Ella P. Mitchell Pioneer Award

ellaNominated by members of the boards and/or alumna/i of any WomanPreach! program, the Ella P. Mitchell Pioneer in Ministry Award honors a woman minister whose work is judged as pioneering a legacy of justice and wholeness for women preachers or women in non-profit organizations whose work displays uncommon advocacy and ministry in behalf of women and/or children.


The Rev. Dr. Ella Pearson Mitchell, 1917-2008, was a consummate and world-reknowned teacher, preacher, mentor, and church leader. She was affectionately known as “Mother Mitchell” by hundreds of women and men whose lives she touched. Born in Charleston, SC, she graduated from the historic Avery Institute there. She completed her college degree in Religion at Talladega College in Alabama. She continued her education by graduating from Union Theological Seminary in New York City as the second African-American woman with such a distinction. She was licensed as a ministry in 1943, though it would be 35 years later, after receiving her Doctor of Ministry, that she was ordained by the Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, CA.

She met her life partner, friend, and husband, Rev. Dr. Henry H. Mitchell, while they were students at Union, and served together for more than 60 years in various capacities. They co-mentored in the Doctor of Ministry program at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH, and co-founded the Ecumenical Center for Black Church Studies in Los Angela. Dr. Mitchell was the first woman Dean of Sisters Chapel at Spelman College. As a professor, she taught at The Interdenominational Theological Center, the American Baptist Seminary of the West, and the School of Theology at Claremont.

Known by many as “the dean of Black women preachers,” Mother Mitchell edited several volumes of a series titled Those Preaching Women.

These are the words Dr. Valerie Bridgeman, president, wrote about her mentor in November 2008 on Dr. Renita Weem’s blog, Something Within:

It was my great privilege to edit the last volume of Those Preachin’ Women: Multicultural Volume with Mother Ella. I love/d her very much. Her indomitable spirit, her ready laugh, her twinkling eyes, her sage advice, her listening ear, her prophetic blessing…. When Mother Ella took you in as a “daughter” you were truly taken in. My birth mother died in 2002; Mother Ella, along with Mother Mildred Holmes, were quick to fill the void. It amazes me still that with all her children, grandchildren, godchildren, etc. she found time to call to check on me. I will never forget two incidences in the same conversation at the Cathedral College (with Katie Cannon present and in the conversation). The first, after we had been trading ‘war stories’ as women in ministry (each of us representing significant numbers of years in ministry), she looked at me and said, “Valerie, you’re so brave!” It was a blessing and her call for me to “be” brave. I’m trying to live into what she saw that day. Secondly, she looked me in my face and told me that this volume that we would edit together, in which she adamantly wanted to include the voices of other women beyond the African American pulpit, would be her very last. I wonder what she was telling me…. Finally, I just want to echo Renita’s comment that Mother Ella’s mind was sharp as a tack right up to the stroke. I spoke with her maybe 3 days before that, and again, she was laughing, giving advice, and telling me that I was at the “top of the list” for her prayers. I love/d her and always will. I hope that someone I mentor, mother, sister, etc. will remember me and love me one day as much as I love her. That’s the legacy she leaves….

For more information on Rev. Dr. Ella P. Mitchell, check out these sites: