At worship, women highlight successes, challenges

By Whitney Waller ’13 M.Div.

In the spirit of celebrating eight decades of women at YDS, alumni gathered in Marquand Chapel on Oct. 12 for a special worship service of women’s voices.  During the service, which was part of the women’s celebration at Convocation and Reunions 2010, reflections were shared on behalf of and by women who attended YDS in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.  The stories shared highlighted both challenges and successes women have experienced at YDS since they first entered as students in the 1030s.

YoungerWomen whose voices were raised at the service— some in person, others through written communications—attested to feeling like outsiders and worried about how their gender would affect interactions with male students and faculty.  The severity of alienation ranged from timidity to speak in class to professors flatly refusing to give female students the highest marks because they considered it a wasted grade.

But punctuating these somber reflections were expressions of humor and gratitude offered at the service, entitled "We've Come This Far by Faith (Honoring the Past)."  Professors who practiced impartiality were remembered and praised.  The women’s bathroom was fondly remembered as an oasis for female students looking for a few moments of community.  The depth of community and camaraderie women felt among one another at YDS shone as a particularly bright spot amid the stories shared.

Among those who offered reflections in person was Dodie Younger ’50 M.Div., a well-known church leader who spent decades in leadership roles with American Baptist Women and Church Women United, among other organizations. She recalled the anxiety she felt as one of only 10 women present in YDS classrooms in 1947.  Coming from the Student Christian Movement, Younger found the dearth of female faculty, staff, and mentors at YDS surprising.  Sixty years ago, she admitted, she hardly flinched when professors called class to order by saying, “Gentlemen.” 

When Younger graduated, job prospects were few and far between for women.  Recalling all of these struggles, Younger insisted that during and since her time at Yale, she has continuously witnessed how far women have come in the last 60 years.

“I remain determined to see that my sisters and I will one day be the free people we were created to be,” Younger concluded as she reflected upon the tremendous progress she has seen throughout her lifetime.

KemperNancy Jo Kemper ’67 B.D. and recipient of the 2010 YDS William Sloane Coffin ‘56 Award for Peace and Justice, shared similar sentiments of hope and progress during her address.

“We are those who have lived at the time between the first advent and the second coming of the full equality of women and men,” Kemper said.  She drew out the strands of hope that punctuated her experience at YDS. 

Matriculating during an era defined by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, Kemper believes her perceived status as a second-class citizen paled in comparison to the struggles of those in the greater world.  Kemper, who served as executive director of the Kentucky Council of Churches from 1991-2009, considers the opportunity to attend YDS during a time when there was so much to be done in the world as a joy

Reflections read at the service included those from Anne Hall Higgins ’46 M.Div., Carolyn Flinn Swearingen ’47 Div., Lee McGee ’69 M.A.R., Elizabeth A. Moore ’55 M.R.E., Bernice Cosey Pulley ’55 B.D., and Marilyn Banks Batchelder ’54 M.R.E.

The extraordinary privileges, opportunities and responsibilities provided as a result of attending YDS were expressed in all of the stories told during the worship service.  Permeating the comments was a profound sense that women must continue to take advantage of opportunities such as those offered at YDS and enter the world of service as responsible and ethical leaders. The reflections, both celebratory and challenging, served as calls to action and justice.