Emma Monroe was born in Ohio, the daughter of a U.S. Congressman, minister, and abolitionist. The family moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1863, when her father was appointed U.S. Consul there. Emma returned to Ohio for college, graduating from Oberlin in 1869. She married Rev. Charles N. Fitch, also an Oberlin graduate, in 1872. The couple moved to Cornwall in 1873, where Rev. Fitch was appointed minister of the Second Congregational Church in North Cornwall.

Emma Fitch played a significant role in her husband’s pastorate, far beyond the traditional role of minister’s wife: on occasion, Emma filled in for him at the pulpit. At a time when a woman minister was inconceivable, Emma Fitch was able to lead the congregation.

Emma also served in more traditional roles for a minister’s wife, superintending the West Cornwall Sunday School and volunteering as the vice-president of the Women’s Missionary Society of Connecticut (she was president of the Women’s Society of Colorado during the 1890s).

In 1876, only a few years after the Fitches arrived in Cornwall, and perhaps inspired by Emma’s relatively equal footing with her husband, the North Cornwall Church adopted a resolution giving their women members full voting rights within the church.

We have full confidence in the wisdom, good judgment, and discretion which characterize the female members of this Church. therefore Voted That in this and in all future meetings of this Church the female members thereof shall have a voice, and vote under the same rules & regulations as govern the male members thereof in their voting priviledges [sic]. And the female members as aforesaid are hereby allowed & requested to vote upon all questions that may come before the Church for its consideration in such way as in their judgment they may deem best.

~ Resolution granting full voting rights to women in the Second Congregational Church, North Cornwall, 1876

Resolution granting full voting rights to women in the Second Congregational Church, North Cornwall, 1876.
(Collection of Cornwall Historical Society)

The Fitches were also involved in the construction of a new chapel in West Cornwall, where Emma ran a Sunday School. Reverend Fitch and Deacon Theodore S. Gold travelled to New York City where they met with West Cornwall native, Elizabeth Stoddard Huntington, and her husband, Collis P. Huntington. Fitch and Gold persuaded the Huntingtons to help fund the chapel.