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

A special focus of Convocation and Reunions 2010 was the celebration of women at YDS, featuring iconic former faculty members and administrators such as Margaret Farley and Joan Forsberg; current Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Emilie Townes; well-known alumnae in academia like Barbara Lundblad and Serene Jones; and many alumnae in ministry such as Kate Latimer, Jessica Anschutz, and Ann Hallisey.  Spearheading the Celebration were the women of the Alumni Board, including Talitha Arnold ’80 M.Div., Women’s Reunion chair, and Mary Ellen O’Driscoll ’02 M.Div., Alumni Board chair.

Close discussionThe women’s celebration, entitled Honoring the Past, Challenging the Future: Celebrating Eight Decades of Women at Yale Divinity School, began with an opening event featuring Farley, Forsberg and Townes on the first day of Convocation and Reunions and ended on the third day with a screening of the film “You Can’t Sing It for Them: Continuity, Change, and a Church Musician.”

In between were a panel about YDS women, special worship services, a community meal, and a musical presentation hosted by the Institute of Sacred Music.

In the opening ceremonies (read more), Margaret Farley ’73 Ph.D., the first Roman Catholic woman appointed a member of the YDS faculty and the Gilbert L. Stark Professor Emerita of Christian Ethics, recounted some of the struggles that have confronted women historically at YDS but pointed to hope as being “at the heart of our movement into the future and our call.”  Following Farley were reflections on the place of women at YDS offered by former Associate Dean of Students and Women’s Advocate Joan Forsberg ’53 B.D. and Emilie Townes, associate dean of academic affairs and the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology.

Bright Eyed At a panel discussion (read more) on the second day of Convocations & Reunions, entitled YDS Women: Generations of Faith and Witness, five alumnae representing five generations of scholarship at YDS reflected on their experiences on Sterling Divinity Quadrangle, including Jessica Anschutz ’07 M.Div., Shelley Best ’00 M.Div., Kate Latimer ’85 M.Div., Ann Hallisey ’75 M.Div., and Bernice Cosey Pulley ’55 M.Div. Anschutz spoke of the liberating experience of pursuing studies “in a place where the possibility of ordination for women was widely recognized” and described her time at YDS as “a breath of fresh air, where one could freely study.”

Later in the morning, a worship service (read more) was held in Marquand Chapel featuring multiple women’s voices to honor the past and women “trailblazers,” entitled We’ve Come This Far by Faith (Honoring the Past).  During the service, reflections were shared on behalf of and by women who attended YDS in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, highlighting both challenges and successes women have experienced at YDS since they first entered as students in the 1930s.  Some recalled feeling like outsiders in a sea of men, but much humor and gratitude also marked the service.

DisscussionAt the Alumni Awards luncheon at noon, three of the honorees 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.

Also at the awards luncheon, women from classes of the 1940, 50s, and 60s were recognized, and in two cases spouses of alumni from those classes. Those honored included Elizabeth Frazier ’40 M.Div., Anne Higgins ’46 M.Div., Dodie Younger ’50 M.Div., Carol Rose Ikeler ’50 B.D., Joan Forsberg’53 B.D., Marilyn Banks Batchelder ’54 M.R.E., Elizabeth Dodson Gray ’54 B.D., Bernice Cosey Pulley ’55 B.D., Ruth Hooke ’56 M.Div, Elizabeth Downie ’60 Div.  The spouses recognized included Shirley Baird, wife of William Baird , Class of 1950, and Kathy Todd, wife of George Todd, Class of 1951.  A special certificate was also awarded to long-time Registrar Detra MacDougall.

On the second night of Convocation, a celebratory mood prevailed at the Shalom meal (read more) held as part of the Women’s Reunion festivities.  The Shalom meal tradition emerged from a practice begun by the late Professor Letty Russell during her years at Yale Divinity School, where members of each of her classes broke bread together at the end of the semester.  Women from graduating classes as far back as the 1940s and 50s shared the Shalom meal and participated in a program of celebration led by Serene Jones '85 M.Div., '91 PhD, president of Union Theological Seminary in New York.

WavingFollowing the Shalom meal, ISM hosted an event entitled Her Lamp Does Not Go Out: Celebrating Women and Creativity, held at Trinity Church on the Green in New Haven and featuring talented women graduates working in the areas of worship, music, and the arts.

The program was hosted by Barbara Lundblad, and participants included soprano Awet Andemicael ’10 M.A.R., who presented present a program entitled "The Ambiguity of Dark and Light" that included two Handel arias; Peter Hawkins, professor of religion and literature at YDS, who introduced work of a graduate he mentored during her years at Yale, the late Martha Dewey ’81 M.A.R. who was artistic director and a founding member of the Cornell Interactive Theatre Ensemble (CITE); Alisha Lola Jones ’07 M.Div., a businesswoman, scholar, social activist, speaker, and singer, who presented art songs by the composer Lena J. McLin (b. 1929); Ellen Priest ’77 M.Div., who discussed the larger forces that have shaped her work as an abstract painter; and readings by Martha Serpas ’94 M.Div., whose two collections of poetry are Côte Blanche (New Issues, 2002) and The Dirty Side of the Storm (Norton, 2007).

Marcia Y. Riggs ’83 M.Div., the J. Erskine Love Professor of Christian Ethics at Columbia Theological Seminary, preached at the Wednesday morning service on the topic Can I Get a Witness?  (Challenging the Future). (read more)  At the end of the service women of the Alumni Board participated in a "commissioning" for the next eight decades.

ISM“We must nurture capacities of faith within the depth of our souls,” said Riggs.  “We must nurture –our capacities for empathy as a matter of exercising moral imagination and as a way to encounter other people from their point of view; our capacities for nonviolent resistance to oppression, (relinquishing the violence of our words and acts in everyday life and finding alternatives to war); our capacities for living into the energies of God’s spirit that are generative of creative ethical responses and moral agency to transform our lives with one another and this planet we call home.”

Meeting informally over pizza at noon on Wednesday, breakout sessions were held for various interest groups, and a special presentation on the history of women at YDS (read more) was given by Martha Smalley, special collections librarian and curator of the Day Missions Library.  She pointed to the 1950s and 1960s as critical times for women at YDS, when Dean Liston Pope responded to some of the problems women faced by appointing a Committee on Programs for Women Students.

The Women’s Reunion concluded Wednesday evening with the screening of a new film (read more) by Margot Fassler, former director of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, “You Can’t Sing It For Them: Continuity, Change, and a Church Musician.” The film details the struggle of John Berryman, the music director of Bridgeport’s Messiah Baptist Church, as he tries to consolidate the church’s many choirs into one.

View a gallery of photos from the Women's Celebration