Southwest District Women and Religion 1979-1998
An ongoing collection of our Herstory Compiled by Julia Harris for SWUUWCon 2014
The Women and Religion resolution was born out of the struggles of the Arlington Street Women's Caucus of the early 1970s. The UU Women's Federation (UUWF) was the one group that responded to them, according to Carolyn McDade, brought them to the General Assembly, supported their music record having as one of its programs at that time to work for "better representation of women on the UU staff, boards, committees, and ministry." The Caucus efforts raised consciousness, affecting their lives and their culture, and so were successful ("three magnificent years," said McDade). Then, with no way to keep things going, the group lapsed.
In January 1977, Lucile Schuck Longview of Lexington, Mass. drafted a business resolution, entitled Women and Religion, to be considered at the UUA General Assembly in Ithaca, New York, the following June. Please see Rosemary Matson's online Memoirs for the amazing story! On June 23, 1977, the resolution was passed unanimously at General Assembly in Ithaca, NY.
In 1978, Paul Carnes, UUA President, appointed Rev. Leslie Westbrook "Minister for Women and Religion" for a three-year term and, in consultation with Westbrook, appointed a program committee charged with planning the 1979 Grailville Women and Religion Conference. $5,000 of program money was freed from the Adult Programs budget to pay for it. This committee included representatives from MSUU (Ministerial Sisterhood UU) [ed. note - no longer in existence, only their banner remains], LREDA (Liberal Religious Educator's Association), and the UUWF (UU Women's Federation), including one former member of the Lexington group. Carol Brody, RE Director in Columbus, Ohio, and Rosemary Matson were asked to chair this committee of eight. *Please see Rosemary Matson's memoirs for more of the story.*
Briefly, in May of 1979, the first gathering of District W&R chairs took place in Grailville, Ohio, with 72 women spending three days examining ideas, resources, programs, skills and strategies to begin the process of eradicating sexism from our denomination, our societies and from our lives. "There was a magic at Grailville and the seeds of change were sown". This was the beginning of changes in the denomination in the use of sexist language. It also began hymnal revision, the creation of an auditing tool to assess our worship services and church activities for sexist language and the demeaning of women, and the scrutiny of the UU Principles and Purposes.
In 1980 the second committee, again with other groups having representatives on the committee, sponsored a convocation in East Lansing, MI. Two hundred attended from all regions, discussed feminist theology, resolved to press even more strongly for implementation of the Resolution, and vowed to go home to their churches and push for a proposed by-law change and a Committee appointment to the Principles and Purposes Committee. The beloved water ceremony "Coming Home Like Rivers to the Sea" created by Lucile Longview and Carolyn McDade was first presented there.
**Beth Williamson represented the Southwest District in East Lansing as the first chair of the Southwest District Women and Religion Committee. Beth was the founder and first editor of the SouthWest Women and Religion Letter (SWIRRL) a short-lived mimeographed newsletter which was resurrected out of the generosity of the Midland, Texas women who conceived and carried out the first SW District women's conference held in February, 1987.**
Back on the Continental front, in 1981 the W&R Committee became a Board-appointed one (hence appointed by the Committee on Committees) instead of presidentially appointed. Seven or eight people were appointed to two years, renewable for a second term. There was a nine-month hiatus during the changeover, and the new committee met in 1982. Rev. Judy Mannheim, in RE, was their staff liaison, doing minor things like making reservations for their meetings. But there was no central place where files could be maintained, inquiries answered, etc., so for two years the committee lobbied the Board and Finance Committee for a consistent staff presence at 25 Beacon. The birth process, when it came, was rough.
LREDA, UUWF, MSUU, and the W&R Committee hosted a convocation on Women and Religion in Albuquerque in March 1984. Mary Rosa had just been hired, half-time, to work on Women and Religion, aging, and racism...all three. She found many of the more than 250 people at the convocation talking about her job, decrying the "tokenism" of their getting only one-sixth of a person for their concerns. Both Bill Schulz and Sandy Caron were there, and their response was to rush back to Boston and NY to see what could be done.
Meetings with Tracey DeVol, UUWF leadership, and the UUA Administration resulted in approval at the next month's Board meeting for raising Mary Ross's position to full-time, over the objection of the Finance Committee, which disapproved of the way things had been handled. Although they eventually "reopened the budget" and approved the change, the process was uncomfortable for many. The Board, said DeVol, clearly lacked information on what the Women and Religion Committee was doing; seemed plaintive over the W&R Committee's methods ("haven't we done enough? We've brought you so far!") unhappy about having said, "We can't fund a full-time position, we have no money," and then being pushed into reversing itself.
Though it took six years, a new set of Principles and Purposes, which reflect our understanding of today's world, was adopted by delegates at the General Assembly in Atlanta in 1985 by a voice vote with only one audible voice raised in dissent.
Following the 1985 GA, Bernita Cogan, a former UUWF board member living in the Dallas area initiated an effort to raise funds to create a Feminist Theology Award. The "UU Feminist Scholar Award" was started at the annual meeting of SWUUW during SWUUSI in 1985. The goal was to raise $100,000 to provide scholarships to women to write and publish UU feminist theology. Thanks to Bernita's tireless efforts and the help of SWUUW members, particularly in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, approximately $30,000 was raised and forwarded to the UUWF in honor of Claire R White, First Treasurer of the UUWF. An additional $120,000 was raised by UUWF and added to create a restricted fund called the Feminist Theology Award.
It is now called Margaret Fuller Grants, administered by the UUWF in Boston. Several volumes of "Transforming Thought", Position Papers on Feminist Theology were published. The first, in memory of Claire R. White 1906-1986 included an article by our own Beth Williamson.
In 1986 Shirley Ranck's course Cakes for the Queen of Heaven was published by the UUA. In February, 1987, Anna McNaught and Karen Croneis from the Southwest District attended a "train the trainers" training session in Palo Alto, CA for implementation of the new curriculum. Three training sessions in the district were held that year: in April in Austin, in May at Stonehaven in San Marcos, and in August at SWUUSI. For UU women who participated in "Cakes", life was never to be the same.
The First annual Southwest UU District Women's Conference was held in Midland in February of 1987. The conference was the brainchild of Margaret Weddell who also served as chair.
By 1988, SWWIRL had reached a circulation of 475; workshops were being presented by W&R at the second district women's conference in Dallas, at SW district and annual meetings, and Sunday programs at different societies in the district.
Included in those were a slide program Eve Reconsidered by Mary Schumacher presented at the annual meeting in Baton Rouge. Designed to stimulate discussion of Biblical literature and cultural assumptions, Eve Reconsidered examined the cultural background of Eve based on the art and archealogy of the Near East. "Cakes for the Queen of Heaven" was being implemented in churches around the district, and out of those came an abundance of women's groups wanting to continue the experience begun in "Cakes".
A district lending library was begun with curricula from the UUA, UUWF and W&R for local societies and women's groups. The SW district W&R took its turn publishing Matrix, a newsletter for District W&R Chairs in its sixth year published on a rotational basis. In the district, W&R committee members served on SWUUW committees beginning what was to become a long and successful collaboration between the two groups in the district.
In 1988, the SW W&R committee had begun compiling a Conference Planning Guide to assist women's groups in planning the annual district conference. Quality programming for women at the three annual district gatherings (SWUUSI, Fall meeting, and Spring Conference), and support of the SWUU District Women's Conference had become well established.
Women Create, a brochure outlining activities and events for women in the Southwest District, and WomenWeb, a directory of UUWF units and UU women's groups in the SW District were in publication by 1990 in addition to SWWIRL. Cooperative and long-range strategic planning sessions with the SWUUW Executive Board and SWIRRL Steering Committee resulted in strengthened commitment of each to sustained and inclusive programming on women's issues. This collaboration became a model for other districts across the continent.
By 1992, films were being added to the Women's Resource Library on a variety of topics and made easily available for use throughout the district. W&R continued to underwrite one of the quarterly issues of SWIRRL annually and continued with planning and programming support for the women's conferences. At the Grailville convocation there had come an awareness of a need for an auditing tool with which to assess worship services and church activities for sexist language and the demeaning of women. Checking Our Balance and its later revision Cleansing Our Temple, both written by Tina Jas, were published but seemed to have been found too threatening to be used extensively. However, W&R presented Cleansing Our Temple in a 5-day workshop at SWUUSI, 1993.
It was in 1993, through the vision of Shannon Cooper, then SW W&R Convenor, that the working relationship between W&R in the SW district and SWUUW became formalized. With Marty Robinson's term as president of SWUUC ending and the SWUUC committee budget being reevaluated, it was expected that the SW W&R budget would be facing more and more critical scrutiny by SWUUC board members. Fran Faris, then president of SWUUW, was concerned with funding the numerous projects proposed by women to be undertaken by SWUUW. Shannon reflected that there should be a more efficient way of channeling funding from SW W&R to SWUUW for specific projects.
There had been an informal working relationship between the groups for some time, with the SW W&R Convenor participating in the SWUUW Planning Committee meetings and helping to fund and implement specific projects that would benefit members of SWUUW. The relationship was ultimately formalized by SWUUW expanding its Planning Committee to include a permanent position for a SW W&R liason in 1993. The financial resources of SW W&R and the human resources of SWUUW were formally integrated with W&R continuing to support specific projects.
The need to explore the sacred feminine in cultures other than those presented in "Cakes" was filled with the publication, by UUWF, of an additional curriculum by Liz Fisher: Rise Up and Call Her Name. Six women from the district, including Maggi Joseph, Anita Louise, Laura Codina, Gloria Dialectic, and Julia Harris went for first stage training in the fall of 1993. W&R coordinated district training for facilitators which took place in Stonehaven, Tulsa, and at
SWUUSI, 1994. The WomenWeb Directory which had been recently updated by SWUUW facilitated contact with women in the district interested in the new curriculum.
"Women Create" was updated in 1993 and a new brochure was added listing the offerings of what had come to be known as the Womens' Film Library. W&R assisted with the sponsorship of Nancy Vedder-Schults as Artist-in-Residence at SWUUSI, 1994, enhancing the Rise Up training that year. SWIRRL continued to be published, and in the summer of 1996, women from Oklahoma City took over its publication.
The film library flourished with titles being added each year. SWIRRL served to keep district women connected, and it served to take the place of sharing the information that WomenWeb and Women Create had offered when supplies of those publications were depleted.
Severe cuts in the SW District W&R budget came in 1997, though through the efforts of women at the District annual meeting it was not eliminated entirely. The 1997/98 fiscal year was the last for SW W&R. We were asked by SWUUC to have SWUUW take over the services that W&R had been providing. Connie Nolen in the SW District office continued to maintain the Film Library for us, and when the time came for our Ft. Worth District office to close, Connie brought the resources to be given away at that year's Women's Conference.
This account is truly a work in progress, and it is hoped that more of the story will be added or corrected by women who were a part of it.
Material on the early years of Continental W&R came from the resource: Task Force on Social Responsibility of the UUA and Rosemary Matson's memoirs of The Beginnings, a publication of UU W&R.
District accounts are from the District W&R files, and from personal memories of Arlene Johnson, Kathy Calhoun, Julia Harris, and information from issues of SWWIRL we had kept.
Women who have been significant in this story of Women and Religion, whose names have been recalled or recorded so far, follow here:
Beth Williamson Mary Kay Hamilton
Marge Carter Carol Ann Chidlaw
Sylvia Wheeler Linda Webster
Sue Boone Pam Dean
Anna McNaught Doris Ewing
Karen Croneis Barbara Carrington
Dee AnnDain Margaret Weddell
Anita Louise Maggi Joseph
Marie Harris Darlene Reisner
Barbara Briley Arlene Johnson
Suzanne Meyer Bernita Cogan
Kathy Calhoun Kate Throop
Shannon Cooper Julia Harris