As the month of March comes to an end, a few women of SEBTS Women’s Life reflects on Women’s Heritage Month:
History has proven that women have marked and paved the way not only for other women, but for men to follow in their footsteps as well. Women like Phillis Wheatley, Lottie Moon, Fannie Lou Hammer, Corrie Ten Boom, Elizabet Elliot rush to mind. As we near the end of Women’s Heritage month let’s hear from two leaders on our campus about the significance of women in the church and society.
It is not a secret that women have made a profound impact on the mission field, but let’s hear from Leslie Hildreth from the SEBTS Women’s Life office who reminds us of one of mission history’s best kept secrets:
“When people think about women and missions many think of Lottie Moon, Elisabeth Elliot, and Mother Teresa. One woman who not only set high standards for future women missionaries, but also proved that women belonged on the mission field, was Ann Hasseltine Judson. Ann successfully learned several foreign languages. She translated several tracts and books of the Bible in the Burmese and Siamese languages.
Ann has been a model for missionary women since the nineteenth century, showing that women have unique ability to share Christ with other women and children in places where men would have little access because of gender-segregated societies. Today, women continue to prove both their value and contribution to missions as they serve the nations around the world. Women fulfill unique roles on the mission field as they glorify Christ by sharing the message of salvation with multitudes who have never heard.”
These great advances in missions have not come so easily. The contribution of women extends far beyond the mission field as well. Our own Dr. Adrianne Miles, Assistant Professor of English, speaks about her own struggles and reservations happening even today:
“In 1980 President Jimmy Carter set aside a week in March as National Women’s History Week. He urged citizens to recognize that “the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.” Seven years later, Congress declared March to be National Women’s History Month. The aim of Women’s History Month is to recognize national heroes, but when I think of the accomplishments of women in the US, I can’t help but think back to earlier women who had the courage and inspiration to find their voices and be heard. Deborah judged Israel. Jael fought for Israel. Sappho wrote poetry. Mary Magdalene, Priscilla, Lydia, Lois, and Eunice had personal relationships with the risen Lord and served the early church. Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, and Queen Victoria ruled. Marie Curie researched. As I sit in my third-floor office in Patterson Hall on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, in 2016, I think of the women who lived before me.
My eleven bookshelves hold the works of Wroth, Behn, Wollstonecraft, Austen, Woolf, Stowe, Dickinson, and others. These women look at me across all the years between us and ask me how I got here. Many of them would be surprised to know that I’m here because of my education.
These leather-bound and paperback friends of mine would be thrilled to know that Shakespeare’s sister, Judith, would now have access to free education just like her brother. Not only can women attend and graduate from public high schools, but we can also go to college. And we can keep going just like Helen Magill, who in 1877, became the first woman in the US to earn a Ph.D. I’m also excited to tell them that I got here by driving a car! I want them to know that women can drive, and we have Anne Rainsford French Bush to thank for that. In 1900 she was the first woman to receive a license to drive a car. So I’m in my office this morning because I have a Ph.D. and because I have a driver’s license, but also because of them. I want to tell them that I am standing on their shoulders.
Then I hear an unkind whisper: “Do you deserve to be here?” I recognize the voice immediately. Virginia Woolf calls her the “angel in the house.” She’s that little voice inside our heads telling us to “be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own” (Woolf 1942). Woolf fights to destroy the angel whispering in her ear because the angel in the house is the embodiment of self-doubt. Such doubt continues to be a struggle despite the milestones women have accomplished over the years. I’ve killed my angel time and time again, but she doesn’t stay dead. I do battle with her in this very office with my forerunners surrounding me like a great cloud of witnesses. But unlike many of my predecessors, I don’t do battle alone. My colleagues—men in their offices down the hall and across campus—are also the beneficiaries of Women’s History. The men I work with are not waiting for me to fail. An intelligent and successful woman is not an oddity to them. They grew up with intelligent women. Their mothers and sisters were educated, had driver’s licenses, could vote and own property. These men expect me to succeed. Their assumptions help to disarm my angel in the house.
But sometimes, the pesky angel still makes her voice heard, particularly when I’m parking my car in the mornings. “Did you park straight? Do they know your car? Remember, you are the only woman parking on this side of the building.” The angel begins the questioning, but I continue, “Am I a good enough driver? A good enough teacher? A good enough researcher? Am I good enough to be here?”
Today, I pull into my spot quickly. I’m in a hurry. I’m crooked. I hear the angel. But she will not live today. I leave her in the car, parked crookedly. She will suffocate. I will go up to the third floor where my comrades, jacketed in leather, paper, and tweed, are waiting. I will stand on the shoulders of the women and men who have gone before me. I will be grateful for Women’s History Month because it gives me this opportunity to pause and remember. I will work because of the women who paved the way. I will succeed because I can.”
At the conclusion of a month set aside to celebrate the historic contributions of women, we also look forward to what women will accomplish. We wait in anticipation to read the books, take the classes, and listen to the teaching of Southeastern women in the years to come.