1670s, "a nun," from clergy + woman on the model of clergyman. Not seriously as "woman pastor, woman of the clerical profession" until 1871; in between it was used humorously for "old woman" or "domineering wife of a clergyman." Clergess as "member of a female religious order" is attested from late 14c.; clergy-feme as "clergyman's wife or woman" is attested from 1580s.
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