Author Archives: Crystal Hall

More Than Women’s Work


By permission of Letty Russell, 2006.

There is something rather intimate about sorting through, preserving and arranging another person’s papers.  I came to know Letty Russell in a more personal way, handling papers that she herself handled.  I not only worked through a myriad of syllabi related to her time as a professor at Yale Divinity School, but also Letty’s own handwritten notes from conferences, photos taken during informal gatherings, and even a bag of women’s liberation buttons.  Although Letty passed away in 2007, her papers have given me the opportunity to “meet” her in a way that would not have been possible otherwise.  Through this experience I have come to understand that interacting with archival material is a unique opportunity to come know an individual, even if that person is no longer living.


A portion of the Russell collection as housed in the Burke Library Archives.

Not only have I come to know Russell more closely as a scholar, I have also begun to appreciate my own indebtedness to her and women like her.  Russell intentionally built relationships with other female scholars through teaching and collaboration.  Her co-teachers included Katie Cannon, Shawn Copeland, and Kwok Pui Lan.  In addition to teaching in partnership, there were a bevy of female scholars with whom Russell collaborated on publications and developed working relationships with through correspondence.  Notably, there is a plethora of material in this collection on the Dictionary of Feminist Theologies Russell and her partner Shannon Clarkson co-edited.

As a woman and as a doctoral student in New Testament with interests in feminist and liberationist hermeneutics, I’ve come to a deeper appreciation of the struggles which women like Russell had to overcome to earn their places in the academy, the church and the world.


Dialogue of the Asian and Asian American Women in Theology and Ministry in San Francisco, 1992.

For example, Letty began her career in education at the East Harlem Protestant Parish in the early 1950’s and continued to serve there through 1968.  In a parish context, Christian education, then was and often still today is considered “women’s work.” In order to gain legitimacy for her position Russell became one of the first women to receive a degree from Harvard Divinity School and was ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church, USA.  Although she had already completed a doctorate and was ordained, there is early correspondence in the collection that addressed her not as Rev. Dr. Russell, but as Mrs. Hoekendijk.  Russell married Johannes C. (“Hans”) Hoekendijk, professor of World Christianity at Union Theological Seminary, in 1970, and lived with him at UTS until his death in 1975.


Convocation Jubilee at Yale Divinity School, 1982.

In moving from work primarily in the church to work primarily in the academy, Russell moved from one male-dominated set of institutions to another in which the education field continued to be perceived as “women’s work.”  When Russell was being reviewed for tenure at Yale Divinity School she insisted that, if she were to receive tenure, that it would be in the theology, not the education, field.  Russell believed that it was only through the legitimacy provided by the theological field that she would have the platform through which to continue to address feminist and liberationist questions.  Russell became a full Professor of Theology in 1985 and remained at YDS until 2001.

I am struck by a deep sense of gratitude for feminist and liberationist scholars like Russell that have made my own work as a woman and a scholar possible.  I am hopeful that this collection will provide access to Russell as a women, theologian, minster and educator that has the power to continue to influence future generations of women and men toward a time in which education will no longer be disparaged as merely “women’s work.” 

Harry Ward: Professor and Labor Prophet

If I was a student when Harry F. Ward was teaching at Union Theological Seminary, I would have taken every one of his classes.  Most prominently known as a co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, Ward was the first professor of Social Ethics at Union, teaching from 1916 to 1941.  Criticized for his leftist politics his entire career, in 1953 Ward was one of three Methodist ministers named by the House Un-American Activities Committee as a communist conspirator.  He denied the charges and stated in a letter to the New York Times, “My judgments and actions concerning political and economic issues are derived from the basic ethical principles of the religion of Jesus, of which I am a minister and a teacher.”

A portrait of Ward while he served as a Methodist minister in Chicago from 1900 to 1912

A portrait of Ward while he served as a Methodist minister in Chicago from 1900 to 1912

Through processing the Ward Papers, which are now available at the Burke Library Archives, I read through course outlines, lectures notes and student papers on a range of topics including the histories of the labor movement’s relationship with the Church, as well as theories of social change covering every major revolution from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries.  Below are just a few examples of the ways in which Ward influenced a generation of scholars, church leaders and organizers through his teaching career at Union.

Students in Christian Ethics 24, taught by Ward in 1930, were each required to present an ethical dilemma for discussion.  One of these students was none other than Myles Horton, who went on to found the Highlander Folk School in 1932 and would serve as its director until 1961.  Now known as the Highlander Education and Research Center, this institution was important educational and training center for both the Labor and Civil Rights Movements, and was attended by figures such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Reflecting the Appalachian context in which he grew up and to which he intended to return , the case study Horton presented read in part:  “In sections of the Southern mountains one has to choose between being an ultra-fundamentalist or an infidel….To one planning work in this section, the problem is: how can one retain the confidence of the people, and, at the same time, be intellectually honest.”

The first two paragraphs of an assignment submitted by Myles Horton with handwritten comments by Ward

The first two paragraphs of an assignment submitted by Myles Horton with handwritten comments by Ward

Beyond the classroom Ward also supported his students’ activism.  In 1929 Union student James Dombrowsky made a speech in favor of striking miners in Elizabethtown, Tennessee, stating that the ethics of Jesus should guide the actions of those involved.  When he tried to leave town, Dombrowsky was arrested on trumped up charges that he was an accomplice to a murder.  While in jail Dombrowsky sent a telegram to Ward.  Ward immediately contacted lawyers to assure his release, and he was set free after 24 hours.  The day of his release Dombrowsky wrote a letter to Ward.  Referencing a course he took from Ward, he wrote, “I am really grateful for this additional contribution to my education, which has certainly moved at a rapid rate in the past twenty-four hours.”

Crystal with a portion of the completed Ward paper in the Burke Library Archives

Crystal with a portion of the completed Ward paper in the Burke Library Archives

As a doctoral student working at the intersections of the academy, the Church and grassroots organizations, I am grateful to have worked on the papers of a Union professor who embodied a commitment to the struggles of the poor and working class.  Although a figure largely unknown to Union students today, I am hopeful that the availability of his papers will ensure that Ward takes a rightful place among the “Union canon” to influence another generation of scholars, church leaders and organizers.