AWTS Virtual Exhibit

AWTS Virtual Exhibit Logo

A photo of the Union Theological Seminary Class of 1897 depicts roughly twenty men, all white, standing outside the old Seminary grounds on Park Avenue, Manhattan. This class is significant because it was the first to include the Bachelor of Divinity degree and the first to include a woman (Emilie Grace Briggs) among its degree recipients. Ms. Briggs graduated at the top of her class and was the first person to whom the B.D. was given at the commencement exercises that year—yet she was forbidden to be in the picture of the graduating class, and no official record of her having earned a degree from Union exists, save her alumna file and her inclusion in the alumni catalogue until her death in 1944.


The memory of the first woman to graduate from Union Seminary was quickly erased. Mary Ely Lyman, who attended Union as a B.D. student from 1916 until her graduation as the sole woman (and also forbidden from associating with her class during the commencement festivities due to her gender) in the class of 1919, recalled being asked if she was the first woman to graduate from Union. She said that she honestly did not know, but she did not think so—that there might have been eight or nine women ahead of her. What happened to the memory of what, only twenty-two years earlier, had been celebrated as a "woman's rights victory?" What happened to women's history?

The Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship (AWTS) is a project housed by The Burke Library, Union Theological Seminary; the objective of the project is to collect, process and preserve the papers of at least twenty prominent women in theological scholarship and religious studies who have gained prominence since the 1960s, when women began to enter theological education in significant numbers. The mission of the AWTS, though, is implicit in such collection: that we do not lose the memory of women who have made a difference, and that we do our best to preserve the precious legacy of Christian feminist and womanist discourse and practice.

The four women featured in this exhibit—Emilie Grace Briggs, Mary Ely Lyman, Sophia Lyon Fahs, and Phyllis Trible—represent a powerful, underexamined segment of the Union legacy: women biblical scholars and teachers. They occupy an important part of our history, yet materials concerning their lives and work are scant and hard to locate even within our own walls. Additionally, materials identifying women who may not have been as privileged or as prominent as these four are even more difficult to find.The AWTS is committed to making the lives of these women and others more accessible, and to ensuring that the future of feminist/womanist theological discussion, works, and history does not lie in erasure or disappearance.

This exhibit was on view in The Burke Library, Union Theological Seminary through March 1999. This on-line material displays portions of the original exhibition.