In 1803 the Methodist Conference – the governing body of the Wesleyan Methodists in the United Kingdom – officially limited the practice of women’s preaching, stating that ‘We are of the opinion that in general they ought not [preach]’ because ‘a vast majority of our people are opposed to it’, and ‘their preaching does not at all seem necessary; there being a sufficiency of preachers, whom God has accredited, to supply all places in our connexion with regular preaching.’ This decision made official what had been occurring in practice, namely a steady move away from the toleration of women's public roles in Methodism following John Wesley's death in 1791. While Wesley allowed women to preach his successors were less enthusiastic. Whereas during the eighteenth century single-sex spaces often acted as a launching point for the public ministries of women like Sarah Crosby, after 1803 women's roles within Methodism were increasingly confined to private, domestic, or singlesex spheres. While some women simply chose to ignore the conference and continued to preach well into the nineteenth century, these preaching women became increasingly rare.
Indeed, communities of women who band together for social, emotional, financial, religious, imaginative, or erotic support are always viewed with suspicion by the dominant culture. They may be tolerated or even grudgingly encouraged for a time, but the discursive power of such women is always eventually perceived as a threat and efforts are made to shut down or marginalize such expressions of female friendship and homosociality. Methodism was no exception. While during the early years of the movement women were able to locate and utilize discursive space within which they formed communal bonds and to operate from a position of spiritual agency and authority, this space was increasingly proscribed during the 1780s and 1790s and shut off altogether during the early nineteenth century.
More dramatic than the delimiting of women's public preaching roles, however, was the rapidly shrinking space for women's expression in important Methodist mouthpieces such as the Methodist Magazine. While Wesley, as editor of the then Arminian Magazine, encouraged women's submissions and printed many of their accounts and letters, his successors as editor, particularly Joseph Benson, did not, preferring to print accounts of pious, holy, and domestic women written predominately by men.