by S. Sue Horner
“Sadly, most of the 1038 women included in The Dinner Party, are unfamiliar, their lives and achievement unknown to most of us. To make people feel worthless, society robs them of their pride; this has happened to women. All the institutions of our culture tell us–through words, deeds and even worse silence–that we are insignificant. But our heritage is our power!”
This quote by artist and foremother in women’s history Judy Chicago, creator of The Dinner Party, appears at the beginning of my syllabus for Women’s Studies 3910–a topics course I teach at North Park University.
As I prepare for a new group of students each year I hope the experience will be transformative, awakening their minds to the power of herstory. Even with the most skeptical of students, I have yet to be disappointed. There is something magical about uncovering the feats of women in history, a blossoming of possibilities and pride in womankind.
I, too, was a student when I first read this quote and became aware of the artistic grandeur of The Dinner Party, as well as the sweep of “herstoric” uncovering. It was during my studies at Harvard Divinity School, studying with Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and reading her recently published groundbreaking study, In Memory of Her (1983), that the power and reality of herstory broke into my consciousness. In a fresh way I became aware of how the stories of women had played a major role in the development of my feminist consciousness. I recalled how the struggle of Catherine Booth (co-founder with husband William of the Salvation Army) to claim her gift of preaching was so clearly captured in Nancy Hardesty’s book, Great Women of Faith (1980). That book served as a major resource for the variety of retreats and speaking engagements I participated in prior to my academic sojourn at Harvard.
A story worth telling
I guess it is no surprise that my doctoral studies centered on herstory–the telling of the history of evangelical feminism with a focus on EEWC. My story of history writing began in the late ’80s when I became EEWC’s archivist and started gathering nearly twenty years of materials from individuals and regional chapters. As I sifted through the documents, I knew this was a story that needed to be told.
Initially, I began working with Zondervan editor and Web page creator Stan Gundry (husband of EEWC member and author Pat Gundry), but despite Stan’s interest, Zondervan’s marketing division decided there was little money to be made on this project. The work was set aside.
In the early ’90s, I was chatting with Rosemary Radford Ruether on the state of feminism and particularly imminent changes in Daughters of Sarah when Rosemary suggested that I apply to the joint Ph.D. program in religion at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary/Northwestern University and write the history of EEWC as my dissertation. And so seven years of labor began.
A book on the way
In June 2000, the idea of more than a decade was complete—almost. Hopefully, it will not be too much longer before the book version on evangelical feminism reaches a larger audience. I am now reworking the dissertation, “Becoming All We’re Meant to Be: A Social History of the Contemporary Evangelical Feminist Movement, a Case Study of the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus,” for publication by Hendrickson Publishers. With each rereading, reworking, I breathe again the energy, wisdom and sheer force of character of so many of you that have been part of the history of EEWC. A portion of the acknowledgements reads:
There is a “cloud” of supporters of this project to whom I am grateful. I thank the many women and some men who have acted, spoken, and written in the evangelical feminist movement. Without these myriad forms of activism this project would not exist. I am one of many who found in the evangelical feminist movement an environment where I was heard into speech, and I am still in awe of the transformative power of feminist consciousness-raising. I have tried faithfully to tell these stories.
I, of course, have my favorite parts of this herstory. Beginnings have such a privileged place in any endeavor, so too is my beginning with EEWC.
The Pasadena Conference
I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1970s, and a friend gave me a brochure on the 1978 EWC conference in Pasadena. I decided this was most necessary and attended solo. At this point I had already read Nancy Hardesty and Letha Scanzoni’s All We’re Meant to Be (1974) and Paul Jewett’s, Man As Male and Female (1975). I was also completing a Master’s thesis in library science on a bibliographic review of material on women’s roles from a Christian perspective from 1965 to 1975, so was eager to experience evangelicals talking about feminism. As I walked into the ballroom of the Pasadena Hilton, I was astounded at the sheer numbers of “evangelical feminists”—around a thousand—and taken unawares at the profundity of this “coming home” experience.
Moments of epiphany
The moments of epiphany are many for me when I think about thirteen of the total fifteen national conferences I have attended.
I can still see Virginia Ramey Mollenkott at the Pasadena conference. With “holy boldness” she preached the closing worship service on the power of the Holy Spirit, a needed reminder for the enormous task of changing the church. Even now, I am moved as I recall being served, for the very first time, the Eucharist by a woman minister, while kneeling with other women at simple wooden tables encircling the sanctuary. The following day, sitting by myself in the organizing business meeting, I heard Letha Scanzoni call evangelical feminists prophets—not confused women or heretics! In her speech, Marching On!, Letha told us, “We did not become feminists and then try to fit our Christianity into feminist ideology. We became feminists because we were Christians.”
I will never forget Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s gentle pat on my arm during the passion-filled 1986 business meeting at the Fresno conference. Imagining the demise of EWC, I was comforted when she told me, “We Catholics do this all the time, EWC will survive.” Then at the 1992 San Francisco business meeting, when the future of what had by then become EEWC seemed dire, Jeanne Baly and Judy Jahnke offered to coordinate the 1994 conference, back in Chicago for the third time.
The stirring of memories
So many memories were triggered in the research for the dissertation. I still have boxes of archival materials lined up on the radiator in my study—soon to be shipped to the Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship at Union Theological Seminary, New York City. The papers tell a part of the story, but I will long treasure the twenty-four face-to-face interviews I did across the country. I think a meal or drink was always part of the ritual whether I was in Seattle or Hartford or Los Angeles. It is a marvel, the synchronicities that interwove in the lives of so many of us—being in the right place at the right time with available resources of time or energy or money—a minor miracle in the struggle to transform the church and heal our woman-selves.
Speaking of miracles, I remember Britt Vanden Eykel’s story of the correlation between an inaugural experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit and a surge in energy to quickly complete her doctoral dissertation. (Working part-time as field director for EWC, she had set aside this final task in the completion of her doctorate in political science from George Washington University when the National Organization for Women (NOW) hired her as the national evangelical coordinator for the Equal Rights Amendment Countdown Campaign in the early 1980s.) Towards the end of my writing, I also felt in need of a miracle.
The ecstasy and the agony
The dissertation process drew deeply from my soul, and my husband, David, kidded me that my copious journal writing was a parallel dissertation. I have enduring affection for EEWC and delight in feminist analysis and praxis. However, these biophilic emotions are coupled with personal ambivalence about the church. I have some thirty years of shaping and growing within a fundamentalist and conservative evangelical ethos. This apparently unresolved part of me emerged at unexpected moments, which at times made for a torturous writing process. (It literally took years to write the background chapter on evangelicalism!)
I recall a friend from San Francisco telling me that one should never write a dissertation on a topic that has personal meaning. I told him that those rules just didn’t apply to a feminist person such as myself, but I now understand that such passion invested in a long research and writing project does indeed deplete the body and can stir up surprising emotions.
A continued story
And, so what begins, continues. This is a struggle—becoming all that we are meant to be. I listen to the stories of my students and some remind me of conversations of twenty years ago. But some give me delight that all of this struggle to make a more just world for women (and men) has had that effect. I am also heartened to learn that the recoverings of women’s history are now showing up in high school curriculum. Hope abounds.
Where we grow
I have a vivid memory of Virginia Ramey Mollenkott in the Lecture Hall Auditorium of North Park University responding to the question about how to act in the face of the enormity of issues of justice women face. Her reply was simple: “Grow where you are planted.”
That image of growth is profound. Plants need some sun, some rain, reasonable soil to thrive, but can even sprout out of stones or black top!
We all live in our particular worlds, with unique nutrients and inconsistent water and sun, but grow we can, delighting in those moments of health and enduring in the moments of deprivation and struggle.
One of the last tasks in completing the dissertation was composing the dedication. I knew it needed to reflect the complexities and joys of my life. Family and friends are indeed the nourishment that enables this plant to grow. I began, “For the sisters of summer, struggling to become all they’re meant to be.” Without the women and supportive men of EEWC, our organization, the wider church, and society in world scale, would be much impoverished. We are numerically small, but grand in effect.
The dedication next focused on my family, “two generations of feminist ‘babies,’ a reference to my son and daughter, my daughter-in-law, and the bold and irrepressible grandbabee, Haley Ann. (Is there a feminist gene?) Followed by, “for David, enduring grace and love.” My husband has been a fellow traveler, beginning with his conversion to the rightness and trueness of evangelical feminism on the Connecticut turnpike some twenty years ago.
The dedication ended with, “in all upheld by the bluest crème of life.” It is no secret that I am enchanted by the sparkling blue sea. For me oceans embody the pervasiveness of Gaia grounding. It is where I see, feel, and touch the Spirit of God in all her expansiveness. This is a transformative journey we have all undertaken–as miraculous as a tiny seed transformed into the stunning vibrancy of a gerber daisy or the wonder of holding a new life in your arms, just two and a half hours old. I am honored to be a part of all of you associated with EEWC in our journey towards wholeness and holiness.
© 2001 Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus, EEWC Update, volume 25 number 2, Summer 2001