Page 6 of 8
Session 4: Women’s Changing SpheresPreparation: Read Chapters 7 and 8
Opening: From Judith Plaskow, “The Coming of Lilith: Toward a Feminist Theology,” Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion, ed. Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow (New York: Harper and Row, 1979):
In the beginning, the Lord God formed Adam and Lilith from the dust of the ground and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life. Created from the same source, both having been formed from the ground, they were equal in all ways. Adam, being a man, didn’t like the situation, and he looked for ways to change it. But Lilith wasn’t one to take any nonsense; she picked herself up, uttered God’s holy name, and flew away.
“Well now, Lord,” complained Adam, “that uppity woman you sent me has gone and deserted me.” The Lord, inclined to be sympathetic…caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam and out of one of his ribs created for him a second companion, Eve. …
Slowly, slowly, Eve began to think about the limits of her own life within the garden. One day, after many months of strange and disturbing thoughts, Eve, wandering around the edge of the garden, noticed a young apple tree…and struggling to the top, swung herself over the wall. She did not wander long on the other side before she met the one she had come to find, for Lilith was waiting.
… “Who are you?” they asked each other. “What is your story?” And they sat and spoke together, of the past and then of the future. They talked for many hours, not once, but many times. They taught each other many things…and laughed together, and cried, over and over, till the bond of sisterhood grew between them. ...
Meanwhile, back in the garden, Adam was puzzled by Eve’s comings and goings…and God was [also] confused. Something had failed to go according to plan. [So] as in the days of Abraham, he needed counsel from his children. “I am who I am,” thought God, “but I must become who I will become.” And God and Adam were expectant and afraid the day Eve and Lilith returned to the Garden, bursting with possibilities, ready to rebuild it together.
A. Women’s Ministries
1. What evidence do you see of women today seeking greater autonomy in ways reminiscent of what was happening a century ago in the contexts of Christian Science, spiritualism, the Post Office Mission, and home ministries?
2. In these 100 years, how much has changed in the way we react to and treat women ministers?
3. What have female clergy and lay leaders brought to the liberal fold that was missing when it was controlled by men?
4. To what extent did geography account for the differences in the women’s experiences in Portland, OR, Berkeley, Meadville, and Boston? Does geography still play a role? Is it still a factor in UU women’s assertiveness?
5. Have you, like the Bulfinch Place Eliots, had to straddle the worlds of haves and have-nots? If so, what did it teach you?
6. For the Eliot women, the summer retreats at Hood River and Camp Maple Hill were their “temples and homes more than any others.” (175). What accounted for this? The living conditions? Changed priorities? The natural world itself? What kind of freedoms did they have here that were not available to them otherwise? To what extent do we find this today at our Camp and Conference get-ways?
7. Have you had experiences with secret societies? If so, how familiar were Martha and Abby’s initial response and final decision?
Closing: Louise Overton, “Making Time To Give Thanks,” (1901) in Joella Vreeland, ed., The Southold Sisterhood: Sociables and Serious Business. The Story of the Ladies Liberal Sewing Society [excerpts from their records], First Universalist Church, Southold, NY :
Some time ago, the Society passed a motion never to give thanks to its members. Mrs. Louise Overton wished to discuss the motion and spoke thusly:
“Mrs. President and sisters. I believe this motion was a mistake, although at the time we all acknowledged the force of the arguments in its favor, which were : First, that we all work for the interests of this Society as we can, according to our time, strength, and talents; [and ] as there is great diversity and all cannot do the same things ...it is making a distinction between members to thank any individuals. Second, the Society would have to spend a great deal of time at its meetings simply thanking various members.
I have often heard the remark that people soften as they grow older, like good fruit as it mellows... . As I grow older and look about me, on all the phases of everyday life, I notice how much more usual [it is for us]—descendants [though we be] of the most repressed and undemonstrative people —[to verbalize] our thanks, cordiality, appreciation, and love, and I call this change one of the mellowing effects of age.
That family would be a noticeable exception, now, which did not freely use all sorts of expressions of love and appreciation. This Society is like a family, and those graces that belong to family life and make it gracious and pleasant seem to me just as properly in place here. We are all liable to make mistakes, and I believe, now, this [decision was] a mistake.”
A motion was then made to reconsider and rescind the motion never to thank members and it passed without a dissenting vote. Then an immediate motion was made to unanimously give thanks to Mrs. Carrie Lowere for her “faithful, disinterested, and efficient services as president for the past three years, and that we take this opportunity to express our appreciation.”
Suggestions for Further Reading:
Ellen Carol DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in America 1848-1869 focuses on the struggle over the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.
Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States.
Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (New York: Harper Collins, 1996). A pioneering synthesis of black women’s history after slavery.
Cynthia Grant Tucker, “Blessed Neighborliness” and “Ministering to Municipalities”, Prophetic Sisterhood, 171-188; 189-195.
Cynthia Grant Tucker, A Woman’s Ministry: Mary Collson’s Search for Reform, reissued in paperback as Healer In Harm’s Way: Mary Collson, A Clergywoman in Christian Science.