Gertrude von Petzold (1876-1952)

Gertrude von Petzold is remembered today as the first woman to train as a minister in England where she took up a post as minister at the Free Christian Unitarian Church in Leicester in September 1904.

But in fact she came from Germany. She was born in Thorn, East Prussia, in 1876, where her background was in the Lutheran church. She trained as a teacher but was too radical to accept Lutheran doctrine uncritically and too ambitious to remain in a country which seemed to offer women only limited career opportunities.

In 1895 Gertrude went to study at St Andrew's University, Scotland. From there she went on to Edinburgh University and, in 1901, she went to Manchester College, Oxford, to train for the liberal and Free Christian ministry.

Not surprisingly, Gertrude spoke not only from the pulpit but also at meetings demanding the vote for women.

Between 1908 and 1910 she spent time in the United States. Back in England she became minister at Small Heath, Birmingham.

Gertrude was an advocate for the ministry of women which she promoted on a visit to Germany in 1911.

Gertrude wished to become a British citizen but her application for naturalization was refused. She had to return to Germany. And war broke out between Germany and Britain.

In 1917 Gertrude became the pastor of two Free Evangelical congregations in East Prussia. Later she became a lecturer in English at the University of Franfurt.

She did not lose her love for England and made several further visits between the wars. She also remained loyal to liberal principles and liberal religion.

In the period before her death in 1952, she worked to assist refugees coming into West Germany from eastern Europe.

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