Six degrees of connection

The following is taken from a posting of Shannon Clarkson concerning the death of her partner, Letty Russell (it’s taken from the blog of PhD student Judy Redman):

Letty Mandeville Russell, one of the world’s foremost feminist theologians and longtime member of the Yale Divinity School faculty, died Thursday, July 12 at her home in Guilford, CT. She was 78. A leader for many years in the ecumenical movement, she remained active in ecumenical circles until her death, working for the World Council of Churches and the World YWCA.

She was one of the first women ordained in the United Presbyterian Church and served the East Harlem Protestant Parish in New York City from 1952-68, including 10 years as pastor of the Presbyterian Church of the Ascension. She joined the faculty of Yale Divinity School in 1974 as an assistant professor of theology, rose to the rank of professor in 1985 and retired in 2001. In retirement, she continued to teach some courses at Yale Divinity School as a visiting professor.

At various times Dr. Russell was employed as a consultant to the U.S. Working Group on the participation of Women in the World Council of Churches and as religious consultant to the National Board of the YWCA. Her first position was as a public school teacher in Middletown, CT in 1951-52. Over the years she served on numerous units of the World Council of Churches, including the Faith and Order Commission; the National Council of Churches, including the Task Force on the Bible and Sexism; and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the successor to the United Presbyterian Church.

Dr. Russell graduated with a B.A. in biblical history and philosophy in 1951 from Wellesley College, and she was among the first women to receive an S.T.B. from Harvard Divinity School, in theology and ethics, in 1958. She earned an S.T.M. from Union Theological Seminary in New York in Christian education and theology in 1967 and two years later received a Th.D. in mission theology and ecumenics from Union.

A global advocate for women, Dr. Russell was a member of the Yale Divinity School Women’s Initiative on Gender, Faith, and Responses to HIV/AIDS in Africa and was co-coordinator of the International Feminist Doctor of Ministry Program at San Francisco Theological Seminary. The author or editor of over 17 books, her book Church in the Round: Feminist Interpretations of the Church and her co-edited work, Dictionary of Feminist Theologies, characterized her commitment to feminist/liberation theologies and to the renewal of the church. In 2006, she co-edited a book with Phyllis Trible of Wake Forest University entitled, Hagar, Sarah and Their Children: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Perspectives.

So why am I telling you this? Because Dr Russell’s book, Feminist Interpretation of the Bible, was sitting prominently on my shelf of works on theology in September, 1987, when I sat down to write the first lines of a story about a girl who befriended a great detective, and I needed a name.

As chance would have it, I had the opportunity to tell Dr Russell of her inadvertent contribution to the world of crime fiction earlier this year, when one of my husband’s African students got in touch to say that she and her friend, Dr Russell, had been talking about the books on her shelf, and did Letty know that Laurie King was Dr Noel King’s wife?

So I wrote back to greet them both, and admitted my shameless theft of an honorable name.

Dr. Letty Russell, who touched many lives, in unexpected ways. Thank you.

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  2. corgimom on July 24, 2007 at 10:14 pm

    Thanks for sharing this life and its impact on you and your writing. I haven’t yet read her book. I will.

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