Tracing My Feminist Roots

Vi Hardies Klaseen

I was born the year after women got the vote. It is hard now to imagine the struggles and the determination it took to produce, after 144 years, woman’s right to vote in this democracy. I, as well as every other American woman, have inherited the profits from older sisters" persistence.

I was a child during the twenties, a teenager during the thirties and I entered adulthood with the Second World War. I grew up in a time and in a family when few women were gainfully employed. My parents had only an eighth grade education. there were few women in professional fields. I knew only one woman medical doctor. She worked for the Los Angeles school system and had no private practice. A classmate was in the first group of women hired to be police officers. I knew no women lawyers or judges. All of our elected officials were men. There were women teachers, playground directors, clerks, housekeepers and movie actresses! Career education had yet to be invented. I never heard the term feminism until I was into adulthood. My only act against the norm was to enroll in an Art Metal class in high school. There was one other girl there whose boyfriend was a student. Without her I might have turned tail and run. It wasn’t that girls couldn’t enroll, it was just that we didn’t.

A large part of my life was the Methodist Church. In those years it had a strong youth and student program. The Social Gospel and Mission interests were central in its activity. The North and South Methodists united in 1939. All of this was a part of the fabric of my religious development, influencing me greatly.

I entered UCLA the week the Germans entered Poland. At about the same time I became a religious pacifist. Both my youth group at my home church and the student group had young men who were declared pacifists. Within a year the draft became a reality. I was protected by being a woman, but I felt I had to be able to argue my position as well as the fellows.

With the war much changed for women, many jobs opened up in the industries, particularly in Southern California. The WACS and WAVES were formed in the armed services. All of these new openings were not for me because of my pacifist beliefs. I had started out as a math major, but as my ideas and interests changed, I moved to education and then finally to professional work in the church. I decided to go to Garrett Theological Seminary at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Many of my friends from the student group were going there as a ministerial candidates or as wives. At the same time many other fellows were going into Civilian Public Service(C.P.S.) camps. One went into Starvation study unit at Minnesota University.

During all of my UCLA experience I remember nothing where I felt set aside or discriminated against because I was a woman. It may well have been there, but I was unaware of it. I accepted it all as a norm. I did feel different, but it was because of my beliefs which I had chosen, or because I was tall(six feet) and had big feet. The rest I just accepted as the way life was.

At the seminary, again, I felt no discrimination. Ten years before Garrett and the Chicago Training School(for women) had joined together. Technically I was enrolled in the Training School but I considered myself a Garrett student and was treated as such on a day to day basis. However, there was the day when the Bishop of our area in Southern California came to the campus to visit "his boys!" Though I didn’t fall into the boy category, I considered myself "his." I made an appointment and went in to see him. He was kind, but his only advice to me was to get some "secretarial skills!" I didn’t follow that advice, though if I had I might have gotten a job in Switzerland at the World Council of Churches!! As I look back on it now, it was probably a seed for late disillusionment. No Bishop would say that to a woman now. In fact, the Bishop might well be a woman, but this was 20 years before any woman was ordained in our conference.

I did work as a Wesley Foundation director in Texas for three years and then in Fresno for one year. I left Fresno very uncertain about any future in professional church work. There were too many things that ran counter to what I believed. I was increasingly uncomfortable in that role. It was then that I heard of the Tuolumne Cooperative Farm. It was an intentional community started by two Methodist ministers where they were trying to live, earn their living and create an education program based on the teachings of Jesus. In July, 1949, I came to visit Modesto. Meeting my "to be" husband, living ten years on the farm and all that follows, is another story. I still had not heard of feminism. Farm wives have long carried their part of the load. It took me a while to be clear about my role there but I think of it now as a very good learning experience.

For purposes of this discussion which is tracing my "feminist" roots and experience, only a few more comments need to be made.

I never returned to the church professionally. After three years in Davis where I explored the Unitarians and the Friends meeting, we came to Redding where we joined the Methodist church as a family. I walked into a teaching job at our children’s school. I taught there for 28 years. For 20 of those years I was very active on a conference level in the church. I served in various capacities on the Council on Ministries. For four years I was on the national board of the Church and Society. In those 20 years I watched and helped the church change. Currently we are happily involved in the same church and in various social projects. There were many times in the past when I felt neither fish nor fowl, neither lay or ministerial but I have sort of laid that down. All that is part of the past.

Currently I have been active in civic affairs. I feel strongly that we need more women in decision making positions. City committees need to have at least equal representation of men and women. City staffs should have women in top positions. At this date, this is not true in Redding. Women need to be more vocal. I urge younger women to get on school boards, to work their way up in the political process. After I retired from teaching I ran for the college board. I was defeated, partly because of time, of my age and because my former school district did not vote in my college district. I do not regret trying.

The past is past. It is not any of the other decades. We building on all of them. This is the 1990’s. Where there are glass ceilings we need to break them. All boards should have women on them. Any place where decisions are being made there should be women as well as men. We will find ways to balance workloads so men and women have happy creative lives. We need to change the outlook of many men, but we, women, need to change ourselves and refuse to be boxed into any category.

The doors need to stay open for all - men, women, rich and poor.

Note: Statistics compiled using data from the church’s finance agency show that of 81 churches with a membership of more than 3,000, none is served by women lead pastors.

Other statistics show:

The totals show of 1,200 churches with a membership of 1,000 or above, 17 or 1.4 percent are served by women lead pastors.

Women elders constitute approximately 11 percent of all ordained elders in the church Currently, 16 percent of district superintendents are women as are 15 percent active bishops.*

*The United Methodist Reporter July 4, 1997

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from Roots and Fruits, a publication of the Stanislaus Peace-Life Center and the Stanislaus Safe Energy Committee

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