Making do, getting it done–women’s history and the Keller Library

Your reference librarian was thrilled recently to visit Seneca Falls and learn more about the Episcopal Women’s History Project at its 2011 conference. Folks interested in Episcopal history should absolutely know about this organization–they’re doing some exciting research and participate every three years in the Tri-History Conference along with the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church and the National Episcopal Historians and Archivists.

Seneca Falls is considered the birthplace of the women’s movement, and there we saw a live historical interpretation of Elizabeth Cady Stanton by the Rev. Barbara Schlachter of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa, also one of the first women ordained in the Episcopal Church in the 1970s. Later in the conference, Mother Schlachter moderated a living history discussion panel made up of five women ordained during the 1970s. For those of us who weren’t around during this time or who take women’s ordination as a given, the panel’s discussion (which included The Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward, The Honorable Rev. Emily Hewitt, Rev. Nancy Wittig, Rev. Pat Merchant and the Rev. Marilyle Sweet Page) served as a reminder that the road for those called as recently as the 1960s and 1970s was long and the path to ordination difficult.

Our group learned about southern Episcopal women’s history through presentations about the 19th-century Ladies Sewing Society of St. Matthew’s, Hillsborough, North Carolina and the life and career of Mary Pauline Fitzgerald Dame, the beloved “Aunt Pauline” of The Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray. The Rev. Dr. Matilda E.G. Dunn presented on Mrs. Johnnie Fowler and her involvement with the Franklin County and Nashville, Tennessee NAACP chapters, and Susan Guise told us about Virginia Norman and her history as a powerhouse in women’s ministry in the Dominican Republic. Dr. Nancy Radloff, president of EWHP, told us about her work with Olive Evans Williams’ manuscript diary, begun at age 10 and continuing five years until 1878, giving us a glimpse of a girl’s 19th-century farm life in the Finger Lakes region.

Your reference librarian learned about the role and work of the Deaconess from presentations by The Rev. Gerry Swanson of the Dicoese of New York, who taught us about Susan Trevor Knapp and the New York School for Deaconesses, and by Linda Teresa Di Biase of the University of Washington, who told the story of Margaret Peppers and her work with Japanese American congregations in Iowa interment camps during World War II.

Finally, to remind us that women’s history is current and ever-changing, Dr. Joan Gunderson of the Diocese of Pittsburgh shared with us the struggle within the diocese and the ways women responded to organizational and funding challenges to keep this diocese in the Episcopal Church. (Find out more about Episcopal women’s history here.)

What does this have to do with the Christoph Keller, Jr. Library, you ask? EWHP originally was housed at GTS, and several members shared their memories of working here and doing research in the archives of the old St. Mark’s Library. The Keller Library’s holdings include several collections that reflect the lives of Episcopal women in the church, such as the Dora P. Chaplin Papers (the first tenured woman professor at General), letters from Lydia Sigourney, the Sweet Singer of Hartford, plus a manuscript diary from Mary Georgiana Howson. (Your reference librarian’s heart goes pitter-patter when she thinks of the fun she’ll have researching that last one!) Watch this space for more opportunities to learn about Episcopal women’s history at the Keller Library.

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The library's physical collections are not available to patrons, as GTS transitions to future uses of this space. 


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