Union Theological Seminary President Welcome

Union Mourns the Passing of
Dr. Beverly Wildung Harrison

8/4/32 - 12/15/12

Beverly Harrison (small photo)

The following statement was prepared by close family and friends of Beverly Wildung Harrison.

Internationally renowned scholar and teacher of Christian social ethics and feminist theory, Beverly Wildung Harrison, died in Transylvania County Community Hospital in Brevard, North Carolina, on December 15, 2012.

The fourth child of Harold Wildung and Adahlia Knodt Wildung, Beverly was born on Aug 4, 1932, in St. Paul, MN.  She graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul in 1954 and received her Master of Religious Education and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Union Theological Seminary in New York City.  Dr. Harrison also received honorary doctorates from Macalester College in 2006 and Chicago Theological Seminary in 2010.

A lifelong Presbyterian who worked as an associate campus minister at University of California in Berkeley in the 1960s, Beverly Harrison increasingly devoted less of her professional time to organized religion and more of her energy to networks of religious feminists who emerged with irrepressible faith, strong intellect, and passionate commitment in the 1970s and 1980s.

Regarded widely by her graduate students and colleagues throughout the world as the “mother of Christian feminist ethics,” Dr. Harrison’s ground-breaking book on abortion, Our Right to Choose (1983), continues to be heralded by theological students and religious scholars for its fine-tuned feminist methodology and its thesis that women’s reproductive freedom is essential to not only women’s lives but moreover to the strength and integrity of the entire social order. 

Dr. Harrison’s second book, Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics (edited by Carol S. Robb, 1985), was another major contribution to the emerging field of feminist ethics and theory.  One of the essays in it, “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love,” an adaptation of Dr. Harrison’s inaugural address as Carolyn Williams Beaird Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Seminary in 1980, has been translated into at least 8 languages and has been studied in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America as well as throughout North America as one of the most influential feminist essays ever produced by a religious scholar.

Beverly Harrison was on the faculty of Union Theological Seminary from 1967 until her retirement in 1999.  In addition to working with several generations of students in Christian feminist ethics, Dr. Harrison lectured widely throughout this time.  She was visiting scholar in theological settings in Seoul, Zurich, Hamburg, Johannesburg, Mexico City, Canberra, and Auckland. 

In 2006, Our Right to Choose was published in Spanish and a celebration of this book was held in Mexico City by a Latin American chapter of Catholics for Choice, with Dr. Harrison as featured guest.  In 2007 she received an award for her outstanding work by the American Academy of Religion’s Women’s Caucus.  This January, Dr. Harrison was scheduled to receive the Society of Christian Ethics “Lifetime Achievement” Award, the second ever recipient of this distinguished recognition.  Throughout her career, Dr. Harrison was an active member of the Feminist Ethics Consultation of which she was a founder in the 1970s.

In addition to her work in the field of reproductive rights and human sexuality, Dr. Harrison wrote and taught extensively in the field of economic ethics.  As she continued to be attuned to the interests and scholarship of her colleagues, she became increasingly involved in environmental studies as they intersect with economic, racial, sexual, and gender issues.

For more than thirty years, Dr. Harrison and her beloved life companion and theological colleague Carter Heyward collaborated in workshops, classes, and publications.  Drs. Harrison and Heyward were among the co-authors of God’s Fierce Whimsy: Christian Feminism and Theological Education (1985).  In it the authors argued that the basis of theological education and Christian theology needed to shift significantly so as to include the lives, experiences, and intellectual contributions of women of all classes, races and cultures.

In retirement, Beverly Harrison joined Carter Heyward and several other women in forming an intentional residential community of women, “Redbud Springs,” in the mountains of North Carolina. During the last years of her life, Dr. Harrison helped found the Mountain Community of St. Clare, a small justice-based community of “recovering” Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and others.  She remained active, insofar as she was able, in the work of justice.  She was an enthusiastic member of the Democratic Party in Transylvania County and most recently rejoiced in the re-election of President Obama.

This past August, Beverly’s companions threw an 80th Birthday Bash for her at the Silvermont Mansion in Brevard.  More than 100 family, friends, and former students showed up from places as far away as Montana and London to pay tribute to this woman for having touched and changed the lives of so many.

During 2012, Dr. Harrison lived in a retirement community in Brevard, N.C., with her Pomeranian whom she considered her guardian angel. In addition to Carter Heyward and  “Shelly Pom Pom,” Beverly Harrison leaves behind the other members of Redbud Springs – Sue Sasser, Nancy Richards, Gerrie Kiley, and Jennifer Rouse – as well as countless close friends and associates throughout the world.  Dr. Harrison also leaves behind her brother Hal Wildung of Minneapolis; nieces Holly Hardgrove, Jane Wildung Lamphere, Wendy Wildung, Jill Wildung Schmidt, Laurie Wildung, Kathy Wildung Abboud, and Merilee Wildung; nephews Richard Wildung, David Wildung, John Wildung, Mark Husted, and many great nieces and nephews. 

Memorial gifts may be sent to Union Theological Seminary, 3041 Broadway, New York, NY  10027 for the Beverly W. Harrison Lectureship, which has been established in her honor.  Gifts might also be made in her name to any Planned Parenthood organization or to Free Rein Center for Therapeutic Riding and Education, PO Box 1325, Brevard, NC 28712.

A Memorial Service will be held at Union:

Friday, March 1, 2013
James Memorial Chapel
12noon – 3:00 p.m.

Click here to register>>

For more information, please contact Kevin McGee at 212-280-1590 or kmcgee@uts.columbia.edu

To contact Carter Heyward, please write to Kevin McGee:

Carter Heyward, c/o Kevin McGee
Union Theological Seminary
3041 Broadway
New York, NY 10027

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