response: March/April 2021 Issue

Responsively Yours: Opening the Door and Keeping It Open

Responsively Yours: Opening the Door and Keeping It Open
Harriett Jane Olson

Women’s History Month in the United States and International Women’s Day (March 8) are times when we celebrate many “firsts.” The recent U.S. presidential inauguration showcased several such firsts: Vice President Kamala Harris, first woman, first African American and first South Asian in this position; Justice Sonia Sotomayor, first Hispanic on the U.S. Supreme Court; and Amanda Gorman, first youth poet laureate. Did you know that Kizzmekia Corbett, a lead scientist for coronavirus vaccine research at the National Institutes of Health, is a team leader for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine? One of several women making a difference in this highly specialized field, Corbett is a 34-year-old African American woman from North Carolina.

It is good and right for us to notice firsts, and, at the same time, we would be well served to look around them for the people who supported and paved the way, people with skills and attributes we need to learn from. We are not all equipped to be viral immunologists, but we can all work to lift up the women and girls around us, pray for them, help them to believe in themselves and to exert the effort required to remove barriers—especially the interconnected barriers of gender and race.

The history of United Methodist Women is full of stories of doing just that. Theressa Hoover broke barriers when she became the highest ranking woman executive in The Methodist Church as the head of staff of the Women’s Division. She leaves a legacy of breaking barriers herself and addressing barriers faced by other women and girls. One of the blessings of times of remembrance is the opportunity to learn our predecessor’s stories and to recommit ourselves to follow as they have led. It was at a Women’s History Conference that historian and missiologist Dana Robert encouraged me to learn the story of Mary Clarke Nind, a barrier-breaking leader early in the history of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society that many of us have met through our 150th anniversary study and Robert’s earlier work, Joy to the World. So, yes, let’s look back and celebrate.

It’s important to recover the names of women whom history might neglect—think about the power of the research that led us to name the heroes of Hidden Figures fame: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. Look to the stories of women in the Bible, both named and unnamed, who broke barriers and lifted others up.

It’s also important for us to know that these were real women—not paragons. Some of the highly lauded women’s suffrage leaders used racist tropes in their advocacy, and many did not press forward after the adoption of the 19th Amendment to work for effective access to the vote for women of color or for poor women. This makes it all the more important for us to stand against voter suppression today and to be willing to examine who is excluded and who might be harmed if we are not alert.

So, let’s celebrate. Let’s remove curtains of race or gender that hide accomplishments of our foremothers. Let’s learn from them and from the people around them about breaking barriers so that women and girls have freedom to flourish and to follow God’s call. And let’s lift up our sisters, showing leadership and giftedness at every age and all over our organization and our communities.  

Harriett Jane Olson
General Secretary
United Methodist Women
holson@unitedmethodistwomen.org

Posted or updated: 3/9/2021 12:00:00 AM