While First Congregational Church had considered other women during pastoral searches, Alice Mabel Mannington was the first woman to whom the church extended a formal call. And her story with First Congregational Church is fascinating.
Call and Not-Quite-Resignation
First Congregational Church had been without a settled pastor since 1916 when it extended a call to Rev. Mannington on September 23, 1918. Earlier that summer, the church had closely considered Rev. Harold Lamb for a call, but he preached to very small congregations on July 28, and only twelve members came to the meeting to call him on August 19. The church thought that it would be unfair—to both the pastor and the church—for only twelve members to extend a call. That appears to have ended his consideration, since Rev. Mannington conducted services on both September 8 and 22, and the call was extended to her on September 23.
Despite accepting the call in late September, Rev. Mannington tendered her resignation on December 15, 1918, citing her own ill health. The church was devastated, since, “In her short stay, [Rev. Mannington had] won the hearts of the people.” The church agreed to accept her resignation, but asked her to continue leading the Sunday services until the church could find a settled pastor.
On February 16, 1919, the church considered two possible candidates for the position of pastor: Rev. Robertson of Kansas, and Miss Martha Nichol of Nebraska. However, the congregation refused to take any action until Rev. Mannington had been asked to reconsider her resignation. The pulpit committee called on Rev. Mannington that afternoon and presented two plans to her. The first plan was to give her a leave of absence for a few months and have a temporary pastor for those months. The second plan was for her to continue with Sunday services, but for the rest of the congregation to take on the other work of the church. Rev. Mannington agreed to follow the second plan until September 1, when she felt that she would either be well enough to take on all the work, or be ill enough that she would have to give up ministry entirely.
The early Congregationalist Church elected its clergy. Basically, a congregation would elect one if its members as its pastor; that person would be ordained by the congregation; and, if that person stepped down from the ministry, or left the congregation, they would also lose their ordination. By the time Rev. Mannington was called to First Congregational Church, however, Congregationalist clergy were ordained permanently. Each clergy-person was ordained by a local congregation, but then held their standing in an association of clergy, and could move between congregations without having to be ordained again.
This is important to Rev. Mannington’s story because, while she was always referred to as ‘Rev. Mannington’ by the church, she came to the congregation on May 4, 1919 to ask about being ordained to ministry. It appears that she had been licensed for pastoral ministry by an association in Wisconsin—she had come to DeWitt from Eau Claire—but had never been ordained. She was ordained by First Congregational Church on July 10, 1919, the 77th anniversary of the church.
That afternoon, an ecclesiastical council gathered at First Congregational Church to consider Rev. Mannington’s ordination. This is record of that meeting:
Pursuant to the letter missive issued by the DeWitt Congregational Church and bearing date of June 26, 1919, an Ecclesiastical Council convened in the house of worship of said church on the afternoon of July 10, 1919 for the purpose of examining Miss A. Mabel Mannington as to her fitness for the Gospel Ministry, and if the result be favorable, to proceed to her ordination and extend to her the fellowship of the Congregational ministers and churches of the Davenport Association.
The letter missive was read by the Rev. H. G. [illegible] of Cedar Rapids. The Rev. A. A. Moore of Central City was elected Temporary Scribe. The roll of churches invited was then called and the roll as completed showed the following attendance:
[Here, there’s a list of congregations and representatives.]
The Roll Call showing a majority of the churches invited present, the council proceeded to organize. Rev. P. A. Johnson of Grinnell was elected Moderator. The council was then constituted by prayer by the Moderator. Rev. A. A. Moore was elected permanent scribe.
The clerk of the DeWitt church then read the records of the church regarding the calling of the council for the ordination of Miss Mannington. The council accepted these records as satisfactory. Then the records of the church regarding the call of Miss Mannington to be pastor of the church were read and accepted as satisfactory.
Miss Mannington’s ecclesiastical relations were then ascertained[?] by the council. It was found that her church membership was with the DeWitt church, and that she had been transferred as a licentiate from Wis.[?] to the Davenport Association of Congregational churches.
The candidate then read a short account of her religious experience and of her belief. She was then examined at length by members of the council.
The council voted to suspend the examination and be by itself. The council being by itself voted unanimously to sustain the examination and proceed to the ordination of the candidate. Rev. P. A. Johnson and Mrs. J. F. Smith were constituted a [illegible] to confer with the candidate and arrange for the public service of ordination. The [illegible] reported the following program which was carried out at 7:30pm.
[Here, there is an order of service.]
The minutes were then read and approved. The council then voted to instruct the scribe to complete the minutes at the close of the evening session according to the facts and send a copy of the same to the Registrar of the Davenport Association to the Boston[?] Office and to the DeWitt church and to the candidate.
At the conclusion of the evening service, the work for which it was convened being completed, the Moderator declared the council dissolved.
The ordination service, a supper, and entertainment were arranged by the church. As the clerk recorded, “The services and ceremony were a delight to all and will long be remembered with pleasure by the members and friends of this church.”
Pastor... and Chiropractor?
August 31, 1919, was the last Sunday that Rev. Mannington had agreed to serve the church under the agreement that she had made with the church in February. On this Sunday, she informed the church that, when she had been worried that she would not be able to stay in ministry due to her poor health, she had started a course at the Palmer School of Chiropractic in Davenport. She had paid for the whole course, and asked if she could complete it before she returned to her duties as a full-time pastor, which she would do sometime in March, 1920.
The congregation discussed the proposal, and agreed to keep her on under the same conditions that she had agreed to in February, until she completed her course. Rev. Mannington graduated with her Doctor of Chiropractic degree in 1920.
Departure and Life After First Congregational
Rev. Mannington served First Congregational Church for the next two years. At the close of worship on July 10, 1921, she tendered her resignation, effective one month later. On August 7, 1921:
Reverend Mannington preached her farewell sermons. Before the close of the morning service, a short business session was held, presided over by Mr. Elder, chairman of the board of trustees, and letters were granted to Rev. Alice Mabel Mannington, and Mr. and Mrs J.F. Brish, recommending them to any evangelical church with which they might wish to cast their lot.
We have few sources on Rev. Mannington’s life after her time in DeWitt. It appears that she went on to serve North Presbyterian Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, until 1928; then Oakland Presbyterian Church in Oakland, Illinois, until 1930. In September of 1930, she became ill and went to Make Mills, Wisconsin, to recuperate. In November 1930, she resigned her position at Oakland Presbyterian Church to marry an old friend, Rev. Dr. Frank N. Dexter, who was the pastor of the Congregational Church in Union Grove, Wisconsin. She also seems to have bounced back and forth between Wisconsin and Florida for a while.
Rev. Mannington passed away on September 15, 1944, in Manchester, Iowa.