Anna Carpenter Garlin Spencer (1851-1931) was a minister, feminist, educator, pacifist, and writer on ethics and social problems. Perhaps inspired by the examples of her abolitionist mother, Nancy Carpenter Garlin, and her aunt, Sarah Carpenter, a missionary who worked with homeless women, Anna Garlin Spencer dedicated her life to social reform. Spencer served as a religious leader in the Bell Street Chapel in Providence, a liberal, nondenominational ethical church, beginning in 1889. She was the first woman in Rhode Island to be ordained and served as the minister of the Bell Street Chapel from 1891 to 1902.
Anna Garlin was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts in 1851, and spent her youth in that state and Rhode Island. In 1869 she began to write for the Providence Journal, as well as teach in the public schools. She remained a journalist until 1878 when she married the Reverend William H. Spencer, a Unitarian minister. From 1902 until her death, Spencer held a series of teaching posts as such institutions as the University of Wisconsin, the University of Chicago, and Teacher's College, Columbia University. She taught on issues of religion, aspects of marriage and the family, the role of women, sexuality, and philanthropy.
Spencer was active in the cause of women's rights for more than forty years. She was a friend of well-known feminists, including Susan B. Anthony, Ednah Cheney, Lucy Stone, and Valeria H. Parker. In the 1890's she served as the president of the Rhode Island Equal Suffrage Association. An early participant in the National Council of Women, Anna Garlin Spencer was president of that organization in 1920.
Spencer's interest in pacifism also led her to prominent positions in the cause of peace. She was on the executive committee of the National Peace and Arbitration Congress in 1907 and was a founding member of the Woman's Peace Party in 1915, serving as vice chairman. She also became the first chairman of the national board of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919.
Spencer died at her home in New York in 1931.