Honoring the Past, Challenging the Future: Celebrating Eight Decades of Women at Yale Divinity School

In recognition of the contributions of women to life and scholarship at Yale Divinity School, a number of special events are planned for Convocation and Reunions 2010 as part of the program Honoring the Past, Challenging the Future: Celebrating Eight Decades of Women at Yale Divinity School.   Among the activities will be a presentation by Professor Emerita Margaret Farley, a panel about YDS women, special worship services, a community meal, and a musical presentation hosted by the Institute of Sacred Music.

FarleyFarley, the first Roman Catholic woman appointed a member of the YDS faculty and a well-known Christian ethicist, will open the celebration on Monday afternoon, Oct. 11 at a session entitled Home from the Journey: Gathering and Remembering.  A mentor to many students over the years, Farley began teaching at YDS in 1971 as a lecturer and was named the Gilbert L. Stark Professor of Christian Ethics several years before her retirement in spring 2007.

Following on the morning of next day, Oct. 12, will be the panel presentation, YDS Women:  Generations of Faith and Witness.

“This is going to be a very exciting Convocation and Reunion week,” predicted Director of Development Connie Royster, staff contact for the women’s reunion.  “Among the reunions that will take place is a reunion celebrating eight decades of women at YDS. This is an extraordinary achievement to celebrate as Dean Attridge pointed out in his Commencement remarks.

“In keeping with the Women’s reunion theme of honoring the past and challenging the future, the committee members are putting together an exciting and innovative program filled with conversation, song, food and time to reconnect.”

Two of the morning worship services planned for the Oct. 11-14 Convocation week will be integrated with the women’s celebration.  On Oct. 12, there will be a service featuring multiple women’s voices to honor the past and those who were trailblazers: We’ve Come This Far by Faith (Honoring the Past)Click here to read profiles of two of the earliest graduates. On Oct. 13, Marcia Y. Riggs ’83 M.Div. will preach on the topic Can I Get a Witness?  (Challenging the Future).

At the Alumni Awards luncheon on Oct. 12, three of the honorees will be women: Nancy Jo Kemper ’67 B.D., recently retired executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches, William Sloane Coffin ’56 Award for Peace and Justice; Barbara Lundblad ’79 M.Div., Joe R. Engle Professor of Preaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York, Distinction in Theological Education; and Lillian Daniel ’93 M.Div., Senior Minister of First Congregational Church, UCC, in Glen Ellyn, IL, Distinction in Congregational Ministry.

Dinner on Oct. 12 will be a community meal, Bread for the Journey, and following that will be the special ISM-sponsored event, Her Lamp Does Not Go Out: Celebrating Women and Creativity.

Women’s Reunion events close with a pizza lunch on Oct. 13, The Journey is Home, which will feature breakout sessions for various caucuses and interest groups, including those focused on women’s issues.

Women members of the YDS Alumni Board constitute the event working committee, and Talitha Arnold ’80 M.Div., Alumni Board Riggsliaison for the reunion, said they are “very hard at work ensuring an exciting Women’s Reunion.”
In addition to Arnold, Committee members are: Joan Cooper Burnett ’04 M.Div., Cheryl Cornish ’83 M.Div., Ann Hallisey ’75 M.Div., Carol Rose Ikeler ’50 B.D., Myra McNeill ’08 M.Div., Mary Ellen O’Driscoll ’02 M.Div. (chair, Alumni Board), Jennie Ott ’06 M.Div., and Allie Perry ’80 M.Div.

Several current and former faculty and staff members are also contributing their time and experience in the planning stages: Margaret Farley; Shannon Clarkson, lecturer in Christian education; retired Registrar Detra MacDougall; Grace Pauls, executive assistant to the dean; and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Emilie Townes.  

Women at Yale Divinity School

Two of the first graduated 75 years ago: Thelma Diener Allen and Bernice Buehler

Thelma Diener Allen ’35 B.D.

Thelma Diener Allen ’35 B.D. was a teacher and writer who wrote works of historical fiction and non-fiction about the West and Native Americans. Throughout her life, she carried keen memories of the years she spent on the newly constructed Sterling Divinity Quadrangle, including the caution with which women were initially admitted to Yale Divinity School. But six decades after her graduation Allen assessed her time at YDS in these words: “I credit my years at Yale with putting me in touch with large-hearted teachers who shared their insights and their very real friendship. These played a substantial role in shaping my life.” Allen spent two decades teaching creative writing to Native American teenagers in New Mexico and also served as a lecturer at the University of California, Santa Cruz. For six years she was a director of communications arts for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Her best-known published work is a 1951 historical novel co-written with her husband, Doctor in Buckskin, about a doctor/missionary on the Oregon Trail.  In addition to her books about the American West, she also authored a gluten-free cookbook and a textbook on writing.  In retirement, Allen lived in Carmel, CA, and in 1991 she created the David M. Diener Scholarship at YDS in memory of her father.  Born in 1908, she died in 2008 at the age of 100.


Bernice Buehler ’35 B.D.

After helping break the gender barrier at Yale Divinity School, Bernice Buehler ’35 B.D. left YDS to enter a life of service in the Evangelical and Reformed Churches and, then, its successor denomination, the United Church of Christ. Not long after graduation, she founded the Evangelical & Reformed Church’s Children’s Work Department and directed it until the merger. During the merger, she was instrumental in crafting the newly formed UCC’s statement of faith. Upon her ordination in 1958, she returned to her home state, Ohio, to serve St. John’s United Church of Christ in Powhatan Point for a decade. Later, she was called to head an experimental nursery school program, the Eden Laboratory Preschool, at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis. It was there that Buehler, known as “Miss B,” helped break another barrier. A colleague recalled, “As potentially the first Jewish teacher at Eden Lab, the board asked for a meeting with me, and although I was a little nervous, Miss B was there supporting me throughout the meeting.” Buehler was active in the Children’s Defense Fund and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and one of her most powerful memories was taking part in the 1963 March on Washington with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. In one interview conducted many decades after her graduation, Buehler recalled her YDS experience, saying, “I think there was an openness to newness at Yale that was very significant . . . I guess maybe it was a little bit against the trend of the time.”  In retirement, Buehler lived in Dover, OH, where she died in 2005, a centenarian.

Revised 7/8/2010