God’s everlasting love, care, and protection.

From Biblical times until the present, women have been involved in the studying, teaching, and distribution of the Scriptures.  Wherever the Bible has spread, the position of women in society has improved.  As Sarah Joseph Hale summarized in her Woman’s Record: Sketches of all distinguished women from creation to A.D. 1854, “The Bible is the only guarantee of women’s rights, and the only expositor of her duties.  Under its teachings men learn to honour her.”