First Female Member of the Society of Biblical Literature

Anna Ely Rhoads Ladd was the first woman to be a member of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL):

In 1889, not quite one hundred years ago, Anna Rhoads Ladd became the first female member of this Society. Ten years later, in 1899, Mary Emma Woolley, since 1895 chair of the Department of Biblical History, Literature and Exegesis at Wellesley College, and from 1900 to 1937 President of Mount Holyoke College, is listed in attendance at the annual meeting. In 1913 Professor Eleanor D. Wood presented a paper on biblical archaeology, and in 1917 Professor Louise Pettibone Smith, who also served later in 1950-51 as secretary of the Society, was the first woman to publish an article in the Journal of Biblical Literature. Mary J. Hussy of Mount Holyoke College had held the post of treasurer already in 1924-1926. At the crest of the first wave of American feminism, women’s membership in 1920 was around 10 percent. Afterwards it steadily declined until it achieved a low of 3.5 percent in 1970 (Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Rhetoric and Ethics: The Politics of Biblical Studies [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1999] 19).

While the above quote states Anna joined SBL in 1889, this is the year she obtained her first degree. She was admitted as a member in 1894 (see Bass, “Women’s Studies and Biblical Studies”). Anna Ladd joined SBL as a graduate student fourteen years after the Society was founded. Three years later, in 1897, she was still listed as an active member, the same year she married. However, an internet search yields little information about Ms. Ladd. She studied Greek and Biblical Literature at Bryn Mawr College, married Professor William Coffin Ladd on June 2, 1897, had a daughter named Margaret, and shortly thereafter was widowed in 1908. After the death of her husband she became Alumnae Director at her alma mater. A program book published by Bryn Mawr states:

Prepared by the Friends’ School, Germantown, Philadelphia, Pa., and by private study. A.B., 1889, and A.M., 1894. Graduate Student. Bryn Mawr College, 1889-90, 1894-95; University of Leipsic, 1890-91; Graduate Scholar in Biblical Literature, Bryn Mawr College, 1893-94; Alumnae Director, Bryn Mawr College, 1909-12, and Trustee and Director, 1912—

A Bryn Mawr Alumnae Quarterly (1917) recounts Ms. Ladd expressing her views that a motion to enlist volunteers among the alumnae for war-relief work should be taken up by the Board of Directors of the Alumnae Association. The 1936 Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin states: “Anna Rhoads Ladd, first Alumnae Life Trustee of Bryn Mawr College until resignation, for many years Secretary of the Board of Trustees.”

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