Virginia Changemakers
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Elizabeth Coles Bouey (1890 - 1957)





Founder of the National Association of Ministers' Waves


Elizabeth A. Coles (November 14, 1890-February 5, 1957) was born in Liberia, the daughter of missionaries. Her family returned to Virginia in 1893. After high school, Coles wanted to be a missionary, but as there was no support for unmarried female missionaries, she prepared for a career as a teacher. One day she received a letter from Edward H. Bouey, also a child of missionaries. At their first meeting, he proposed to her, and they soon married. The couple went to Liberia, where they continued her parents’ work, ran a school, and began a hospital. In 1929 they returned to Richmond with their children and an adopted African youth. Elizabeth Coles Bouey became a public school teacher but found time to study theology at Virginia Union University and to earn a master’s degree in education from Columbia University.

Knowing of the lack of training available for ministers’ wives, Bouey proposed a national association for them. Her idea was well received in the region, and the first chapter of the National Association of Ministers’ Wives was founded in Richmond in 1939. During the next year, Bouey organized other chapters in Virginia and corresponded with ministers’ wives throughout the United States. The first national conference took place in Richmond in 1941, and Bouey was elected president, a post she held until her death. Over the next sixteen years, Bouey oversaw members from more than thirty states and from West Africa; the establishment of the organization’s journal, Ministers’ Wives Herald; and the purchase of a building in Richmond. Since Bouey’s death the NAMW has become the International Association of Ministers’ Wives and Ministers’ Widows, with more than 40,000 members.

2007 African American Trailblazers honoree, Library of Virginia.

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Image Courtesy of the Library of Virginia.