Women, and especially lesbian women with partners are sadly rare in churches’ calendars of saints and holy ones. Here’s a woman to honour, from the Calendar of the Episcopal Church of the US.
Vida Dutton Scudder (feast day 10th October) was born in India, where her father was a missionary, in 1861. She moved with her mother to Boston, USA, following her father’s tragic death through drowning. She was educated privately in Boston, and was fortunate to be able to travel as a tourist around Europe. She graduated in America, and was later one of the first American women to attend Oxford University. She later taught in American Universities becoming a Professor at Wellesley College in 1910.
From the age of 27 she was active in politics, and was also a member of the Companions of the Holy Cross (a group of Episcopalian women dedicated to Social Reform and Intercessory Prayer). In 1903 she helped to organise the Women’s Trade Union League, and in 1911 she attempted to reconcile Marxism with Christianity. Needless to say, she was a controversial figure with many calling for her dismissal. However, in 1912 whilst supporting striking textile works she stated,
“I would rather never again wear a thread of woolen than know my garments had been woven at the cost of such misery as I have seen and known past the shadow of a doubt to have existed in this town….If the wages are of necessity below the standard to maintain man and woman in decency and in health, then the woolen industry has not a present right to exist in Massachusetts”
From 1919 until her death she lived with her constant companion Florence Converse, and they were buried with one another. In the 1920s she became a pacifist, and the 16-works published by her speak of her vibrant spirituality and intense activism.
Here we have a lesbian woman of immense courage and determination. She challenged the church and society of her day, and is a voice who empowers those on the margins. She was in one respect from a privileged background – but, she stepped out of her space of privilege. Her heart and care was for the unfortunate and dispossessed. She was instrumental in showing the way for educated women to bring about change through social action.
Most gracious God, you sent your beloved Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Raise up in your church witnesses who, after the example of your servant Vida Dutton Scudder, stand firm in proclaiming the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.