Whatever image we choose, we engage in the Episcopal Women’s History Project out of two kinds of motivation: one that is personal and one that is institutional. We need to know who we are. And beyond us, our church needs our story. It is up to us to complete the mosaic, to find the wool to make the threads for the tapestry. And what a tapestry or mosaic it will be! Thanks be to God. Joanna Gillespie, President, 1982


“NOTABLE EPISCOPAL WOMEN—THE FEMININE DIMENSION OF CHURCH HISTORY” The first conference was held by EWHP. Ninety people from every region of the country participated in the conference. Funding came from Trinity Church, Wallstreet, The Bishops of Province VII, the Church’s division of Lay Ministries, and many individuals. The Event was organized by Mary Donovan. Attending were: Historians, ECW and altar guild members, clergy, educators, writers, librarians, archivists, church administrators, students and sisters.




By M. A. Bourne

Sunday, May 30: Left Connecticut for New York enroute to the first EWHP conference in Austin. Met traveling companions Betsy (long-time national church administrator) Columba (sister and priest) Cynthia (historian and EWHP Director)—indicative perhaps of the broad spectrum of women church workers heading for this conference. Between planes in Houston several people asked about our eye-catching HERSTORY buttons. As we landed in Austin, two Texas Jack Rabbits bounded across the runway, matching my feelings of exhilaration over this historic event.

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Everything from the LBJ Library to a Mexican Dinner

Monday, May 31: Saw state capital, University stadium and shops, LBJ Library, Greek Revival Governor’s residence, Gilded Age “honeymoon cottage,” and mansion. The PM excitement built as conference participants arrived in 90 degree heat. Lively conversation, tangy margaritas and Mexican food for dinner.

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Johanna Valenta was the Youngest Registree

Tuesday, June 1: Gracious Austin welcoming committee wore white, embroidered dresses. Membership recruiter Lois Whitaker brought Balloons. Star registree was 2 1/2 months Johanna Valenta. EWHP President Jo Gillespie began the first (and every) session on time, introduced “Our Foremother” Hilah Thomas who ran a Women’s History Conference in 1980 for the Methodist church. The scholarly papers on colonial women read at the first session were fascinating, particularly challenging to the non-academic mind. “We need to hear of the courage and faith of those in the past to give us courage and faith for the future,” said John Woolverton. Keynote speaker Dr. Catherine Prelinger’s paper on “Women and Religion. Women Episcopalians. Some Methodological Considerations” was as dazzling as it was incomprehensible to me. Although proud of the brilliance of these scholars, I feel sleepy, stupid and a little alienated tonight.

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"Recorders and Analyzers"

Wednesday, June 2: Expressed these sentiments at dawn to my agreeable, oral-history-specialist roommate. “Historians don’t care about people understanding them,” she explained. “Then what do they care about?” I asked. “Their work,” was the answer. Hmm. OK. I respected that. But a tension had surfaced—a tension planners knew might exist. Does history belong exclusively to the academicians, or can the rest of us contribute too? I feared some people felt left out—excluded by the unintentional arura of elitism on the part of conference scholars. Eucharist was a God-send. Judy Liro, Seminary senior, spoke a simple and profound meditation, priest Wendy Smith celebrated, and the melodic sound of altos and sopranos rose joyously in the chapel. This was a first for many of us—the familiar conducted entirely by women in a traditional way. It seemed very natural. Professor Mary Cecilia (Golden Valley Lutheran College, MN) introduced the 19th Century speakers. “Some of us make history,” she said, “others record and analyze it. We need a dialogue between the two. We must learn to speak and listen to one another.” All morning I listened and heard the “recorders and the analyzers”—plus the affirming Johann cooing, of Johanna crying out, of Johanna suckling. “She’s who we’re doing this for,” someone said.

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Emotions Were Palpable

20th Century papers were read this afternoon, culminating in Dr. Heather Huyck’s dispassionate yet moving account of the history of women’s ordination. “It used to be,” said the Rev. Sue Hiatt, one of the Philadelphia 11, “that I knew all of the women priests. Now—Praise the Lord—with almost 500 of us I don’t.” This evening major participants in the ordination movements shared memories. Panelists Llewellyn Thomas, was the president judge at the trial of priest Bill Wendt, held in my former church in Washington D. C. What a privileged to hear Llew speak now of his feelings during that emotional and historic occasion. Emotions this evening were palpable how fortunate we women are that we know it’s all right to weep in public… Stayed up late tonight talking and listening, especially to “Kitty” Prelinger, who face-to-face over a glass of wine proved to be as intelligible as she is wise and Kind. I met a number of other women, and admired their humor and needlepoint, as well as their mind-stretching ideas.

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"We have met the workers, and they are us!"

When we gathered in the chapel for our final session, “Where do we go from here?” I noticed with pleasure that in spite of planes to catch, attendance and participation were still high. “We have an obligation to ourselves and the church as a whole to clarify if we are women interested in history or historians interested in women’s history,” cautioned Joyce Howard of Washington DC. “The History Project is both,” replied Director McLean. “Before historians can build the amazing tapestries of women’s work in the Episcopal church, they need the threads (primary source material) which all of us can give.” “It goes both ways,” added Heather Huyck. “We historians need to share the paper we write. If put aside, they collect silverfish!” Said historiographer Carrie Townley of Nevada, “We have met the workers, and they are us.”

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Hope For The Future

Tonight we treated conference planner, Mary Donovan, to a well-deserved celebratory dinner. “Foremother,” Hilah Thomas had the final word. “I didn’t respond to this conference just as an historian. I came here as an Episcopal Church Woman.”

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