There is a beautiful tradition at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary of wearing red shoes at graduation. In the past, this has primarily been a tradition of the women of Garrett-Evangelical but in recent years we've seen some red shoes on our male colleagues too. The tradition, though, fails to be beautiful if no one knows the story behind the shoes. Our alumna, Amanda Baker, wrote the following blog post before her graduation in 2010 from Garrett-Evangelical and has given us permission to share.
Why do we wear red shoes?
We wear red shoes to remind us of our place as courageous, outrageous women, and to celebrate the rich tradition of female scholarship at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.
What does wearing red shoes have to do with female scholarship?
It begins with a story that Georgia Harkness used to tell of her great-grandmother Abigail.
As Georgia told the story, "Abigail was not only not a quaker, but was known as a 'worldly woman,' who affronted neighbors by 'appearing out of plainness' and was referred to scornfully as ' the woman in the red coat.' Whether because of the red coat or more abiding charms, she won the heart of Daniel Harkness and they were married in November, 1802."
In response, the Society of Friends presented Daniel Harkness with a letter of dismissal for marrying out of the meeting. To 'make satisfaction to the meeting' he would only have had to say he was sorry he married her. But he was not sorry, and he would not say it!" Georgia stated flatly-and proudly. (Keller, 33)
Wait. . .Who was Georgia Harkness?
Georgia Harkness has become one of the legendary personalities of Garrett-Evangelical. She was the first professional female theologian in the United States. She served as the first ever Professor of Applied Theology at Garrett Biblical Institute from 1939-1950 before moving to California to teach at the Pacific School of Religion until 1961. In addition to her teaching she was a prolific author and hymn-writer. Most telling of her character, though, is a story she told of her struggle to be accepted in the Ph.D. program of her choice.
Edgar Brightman, the distinguished professor of philosophy at Boston University and Georgia’s mentor in her doctoral program in the 1920s initially questioned whether she was that exceptional and whether he should take her as a Ph.D. candidate. He judged that “I had the preparation, probably the brains, but that I lacked the stick-to-itiveness.” Clear in her own mind, Georgia “told him that if that was all, I would see to that.” And she did. (Keller, 35)
So who decided we should wear red shoes?
The story of the woman in the red coat was recorded in a biography of Georgia Harkness’s life, For Such A Time As This written by Rosemary Skinner Keller. She feared that Georgia’s story, and with it, the history of women’s entry into professional theology in the United States, might be lost. Keller was on faculty at Garrett-Evangelical from 1978-1996, and she served from 1993-1996 as the seminary’s first female Academic Dean. During her time on the Garrett-Evangelical faculty she took to wearing red shoes to honor the legacy of Georgia Harkness and her great-grandmother Abigail Cochran. The tradition spread to other female faculty members, and has in recent years become a tradition of the student body.
Our red shoes are not a privilege we earn, but a history we claim. We honor Georgia Harkness, Rosemary Radford Reuther, Rosemary Skinner Keller, and so many others with our red shoes. We claim our place in their legacy, and with it we accept the responsibility to continue to move the world forward, to maintain their history, and to advance theological thinking. We proclaim our willingness to be bold, to be ourselves, and to show the world how much stick-to-itiveness we have!
Congratulations class of 2013! We are so proud of each of you and your many accomplishments. To learn more about this week's graduation events, go to www.garrett.edu/156th-commencement.