Thursday, March 19, 2009

View from Detra's Desk

View From Detra’s Desk
from Reflection, 1976
by Detra MacDougall

One might say I have been asked to be the historian for this issue of Reflection. Having worked in the Registrar’s Office since 1963, I have seen several changes take place at the Divinity School regarding the enrollment of women.

The most visible change is the number of women enrolled. When I first arrived on the scene, the average number of women enrolled was 37 out of an average number in the student body of 321. Women were fit into the School; but most of them were expected to marry before long and leave the School, so there was really no need felt on the part of the School to minister to their specific needs, i.e. the loneliness felt in a male-dominated school, no women on the faculty to give them a role model, no courses specifically for women. In 1971 the Registrar position was available and a few powerful political women started negotiations with the Dean to hire a woman that would help minister to these specific needs. With their combined efforts such a person was hired. Since 1971 the number of women enrolled has increased steadily. From a figure of 55 in 1972 it has risen to a figure of 133 in 1975 out of an average number in the student body of 372. It is expected that next year 157 women will enroll in a student body of 404. Whether you wish to attribute this sharp rise to the hiring of Joan Bates Forsberg or to the Women’s Movement or whatever, that I will leave up to you; but there is no arguing the facts – the number of women at the Divinity School is on the increase!

Also changing is the direction of their studies. From 1963 to 1971 about 64% of the women were enrolled in the M. Div (BD) program. In 1972 the enrollment in the M.Div program rose to 69% and for the 1975 year it was up to 77% — thus, demonstrating their intention to work towards ordination and the pastoral ministry, institutional chaplaincies and other forms of ministry in social agencies directly concerned with womens issues, i.e., counseling, abortion. Included in these statistics are women of different Protestant denominations, Roman Catholics and Jews. Episcopalian women are prominent and working to help the Episcopal Church recognize them as minister of the Lord’s.

There is also a small but interesting number of women not directly out of college. The majority of women applying is still in the 21-24 age group, but each year shows an increase of mid-career change or the woman whose family has grown and is now able to pursue further education. They have come from a variety of backgrounds – nursing, social work, housewife, divorcee. This group of women may not have always been comfortable with their younger colleagues, but they certainly have helped their younger sisters to see the possible avenues ahead and what they have had to experience first-hand in the “outside” world.

The old notion that, “women are at the Divinity School looking for husbands and won’t be here long” can no longer be substantiated. Romance is still at YDS, but no longer do wives drop out of seminary. Most of them continue right along with their husbands in their training with the hope of working as a team or finding separate church-related jobs in a given area upon graduation. Given the job market of the day and the “tightening up” of the institutional church this hope may prove to be unrealistic, but the desire still burns deep. An interesting fact to note while we are on the subject of married/single, is that while singleness at the Divinity School is on the rise in the student body, the percentage of single women has dropped from a high of 88% to a low of 68% — yet another indication of the determination of wome to finish their study, as well as maintain a marriage.

Although the Divinity School has come a long way in the education of women, it stil has a ways to go, especially in the hiring of women faculty. I think it important that you as alumni educate the church to be open to the idea tha twomen can minister and must be given the opportunity to minister if in Christ’s church there is truly “neither Jew no Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”