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When the Reverend Dr. Peggy Bosmyer was ordained in January 1977 at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock (Pulaski County) by the Right Reverend Christoph Keller Jr., bishop of the Diocese of Arkansas, she was the first woman in the South to be regularly ordained under a new canon as a priest in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA).
Peggy Sue Bosmyer was born on July 26, 1948, in Helena (Phillips County), the daughter of Thomas Bosmyer, who was an insurance adjustor, and Margaret Markland Bosmyer, an elementary school teacher. Her older sister, Judy, had been born in 1944.
Bosmyer graduated from Central High School in Helena in 1966. In 1970, she received a BA in English and philosophy from the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), where she was a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority. She earned her Master of Divinity degree from Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1974 and a Doctor of Divinity from the School of Theology at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, in 1999.
Bosmyer served her internship as an Episcopal deacon at Grace Episcopal Church in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) and completed her intern curacy at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Little Rock. Upon approval of women’s ordination by the national Episcopal Church General Convention of 1976, Bosmyer was the first woman ordained in the Episcopal Church south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
The ordination of women to the priesthood was a controversial issue, and Arkansas Episcopalians experienced some disharmony over the change in tradition. Some left the denomination. Others stayed but continued to express their opposition. Some predicted that women’s ordination would “tear apart the Church.” The dean of the diocesan cathedral, the Very Rev. Charles Higgins, expressed his opposition saying, “This affects the apostolic ministry. We’ve never had a woman priest back to year one.” In response, Bishop Keller said that Bosmyer was called by God to the priesthood and that it would be poor stewardship to not utilize the natural resource she presented. Her ordination, he said, emphasized “not the maleness but the humanity of Jesus Christ.”
Keller appointed Bosmyer as part-time vicar of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Little Rock and the program director for the Diocese of Arkansas, which included oversight of Camp Mitchell on Petit Jean Mountain. In 1985, she became the full-time vicar of St. Michael’s. The congregation grew and thrived for the seventeen years she served as its vicar.
In 1994, she became professor of contextual education at the University of the South School of Theology in Sewanee. During her seven years there, she directed the contextual education program and the continuing education program, co-directed the Church Development Institute, and taught classes in congregational development and Christian education. She also served concurrently as the co-vicar at St. James Teaching mission at Sewanee.
In 2001, she returned to Little Rock, to become Canon Missioner and Vicar of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, where she served until her death in 2008. She was also an associate of the Youth and Family Institute of the Lutheran Church.
Bosmyer was a gifted and insightful preacher. Her sermons, pastoral care, and exuberant celebration of the Eucharist drew new members to her parishes and made her a role model for Episcopal women in the Diocese of Arkansas and throughout the Episcopal Church.
Bosmyer died on December 13, 2008, from pancreatic cancer. She had been married to the Reverend Dr. Dennis Campbell for twenty-four years and had four children. She is interred at the columbarium of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church.
For additional information:Donovan, Mary S. Women Priests in the Episcopal Church: The Experience of the First Decade. Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1988.
Green, William. “1st Episcopal Woman Priest in State is Ordained at Trinity Cathedral.” Arkansas Gazette, January 30, 1977, pp. 1A, 2A.
“New Woman Priest Says Women’s Rights Not Point.” Arkansas Gazette, February 5, 1977, p. 8A.
“Peggy Bosmyer.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 16, 2008, p. 6B.
“Reverend Peggy S. Bosmyer.” Ruebel Funeral Home. http://www.ruebelfuneralhome.com/obituaryindividual.php?id=559 (accessed May 17, 2016).
“Woman Priest to Be Ordained by Episcopals.” Freeport Journal Standard (Freeport, IL), December 13, 1976.
Mary Janet “Bean” Murray Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 6/2/2016
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