5 January 1900 – 12 March 1992
Violet Hedger was born in Hornsey, London. She was converted and baptised at Ferme Park by Dr Charles Brown Violet was a convinced pacifist and her preaching debut was from a soap-box in Hornsey at the age of 14 as the first world war broke out. Nonetheless, the end of the war in 1918 found her working for the War Office. Inspired by missionaries who had returned from the Boxer Rising in China, she first felt called to be a missionary and was initially turned down for training by Spurgeon's College. However, she was encouraged in her sense of call by Dr Brown and Dr Pearce Gould, then principal of Regent's Park.
In September 1919 Violet entered Regent's Park College, at that point still in London, following commendation by her church and an interview and entrance exam taken in June 19191
She was the first woman to enter a Baptist college to be trained for ministry. The time was one of post-war ferment in which women’s rights and abilities had come to the forefront of public debate. Due to the large intake, a number of students lived at home, making it possible for Violet to study, without causing social outrage by ‘living in.’
In a Baptist Times
interview to mark her 90th birthday she recalled facing opposition from family and colleges “Getting into Regents Park was a miracle”2
. In 1923 the new Principal, Dr Wheeler-Robinson refused to pay Violet’s final examination fee on the grounds that she wouldn’t pass and it would be a waste of money “Dr Robinson just ignored the fact that I was there. We never had one conversation. He used to tell others that I was no good and would fail my exams”
. In 1990, on her 90th birthday, the College presented Violet with an apology and a framed cheque for £5, as a tongue-in-cheek way of affirming the ministry of women and celebrating her own lifetime’s ministry, a joke she much enjoyed3
; the cheque was never cashed.
But in her early sense of call she had those who encouraged her; “Nobody pointed out to me that the ministry was taboo for women!"
When confronted by those quoting St Paul, Violet considered the Pentecost prophecy of Joel to validate ministry through women as well as men.
In 1923 Violet graduated BD LLD from Regent's Park College. Unlike the other students she did not enter the settlement list in the year prior to her leaving but was only entered as a student at the monthly meeting of the General Superintendents on 15 October 19244
, following a letter from herself. It would be interesting to know the cause of this gap.
The minutes record her name being sent to Littleover, Derbyshire and North Parade, Halifax and she preached at both through 1925, ending up with a call to Littleover, where she was ordained and inducted on 3 February 1926, into her first pastorate. Littleover was a new church of working and lower middle class members, which Violet sought to grow as a united vital community, undivided by any hint of social divisions. She moved on in 1929 and continued as an itinerant preacher until her call to Halifax.
From 1934-1937 Violet was minister of North Parade, Halifax, a numerically large church. She was the first female sole
pastor in charge of a Yorkshire Baptist Church. She seems to have been the first pastor at North Parade
to have achieved recognised
high academic attainment at modern
. At Halifax, Violet Hedger was the first woman minister to conduct a broadcast service in the British Isles in March 1937, following which she received letters of support from across the world6
. Her ministry at Halifax continued to be one of breaking new ground. Wherever she ministered, Violet encouraged God’s people to face a changing world with creative courage7
From Halifax, Violet was called to Chatham in Kent beginning he ministry on 4 July 1937. Chatham in 1937 and throughout WW2 was a place of dockyards and barracks full of service men and women. Violet was known for preaching alongside the local Anglican priest in pubs, clubs and open air. During the preparations for D-Day in 1944 there was much bombing of the town. Both church and manse were hit and Violet lay unconscious for hours in the ruins. When she came round she was still in bed and covered with a blanket of snow. In June 1944 she resigned from Chatham to face six years of treatment for severe disability resulting from the bomb blast.
Violet’s next and final call was in 1952 to ministry at Chalk Hill, north London where the church was still being rebuilt after the war. She ministered there until 1956.
Violet was described in her obituary as ‘cheerful, courageous, a challenging preacher and a faithful pastor, loyal to her Lord and our Baptist family’8
. Once introduced as the Revd Violent Hedger, by some she was regarded as a rebel and a sort of religious suffragette. She was a convinced pacifist in two world wars yet ministered with commitment to the service men and women around her.
1 Research by the Revd Dr Anthony Clarke, Regent's Park College
2 Jim Wisewell, Marking the 90th Birthday of Violet Hedger Baptist Times
12 November 1987, p4
3 See a conversation between Violet Hedger and ministerial student Deborah Rooke, Facing the Unknown
, in RN Summer 1990.
4 Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland Minute Book March 1924 – March 1925, p408, 417
5 The Revd Allen Holmes Notes on Violet Hedger
6 Women Magistrates, Ministers and Municipal Councillors in the West Riding of Yorkshire
, 1918-1939, Sylvia Jane Dunkley, pp 293-300
8 Obituary Jim Wisewell Baptist Times
19 March 1992, p13