by Lē Isaac Weaver
I wonder how many of those who have been involved in Christian Feminism Today over the years realize just how important CFT was to Jeanne Hanson, and how important Jeanne was to CFT.
In my mind, Jeanne was an Olympic diver who pulled off a technically excellent dive and hardly made any splash at the end. The dive was so smooth and so perfect, the splash so light, you might not have even noticed it happening.
Jeanne was exactly the size and shape of life.
I don’t remember meeting Jeanne at my first EEWC conference back in 2002 (CFT was known as the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus, EEWC, at that time). I figure she was there, because she only missed a couple conferences, but somehow, she is absent from that memory.
I do remember Virginia Mollenkott, who captured and held your attention; she was bigger than life. You couldn’t miss her. But you could miss Jeanne, who was not bigger than life. In fact, Jeanne was exactly the size and shape of life, so much so that, when you first saw her, she might just fade into the human background. This was true even though, as I would later learn, she was a part of everything going on with the organization, quietly moving from task to task and holding things together with competence and humility.
Jeanne was there from the beginning…
Jeanne came to CFT in its very early days. The first conference she attended was in 1978, in Pasadena. After that, she jumped right into Christian feminist advocacy, presenting a workshop on “Christian Perspectives on the ERA” for the Lutheran Institute for Theological Education Conference, and in 1981 Jeanne and JoAnna Nichols (later Klein) presented a workshop together.
In 1982, she co-coordinated CFT’s fifth conference, in Seattle. Thirty thousand brochure announcements were sent out! It was a very successful conference. From what I can find, it appears almost a thousand people participated.
Two years later, Jeanne served as the organization’s national coordinator (1983–1984). She chaired the contentious business meeting in 1984 during the Wellesley conference, when the “issue” of homosexuality was first broached in an official setting.
Jeanne was there from the beginning of the Seattle chapter, presenting workshops for chapter meetings and helping keep everything going smoothly.
Later, when the organization needed someone to step into the role of office manager, Jeanne took over that position. Even when she stepped back from the office manager role a few years later, she still managed the upkeep of the membership database.
Jeanne was the most technically adept person of her generation I’ve ever known, probably because she first felt drawn to technology way back in the early fifties. In fact, she joined the Navy as a young adult to learn all she could about radio technology because she felt called to be a missionary — specifically called to be an engineer at a Christian radio station in another country. Very few women would have ever thought it was possible to be a radio station engineer, let alone managed to get through all the closed doors that were designed to keep women out of the profession.
…the immense privilege of getting to know Jeanne.
In the years after I attended my first EEWC conference, after I became more involved with the organization, I had the immense privilege of getting to know Jeanne. She and I talked about all the things she had seen and experienced in her life.
She was gender nonconforming like me, and I marveled at how she had dealt with that. Growing up in the sixties as a gender queer kid was emotionally traumatizing for me at every turn. There was strict enforcement of patriarchy and the gender binary, though it began eroding at the end of the decade. I couldn’t even imagine what it had been like for her growing up thirty years before that (she was born in 1928). I was fascinated to learn how things were for her back then, but I was surprised at how she seemed to have come to peace with it when I have struggled so much all my life.
After we’d known each other for a while, Jeanne joined me at a Q Christian Network conference (known then as the Gay Christian Network). CFT was sponsoring the WeConnect Women’s Retreat that year, and this gave Jeanne the opportunity to speak with many of the young women there. Jeanne was in her eighties, and I think she was probably the “oldest” Christian lesbian any of the gals had met. I think talking with Jeanne helped several people gain some optimism about how their lives would go.
And, for that matter, that was one of Jeanne’s strengths. Just talking to people, listening well, making wise observations, and projecting calm and positivity.
Jeanne made healing possible.
In 2018, a small group of CFT members grew concerned about the direction of the organization and pushed hard for changes that were very unpopular with the organization’s newer and younger members, who nearly all quit the organization. Jeanne was able to understand the complexity of the situation, and in her quiet, steady, and grounding way, she shepherded the organization through that difficult time. At 90 years old, Jeanne rejoined the executive council and took over as coordinator. She initiated conversations, and even traveled to talk to some of us in person. She advised. She reassured. Jeanne made healing possible.
Very few people are aware of how much work it took to keep the organization from collapsing into the chaos of that moment. Fewer still know how much of that work Jeanne did herself. While nothing could be done to win back the many who left, a majority of the organization’s long-term members stayed on.
After a while, the organization settled down enough that Jeanne could step back from leadership. But she continued to do all she could to support and advise those who took over.
The last thing Jeanne did, right as she was being admitted to inpatient hospice, was to send a donation to help the organization fund its 50th anniversary celebration. It was very important to her that the organization’s legacy be preserved.
… the perfect size for life.
Our culture encourages us to notice and celebrate those bigger-than-life personalities who capture attention with their words and actions—people like Virginia Mollenkott. And rightly so. Virginia changed innumerable lives during her time on this earth. But our culture is much less inclined to lift up, or even notice, those wise souls who tread lightly through this life quietly enhancing the lives of the people and groups they encounter.
So, I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the wonderful legacy of our friend, Jeanne Hanson. A person who wasn’t bigger than life, but who was a beautiful example of how to be just the perfect size.
- To read about Jeanne’s “Leap of Faith” (her skydiving adventure at 80 years old!) click here.
- To read a brief testimony that Jeanne gave at the 2018 CFT Gathering in St. Louis, click here.
- To read Jeanne’s obituary, click here.
© 2023 by Lē Isaac Weaver and Christian Feminism Today. Please contact us for permission before reprinting or republishing any part of this piece.