THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
Rev. Elizabeth Frazier
May 16, 1915 – September 4, 2019
VFA honors Elizabeth Frazier, introduced by Kate Swift during the conference, Feminism and Its Values, an Intergenerational Dialogue, April 16, 2005, Cromwell CT.
KS: Elizabeth Fraizer was the only woman on the Religious Advisory Committee of Planned Parenthood World Population in 1970. She was herself a graduate of Yale Divinity School, and she realized that the discussion of the female body in relation to contraception and abortion needed better gender perspective than was represented on the otherwise all male clergy committee. At about that time, her daughter was challenging the Middletown School Board and the State of Connecticut on the issue of teaching while pregnant. Elizabeth was ordained a Minister at that time and has worked diligently for reproductive rights ever since. Join me in honoring Elizabeth Frazier.
EF: Well, I graduated from Yale in 1940, and I didn’t bother to get ordained because I figured it would make a big chasm between me and the many women in the Church. So, I went along, working for free for 32 years in different churches. Then my husband left the West Haven Congregational Church and took a position with a church in New York City. And at that point I went into Church Women United and said, “Here I am a displaced parsonage wife with a Yale Divinity School education. What do you have for me to do?”
Well, she grinned, and she said, “I’ve got just the place for you.” And she put me on the National Religious Advisory Committee of Planned Parenthood World Population, and I walked into my first meeting. The priest, the rabbi, 20 assorted Protestant types and one female secretary, and I sat there through the meeting, and I paid attention. I was un-ordained, and you can’t say, Listen, guys, I’ve got the same training you have. So, I paid attention, and by the end of the meeting I figured, you’re Podunk Seminary.
Well, actually, you’re Podunk Seminary, and here am I Yale. So, I went back to Greenwich and I said, really, I need to get ordained, finally, I do need to get ordained. And I didn’t take the easy way of getting ordained. It would have been a breeze if I had gotten ordained in the church that my husband was serving, and I didn’t take that path. I decided I would seek ordination for an issue. And you don’t do that. I mean, issues aren’t important [in the] market today. Issues aren’t that important in the Church.
And yet we’re in trouble because they’re not and because we won’t discuss them. So, in Greenwich, fortunately, my in-laws had lived there 35 years, and they had [a] Deacon of the First Congregational Church [who] thought the Fraziers were all right. And I believe in the economic determination of history somewhat. Because the Greenwich Church gives more to the Connecticut Conference than any Church in the state. And they really couldn’t easily tell me no. And as I told my husband, I’ve learned the lingo keeping track of the books for the New Haven Association.
So somehow I got through with only one person against me because I made the mistake of quoting one of my divinity school professors with whom he didn’t agree. But what happened next was exciting, because here I was with no church, but the Connecticut Conference Minister saying, “We are going to have a female Minister in every church of our denomination in this state this year.” And there I was. And I got 40 pulpits immediately for one day. And it proved to be an eye opener. And I was off on overpopulation and I had a son that was just through medical school and working [with] abused women.
And I was up to date on Marie Fortune and things [Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune – renowned author, lecturer, ethicist, theologian, and a pioneer in the movement to end domestic and sexual violence]. So, I would put those things in sermons. And about the time I told [the Conference Minister] in New London that one in five women in the greater New Haven area was abused, I knew every abused woman in that church in New London. When I used overpopulation, I could tell you who was infertile in the congregation. I mean, I have no idea what kind of a preacher I was. I just know they heard me. I think I’ll let it go at that. It’s been fun.
Actually, I would like to say one or two more words. I made a little list. Yesterday, I went to a big conference at Yale University, and it was at least in the Divinity School, and that, too, has changed. It used to be for non-liturgical Protestants. And now, yesterday’s group was at least half Catholic, and it was Sisters of Mercy, Dominican Sisters, lots of priests from downtown. And the thing that interested me was the story one of the professors told. That she had gone to a conference in Egypt, and it was a conference like this.
And there was only one person representing religion. And I have felt a little bit like that today. I know DaVita represents religion, and I know I don’t follow the main path, exactly. I’m too busy questioning. But I should like to leave you with the idea that you’ve got a lot of work to do and one of the pieces of work – I mean, churches – have been very helpful in getting to this women’s movement, and we should not ignore it. Those literary societies and things they counted and the missionary societies.
But I would like to say that you have a very important job in getting rid of patriarchal language. And when you listen to the stuff on TV right now about the Pope and think of patriarchal language in that area, you’ve got work to do and it’s hard work, and it isn’t even popular work. So, I would suggest you pay attention to that. I’ve been very glad that there were those that said, let’s work with the male of the species. I found my husband tremendously helpful, and I found my son-in-law tremendously helpful.
And some men and some women are just super, and others are not so good.