Notable Methodist Women: Scarritt-Bennett’s Outspoken Founder
Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville, Tennessee is a non-profit education center that provides opportunities for women with a focus on social justice and spiritual enrichment. This historic institution was founded in 1892 largely through the efforts of a Methodist Deaconess named Belle Harris Bennett.
(Locator: Nashville, Tennessee)
Visitors to this United Methodist conference center in Nashville see the portrait of co-founder Belle Harris Bennett, but may not know the story of her remarkable life.
This fearless Methodist dedicated her wealth and her life to opening doors for women. Historian Alfred Day says Bennett was outspoken at a time when women were expected to keep quiet.
The Rev. Alfred T. Day: “She was a strong voice, maybe among the strongest in the church, against racism, racial injustice and hatred, and spoke up against lynching when lynching was just a part of the culture of the South.”
Born in 1852 to a wealthy Kentucky family, Belle was a “Southern belle.”
The Rev. Alfred T. Day: “Raised in privilege, high society and aristocracy, never had to worry a day in her life about where money was coming from, or where acceptance was coming from, or where a place in society would come from.”
President of the Woman’s Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, Bennett was so committed to building a school for deaconesses that she travelled over 20,000 miles in just two years.
Mark Shenise, General Commission on Archives and History: “She was constantly out raising money and trying to get students to come in. She was determined to get this up and running and have impact for southern Methodism even if it killed her. And eventually it did. It wore her out.”
Bennett co-founded a Bible and training school in Kansas City, Missouri in 1892 with the Reverend Nathan Scarritt. In 1924, the college relocated to Tennessee.
Scarritt College made history as one of the first private colleges in Tennessee to desegregate. Lelia Robinson and Delaris Johnson graduated in 1954, groundbreaking women who would have made their school’s founder proud.
Bennett became the first woman to address a General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South in 1910. She petitioned for years, urging the conference to give full laity rights to women. In 1922, Bennett was among the first 18 female delegates elected but she was too ill to attend and died that same year.
Mark Shenise: “A remarkable woman in a remarkable time with a remarkable vision for women in ministry in southern Methodism.”
The United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History and UMC.org have teamed up to share the life stories of early Methodists and interesting from the history of the denomination. Watch more videos here.