2. Women’s History

A Few Notable Women from Our Time

The women on this list typify the legions of women working within in our inclusive Unitarian Universalist community. The list, to be expanded in the future, was developed in response to women who expressed their need for models of UU women who have taken risks in our time:

Reverend Elinor Artman
Known for bringing feminist process to our denomination, Elinor has been involved in training UU leaders for over two decades. She gained many of her leadership skills while serving two separate terms on the UU Women’s Federation Board (1971–75 and 1991–95). Elinor was ordained in 1980 and has taught at Meadville Lombard, The Mountain Camps and Conference Center, and other places. She helped to develop, and trained leaders for Cakes for the Queen of Heaven and Rise Up and Call Her Name. She served as facilitator for the UU Women’s Federation and the Women in Ministry Committee in the 1980’s as they were developing shared goals. For three years, she served on the UU Ministers’ Association Executive Committee and in 1998, she helped develop Leaping from Their Spheres, their program addressing the impact of women in ministry. She presently serves on the Feminist Theology Award Revision Committee and on the committee, UU’s for Right Relations, which addresses sexual misconduct of clergy.

Nancy Atchison
Having found her joyful labor of love in the UU church, Nancy has been a leader in the Prairie Star District for over twenty-five years, especially as president of the district for five years and in her instrumental role in the establishment of the first District Extension Minister Program. She continued on the District Extension Committee for twenty years, serving as a congregational consultant for fund-raising and board training; she organized a new congregation in the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis and has served nearly every volunteer function at First Universalist Church in Minneapolis. She served ten years on the Continental Committee of the Annual Program Fund Committee, chairing Region III and acting as the continental chairperson for six years as well as a four-year term on the UUA Nominating Committee and as chair of the Prairie Star Planning Committee. Nancy has been a member of the Edina School Board (twelve years), local and state branches of the League of Women Voters, and the Edina Human Relations Commission.

Betty Benjamin
A tireless reproductive rights advocate for over three decades, Betty’s inspiration was sparked by a seminar on teenage pregnancy at First Universalist Church (Minneapolis, Minnesota) in 1967, and the fledgling movement to legalize abortion that followed. Betty worked with the UU Women’s Federation from 1975 to 1981 as an advocate for responsible abortion laws and as a frequent spokesperson for reproductive rights at the biennial conventions of the UU Women’s Federation. In 1999, on Betty’s 75th birthday, the Minnesota branch of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) established the Betty Benjamin Pro-choice Preservation Fund as an endowment for the Minnesota NARAL Foundation to provide resources for educating young leaders to ensure reproductive choice in the future.

Sharon Bishop
A high school nurse for the Minneapolis Public Schools, Sharon led the first in-school support group in Minneapolis (1989)—for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth. She served on the second Task force on Gay Rights under Minnesota’s Governor Arne Carlson, and co-authored Alone No More: Developing a School Support System for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth (1994). In 1975, Sharon was appointed as the official UUWF advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment. She chaired, and was the Prairie Star District delegate for, the first Women and Religion Conference in Grailville (1979): The conference marked the beginning of the movement to change our UU principles and purposes to represent and fulfill gender equity in our denomination. At her church home, First Universalist Church in Minneapolis, Sharon started the Full Moon/New Moon Ritual Group, and in 1980, organized the first Winter Solstice Service. Her attendance at numerous UU Women’s Federation meetings and workshops, in addition to UU General Assemblies, fed the creative programs she developed at First Universalist Church while also enriching her personal life.

Sandra Mitchell Caron
This distinguished UU lay leader was the first woman to be elected as moderator of the UUA (she served from 1977 to 1985). She was the first moderator to demand a travel allowance and also the first woman to run for president of the UUA, losing to Bill Schulz. She was especially known and appreciated for her humor. After serving as moderator, she chaired the Clara Barton Camp for Girls with Diabetes. Sandra died in June of 1999 and was honored at the 1999 General Assembly.

Drusilla Cummins
As president of the Unitarian Universalist Women’s Federation, “Dru” initiated its focus on UU women presenting the first Women and Religion Award to Gloria Steinem and Pat Carbine in 1972. This first step toward feminism in the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) resulted in the following: (1) The elimination of sexist language in the UUA hymnal and in other worship materials, (2) revision of the UUA Principles and Purposes, and (3) a surge of women into ministry in our denomination. As chair of the Board of Meadville/Lombard Theological School, Dru helped to create the Long Range Plan for Theological Education, for which she received the honorary degree of Humane Letters (LHD). In 1991, Dru accepted the UUA’s Distinguished Service Award with her husband, the Reverend John Cummins. She was a UUA trustee for the Prairie Star and Western Canada Districts. She also served as a trustee and vice moderator of the UUA Board. She is the recipient of the Ministry to Women Award in 2000, along with the UUWF Board that served while she was president of the UUWF.

Denny Davidoff
Known for her wit and assertiveness, Denny has been moderator of the UUA since 1993. She gained leadership experience in her role as president for the UU Women’s Federation and by chairing the General Assembly Planning committee. Denny was on the Board of Trustees from 1989 to 1993 and served on the Ministerial Fellowship Committee in 1991 and 1992. She had a career in advertising beginning in 1959, but sold her company, Davidoff and Partners in 1990 so that she could devote more time to the UUA.

Reverend Dr. Dorothy May Emerson
A Unitarian Universalist community minister and editor of Standing Before Us: Unitarian Universalist Women and Social Reform, 1776–1936, Reverend Dr. Dorothy May Emerson is the executive director of the UU Women’s Heritage Society. She also serves as a consultant to Promise Massachusetts Children, and a partner in Rainbow Solutions—Financial and Educational Services for the new Millennium. Having previously served as a parish minister in the Massachusetts communities of Wakefield, Belmont, Medford, and Weymouth, she now offers workshops and leads Sunday services for UU congregations across the continent. In addition to UU women’s history, her passions include economic justice, socially responsible investing, and anti-racism.

Natalie Gulbrandsen
President of the UU Women’s Federation from 1977–81, she served on the UUWF Board from 1971. She was elected as moderator of the UUA for two consecutive terms (1985–1993) and served on the Commission of Appraisal from 1981–85. Co-chair of the U.S. branch of the International Association for Religious Freedom, she served as vice president of the international organization from 1991–93 and as president from 1993–96.

Lois Hansen
One of the founders of the Lincoln UU Women’s Federation known for its attention to the needs of women in our time, Lois has also served her home church as president. Deeply committed to GLBT rights, she and her husband, Alan, have led workshops and spoken in favor of full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons in our denomination. Lois has served as chair of the Prairie Star District Education Committee, served as its representative to the Midwest UU Conference, as well as to the Prairie Star District nominating Committee. A past president for the planning council of the Lake Geneva Summer Assembly, Lois was a trainer for the UUA Sharing in Growth Program.

Nancy Heege
Known for having her “finger on the pulse” of UU activity across the continent, Nancy has been the district executive the Prairie Star District since 1995. Nancy previously served on staff at Unity Church in St. Paul, Minnesota for fifteen years as director of religious education. While the D.R.E. at Unity, she became chair of the District Committee on Religious Education, became active on a continental level serving first on the Board of Directors and then as president of the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA), the continental professional organization for UU religious educators.

Reverend Violet Kochendoerfer
Graduate of Reed College in 1939, “Vi” was senior club director for the 82nd Airborne Division when Germany surrendered. She was director of on-base service clubs and collaborated with the Russians to liberate a German prison camp. Now retired in Duluth, Minnesota, Vi is the author of several books, including One Woman’s World War II, A Modern Pioneer: One Woman’s Ministry, and her latest, Growing Up in Minnesota. Ordained in 1962, she served UU churches in Ohio, Minnesota, Florida, Canada, and Massachusetts.

Phyllis McKeeman
A fourth-generation Universalist, Phyllis’s model for active involvement in the church was her mother. Her home Universalist churches were in Swampscott and Lynn, Massachusetts. After marrying Gordon McKeeman—a Universalist minister, and then a UU minister—they served four churches. Phyllis fulfilled a variety of church roles wherever they happened to be living—in Massachusetts and Ohio, and later in California and Virginia. Although they raised three boys, she had grown up in Girl Scouting and became an active leader and trainer/consultant in the Girl Scouts, leading to the Thanks Badge award. Phyllis served on the merger committee for the Universalist and Unitarian Women’s organizations and on the first Board of the UUWF. She was office secretary and then coordinator of the Ohio-Meadville District of the UUA from 1965–1983. Part of that time she was also Chair of Region II for the UUA Annual Program Fund. Phyllis was awarded the UU Unsung Award by Ohio-Meadville District in 1976. She and Gordon were awarded the UUA Distinguished Service Award in 1993.

Betty Mills
A North Dakota native and author of Mind if I Differ?, with dialogue about theology with a Catholic woman. She was a charter member of the Bismark-Mandan UU Fellowship, Betty served on the Prairie Star Board and two terms as UUA trustee for the Prairie Star District and the Western District of Canada and the UUA Grants Panel. She received the Prairie Star District Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999 in addition to serving on various local and state boards and commissions including the North Dakota Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. In 1977 Betty was a recipient of the University of Mary Alumni Distinguished Service Award while in 2000 she received the North Dakota Educational Association’s Media Award. Betty writes a column for her local newspaper giving the liberal point of view.

Reverend Dr. Sarah W. Oelberg
Minister since 1991 to a rural Unitarian Universalist Church with a regional grasp, Sarah is a sixth generation Unitarian and author of The Iowa Sisterhood, which offers biographies of female pioneer ministers in the American Midwest in the 19th century. Sarah has led her rural congregation in establishing close relationships with rural Unitarian congregations and their ministers in Transylvania by making repeated trips to Hungary and Romania.

Mary Pipher
A skilled writer and UU, Mary’s book, Reviving Ophelia, exposes many of the influences in our culture that harm females during their impressionable years. While Mary’s tone is compassionate, she offers her strength and strategies and her book has been called a “call to arms” for parents. The influence of Mary’s work and her book have spread well beyond our denomination; Reviving Ophelia is frequently used in parent education and parent support groups. Her latest book, Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders, is another seminal work—this time on aging.