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Women's History Guide: Lucy Rider Meyer

March is designated as Women's History Month. This guide is a celebration of the outstanding history of women within Methodism and in Garrett-Evangelical's history.

Lucy Rider Meyer (1849-1922)

American social worker and educator whose activity within the Methodist church was aimed at training and organizing workers to provide health and social services for the poor, the elderly, and children.

Lucy Rider attended public schools and the New Hampton Literary Institution in Fairfax, Vermont. After teaching for three years, she entered Oberlin (Ohio) College, from which she graduated after two years in 1872. She then attended the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (1873–75) to prepare herself to share the life of the medical missionary to whom she had become engaged; after his death in 1875, however, Rider returned to Vermont. She was principal of the Troy Conference Academy in Poultney (1876–77), a student of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1877–78), and professor of chemistry at McKendree College, Lebanon, Illinois (1879–81). From 1881 to 1884 she was field secretary for the Illinois State Sunday School Association.

In 1885 Rider married Josiah S. Meyer, a Chicago businessman who shared her deep interest in the Methodist church and its work. Later that year they opened the Chicago Training School for City, Home, and Foreign Missions. The time and place were opportune for such a school, and theirs grew rapidly and quickly gained the support of official Methodist bodies. Wesley Memorial Hospital, the Chicago Old People’s Home, and the Lake Bluff Orphanage soon evolved from the work of the Meyers and that of their students, and over the years some 40 philanthropic institutions grew up in a like manner.

In 1887 Meyer received an M.D. from the Woman’s Medical College of Chicago. In that year she organized a number of her women students into a program of visitation and social service among the urban poor, and within a few months a core group of these social workers had banded together into what was in effect the first house of deaconesses in the United States. Meyer devoted most of her time to the deaconess movement and converted her periodical, the Message (founded in 1886), into the Deaconess Advocate, which she edited until 1914. In 1889 she published Deaconesses: Biblical, Early Church, European, American, a history of the movement. In 1908 Meyer formed the Methodist Deaconess Association. She and her husband resigned as superintendent and principal of the Chicago Training School in 1917, by which time the school had graduated more than 5,000 trained workers.