by Letha Dawson Scanzoni
Introduction. After Nancy Hardesty’s October 14, 1969 response to Letha Scanzoni’s October 7 letter inviting Nancy to collaborate in writing a book tentatively titled “The Christian Woman’s Liberation” (See Part 1), Letha wrote a four-page reply suggesting how the two might get the project underway. See excerpts from the correspondence below.
Letha’s letter to Nancy, dated October 18, 1969
Many thanks for your letter. It was great to hear you’re willing for us to work together on the woman book!
. . . . Now about our project. Yes it is good to know you’re so much closer now. Even though I think we can (and will have to) do most of the idea swapping and other work via mail, it would be nice if we could get together once in awhile. In this regard, what would you think of the idea of spending a weekend with us sometime soon? Do you think it would be possible to crowd it into your busy schedule?
. . . .Before I go further—I think it would be a good idea if we keep carbon copies of the letters we write one another, don’t you? That way we can remember what we’ve said! I enjoyed your comments and your candor in admitting your true feelings about the matter. No, I didn’t expect you to “have the answers.” I don’t know anyone who does, but I know a lot of girls are voicing questions and many women are either confused or discontented with their assigned roles. Perhaps our own experiences, questioning, and searchings, etc., can help us find at least some of the answers (I honestly believe answers exist!) and then we can, in turn, share these insights and convictions so that other people can be helped. Agree?
I can understand your feelings of loneliness and dejection upon coming home to an empty apartment after a hard day’s work. (I heard Roz Rinker make a very similar statement at a Faith at Work Conference last year, and missionaries have told me this is the hardest part of being single.)
The companionship and joint-sharing you mentioned in every area of life are certainly what make marriage very wonderful, to be sure. However, on the other hand, some of the “burdens” you spoke of as being a special burden to the single person are also problems of the married woman with an outside job. I mean things like shopping, laundry, seeing that the clean socks and underwear are in the drawer, menu planning, cooking, etc. usually fall to the woman under the present scheme of things, so that she has all these things plus the outside job, plus arranging dental appointments for the kids, attending PTA or other school affairs, etc. These things are just part of life, though it certainly helps to have an understanding, cooperative husband who realizes the responsibility is his also and helps shoulder the load. This matter of division of labor inside the marriage and family and the assignment of “roles” (which the younger generation is beginning to rebel about in regard to marriage) are subjects we should think about and treat in the book, since so much questioning is being done along these lines. For example, in comparing your personal situation with the married men who go home to a hot meal, wifely kiss, and orderly house—the only thing parallel for a working woman would be if she could to home to a househusband who would care for the household while she went out and worked! Did you read the recent Life article about this in Sweden? Believe it or not, I’ve known personally of two cases where it’s working here in the U.S.!
(You’d never believe the interruptions I’ve had trying to get this letter written. And I’m even being very “housewifely” today and have been washing and folding clothes and baking three pies in between paragraphs!)
. . . .I agree with you totally about the myth (and it is that) about a person’s need for marriage in order to be totally human and a real person. You had some good thoughts on this. I’m sure you’re right in saying that the girls in your classes “buy this entirely.” Girls are led to think that marriage is the be-all-end-all of life; society (including the church) has socialized them into thinking this. Consequently, an awful lot of unhappy and ill-advised marriages are entered. Books and magazines say, “A man’s interests in life are his job and his family; a woman’s interest is her man–getting, keeping, and pleasing him.” If a woman believes this and practices it to the degree often encouraged it can be unhealthy and stifling for all concerned.
One of the purposes of our book should be to help young Christian women see themselves as unique persons, not stereotyped roles, and to think in terms of a total life plan.
Now, to stimulate your further thinking on our very broad subject, here’s a homework assignment. . . Without any attempt at a logical order or organization, here are some things I’ve jotted down to be discussed in the book. Maybe one book won’t be enough!
1. The changing role of modern women
2. Historical, cross-cultural view of woman’s place and position
3. Troublesome Bible passages (e.g., I Tim. 2:11-15; I Cor. 7;11;14 in regard to marriage and/or women; also Genesis 3 and how it influenced the church’s view of woman; plus such passages as the ceremonial law that a woman was unclean for forty days after giving birth to a boy but eighty days after giving birth to a girl[ Lev. 12])
4. Is the Gospel Good News to modern woman? (Study the gospel accounts with special attention to Jesus’ attitudes toward women. There are tremendous applications here for today.)
5. The Christian woman as wife and mother
6. If a woman doesn’t marry
7. The Christian woman in the church
8. The Christian woman in the world
9. Has the Holy Spirit given spiritual gifts to women as well as men?
10. Rethinking Proverbs 31.
Some books worth looking into (also articles)
[Here I listed the following titles but will skip the comments that I shared about many of them. This was a period of time when such books were just beginning to appear]
Woman in the Church: A Restudy of Woman’s Place in Building the Kingdom by Russell Prohl, 1957
For an opposite view, see Charles Ryrie’s The Place of Women in the Church
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, also her article, “Woman: The Fourth Dimension” in Ladies Home Journal, June 1964.
The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir
The Church and the Second Sex by Mary Daly
Her Infinite Variety and The Natural History of Love, both by Morton Hunt
The Love Fraud by Edith DeRham
Developing Woman’s Potential by Edwin C. Lewis
Up from the Pedestal : Selected Writings from the History of American Feminism ed. by Aileen S. Kraditor
Everyone Was Brave: The Rise and Fall of Feminism in America by William L. O’Neill
The Woman in America (Essays from a special Daedalus issue on this subject)
Women in the Scientific Professions, ed. by Jacquelyn Mattfield and Carol G.Van Aken [here I drew special attention to an article by sociologist Alice Rossi]
Academic Women by Jessie Bernard
Woman in Modern Life by Wm. C. Bier, S.J.
The Woman Movement: Feminism in the U.S. and England by William L. O’Neill
The Service and Status of Women in the Churches by Kathleen Bliss
The Bible and the Role of Women: A Case Study in Hermeneutics by Krister Stendahl
and some booklets put out by the World Council of Churches (Concerning the Ordination of Women; Cooperation of Men and Women in Church, Family, and Society; Man and Woman: Similarity and Difference).
Also the Report of the Women’s International Ecumenical Conference: The Christian Woman: Co-Artisan in a Changing Society.
. . . .Well, I think this should at least get us started, Nancy. I’ll be glad to hear any suggestions or book recommendations you might have. Let’s keep exchanging ideas. And if it’s at all possible for you to come sometime; we’d really love to have you spend a weekend with us.
Nancy’s Reply to Letha, dated October 25, 1969
Sorry to take so long to get back to you—I keep thinking things will settle down, but they don’t. Today of course is Saturday and I just spent all morning laying out one of our publications. I had originally intended to go downtown to the city to buy some of the books you assigned! My thoughts are fairly random today, but here are some of them.
First, I assume you have begun some system of notetaking—do you see any reason for coordinating? I usually keep 4X6 cards if that is fine with you—I’m a born shuffler. . . .
Yes, I would like to come down for a weekend. I could drive down some Saturday morning. Why don’t you set the date. I don’t have any fast plans that I can remember except to go home for Thanksgiving. Just tell me how to get to your house.
The outline of the book looks very good although I’m not sure I understand what you have in mind for the last two chapters. I am trying to get started on the reading assignments—don’t count on Trinity’s library having anything, That’s one of the school’s bigger weaknesses.
Did you see the latest Good Housekeeping with an article by Dr. Joyce Brothers titled something like “Not All Women Should Marry!” It’s not worth buying the magazine for, but it did have some interesting things to say. But one line that I think sums up a large part of modern secular thinking, but one I don’t think you would buy is the idea that women don’t need to get married any more to have sex—it’s free outside of marriage for anyone who wants it. I disagree with that even from a perfectly secular view, but I think it’s assumed these days by a lot of people.
Incidentally, for what it’s worth, I try to read Cosmopolitan every month (and I’ve recently subscribed to Psychology Today). Cosmo has some of the best writing in it—by that I mean journalistically. It also contains some practical hints. But the philosophy is unreal. Can’t say I disagree with it always—it’s just that I can’t find it! The swinging life, that is.
One more serious note: One Sunday several months ago, I was sitting in church in one of my more depressed moods, and I was thinking of the verse, “He was tempted in all points like as we are” and other similar verses. The thought came to me, Well Christ doesn’t really know how I feel. And then it hit me—it never had before—that he was single until he was even older than I am in a culture that put even more pressure on one to be married. He also as perfect Love knew more than I ever will just what a perfect marriage could mean. As a man he must have felt the loss of physical sexual expression more keenly than I do. It was a comforting thought. Have you read Kazantzakis’ novel in which Christ on the Cross is tempted to flee from it all and go settle down somewhere with Mary Magdalene and raise a family? It may sound a bit crude or revolting, but it isn’t in the book [The Last Temptation of Christ].
Yesterday through the campus mail, we got another example of that oh, so prevalent assumption that everybody who is anybody in the world comes in twos. There’s to be a faculty dinner in a couple of weeks. The selections on the RSVP blank were: “1. My spouse and I will attend. 2. I will attend but my spouse cannot. 3. We will not attend.” It’s just the little things.
That’s about the extent of my thought today. It’s 1:30 and I haven’t had lunch so I’ll go see if civilization is still out there.
Thanks for your letter—I needed the reminder that other women have the same problems. I hope my letters don’t sound too bitter. I’m really not a bitter person—I don’t think. But when I start thinking about this subject, it’s easier to get depressed than when I think about day to day things.
Over the next several weeks, we continued our correspondence, discussing what we had written in the two letters just quoted and in numerous other letters zipping between our homes as well. We arranged for Nancy to visit my family in Bloomington, Indiana, the weekend of November 15.
Before November 15, I had never even seen a photo of Nancy, although she had seen the one of my family that I had been asked to send for the Eternity magazine article published the year before. Yet we both felt that we already knew each other even before the moment that we actually met in person, and we felt at ease immediately.
Since it was near the Thanksgiving season and fresh cranberries and apples were in season and readily available, I was in the midst of baking a cranberry-apple pie when Nancy arrived that Saturday. I wanted to make a special dinner for our guest to enjoy. I dashed to the front door as soon as the doorbell rang and didn’t even bother to dust off the flour from my hands and apron. We laughed about that, saying we hardly looked like the stereotype of tough, strident feminists bent on destroying home and family and spreading heresy in the church, as we would later be accused of—simply because we believed God intended full equality for women and men.
Nancy’s trip involved a five-hour drive each way, so our time together was short. We only had part of Saturday and part of Sunday, but it was a time of immensely rich interaction as we discussed how we would proceed with writing the book. We were getting to know each other as colleagues in a project we both cared about.
It was also a time of forming a friendship (already there in embryonic form from our letter-writing) in which we were able to share deeply about our own feelings about the topics we would be writing about. We sat in front of the fireplace, pads and pens in hand, jotting down notes about how we would divide the labor and other details about what material we wanted to be in the various chapters. We talked late into the night and again the next day until it was time for Nancy to leave again. All We’re Meant to Be was being born, although it didn’t yet have a name.
But that’s another story.
Although the quality of the photos with this post is not good, I’m including them because I believe these were the first photos of us together. I don’t think we took any pictures during that first rushed visit. As far as I can tell, I believe these pictures were taken during the Christmas holidays the following year (1970).
Copyright 2011 by Letha Dawson Scanzoni