Nelle Katherine Morton
By Elizabeth F. Caldwell
Nelle Katherine Morton (1905-1987). The bonds of traditional roles for women in the culture did not restrain Nelle Morton from becoming a prophetic and feminist model for countless numbers of women whom she “heard to voice” during the middle and latter part of the twentieth century. Her early work in civil rights in the south in the 1930’s prepared her well for the battles she would later face in confronting sexism in the church and the culture.
Early Life, Youth Work and Teaching
Nelle Katherine Morton was born on January 7, 1905 in the mountains of Sullivan County in Smalling, Tennessee. Her parents, Jonathan Morrell Morton and Mary Katherine O’Dell Morton raised Nelle and her sisters, Inez and Lucille, in Kingsport, Tennessee,. Nelle graduated from Flora MacDonald College (now St. Andrews Presbyterian College) in Red Springs, North Carolina in 1925 and began her work in the public schools of Kingsport, teaching the 6th grade (1925-26) and art (1927-29).
Nelle left public school teaching to begin graduate study at The General Assembly Training School (now know as Union/PSCE) in Richmond, Virginia in 1926-27, moving to New York to study at the Biblical Seminary, receiving a Master of Religious Education degree in 1931. She worked as a parish assistant at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Brooklyn, 1931-35, and Director of Religious Education at the First Presbyterian Church of Staunton, Virginia, 1935-37.
From 1937 until 1944, Nelle worked as Assistant Director of Youth Work for the Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. Her commitment to challenging segregation laws in the south was in evidence in her organization of inter-racial youth camps and conferences during this time.
Nelle’s work in race relations continued when she became the General Secretary of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen (1945-1949). This inter-racial and multi-faith organization of men and women had been working since the mid 1930’s, meeting for discussion, prayer and reflection on cultural, political and social issues. By the time Nelle assumed leadership, the Fellowship was taking a more activist role in leadership in race relations, labor and rural reconstruction in the south.
Health problems forced Nelle to leave the Fellowship and she returned home to her family’s farm in East Tennessee. From 1949-1956, she focused on teaching children with physical handicaps and developing educational programs for severely mentally challenged children in Bristol, Tennessee. This was also a time of significant writing for her. She made an award winning film on camping programs for children with special needs and she completed two books, The Bible and its use and The church we cannot see.
In 1956, Nelle joined the faculty of the Theological School of Drew University in Madison, New Jersey to teach in the field of Christian Education and she remained there until her retirement in 1971. At Drew, she taught courses such as: The Bible and Christian Education; Trends in Christian Education; Race and the Church’s Educational Ministry; Learning in the Christian Fellowship; The Church’s Ministry with Children; Worship and Christian Education; Enviromental Learning.
On a sabbatical leave, 1962-63, she lived in Geneva, Switzerland, studying the research of Jean Piaget at L’Institut de Rousseau and at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey. It was here that she has said that her understanding of images and the way that images and symbols function in development and learning deepened. “Combining the work of Professor Piaget and the artworks of Marc Chagall, I now understand better the power of myth, symbol, and imagery in liberating a people.” (Morton, 1972, 32)
Nelle is probably remembered most for teaching in 1969, what is believed to be the first course in theological education which addressed the topic of “Women in Church and Society.” It was at Drew that her response to “the woman movement”, as she called it, her growing awareness and anger over the position and treatment of women in the culture and the church’s role in discriminating against women’s leadership worked together to change the focus and direction of her writing, teaching and speaking.
While on the faculty at Drew, she served as a visiting professor and/or lecturer at Union Theological Seminary, Perkins School of Theology, Andover-Newton Theological Seminary, the Pacific School of Religion, Yale Divinity School, Harvard Divinity School, and the Graduate Theological Union. In 1974, she gave a plenary address, “Toward a Whole Theology” at the World Council of Churches Consultation in Berlin on “Sexism in the 1970’s”. In 1976, she gave a plenary address, “Educating for Wholeness” at the World Federation of Methodist Women meeting in Dublin, Ireland. She also gave special lectures at Riverside Church in New York, Sullins College in Bristol, Virginia and Queens College in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Nelle was a member of the following organizations: Fellowship of Southern Churchmen, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and the American Academy of Religion. She was a participant in the Commission on Women formed by the National Council of Churches and led workshops for women in church groups across the country.
Nelle received two honorary degrees. St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, North Carolina honored her work with women in awarding her the Doctor of Humane Letters degree, June 1, 1979. It was noted that she was the first alumnus of St. Andrew’s predecessor institution, Flora McDonald College, to be so honored. On March 8, 1984, Drew University, recognized her contribution to teaching and the church with the degree of Doctor of Human Letters. In introducing her, David Graybeal, Professor of Church and Society at the Theological School of Drew University presented her as theologian, teacher of the church, prophet of God. He described her ministry as one of advocacy – “for children, for the mountain people, for blacks, for labor, for women. She has sought to ‘hear into speech’ those who could not yet find their voices.”
The Theological School at Drew University established the Nelle K. Morton Lectures as a way to remember the heritage and tradition of the contribution of women in theological education. In 1986, the School of Theology at Claremont established the Anne Bennett-Nelle Morton Lectures in honor of their friendship and to continue their concerns for the liberation of women.
The focus of the writing of Nelle Morton represents three periods of her life and work. Growing out of her work with youth and her leadership in the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen, her articles in the 1940’s focused on race relations, the church and how the Bible has been misused to support racist ideology. When she returned to the family farm in East Tennessee after leaving the Fellowship, she described herself as a teacher of mentally retarded children and a freelance writer. Her writing in this period (1949-1956) focused on the religious education of children and youth. Articles in the Internal Journal of Religious Education include her work as a regular contributor to the section on worship resources for junior high youth.(1950)
Once the “foundation of my earth shook” (the way Nelle described her experience of the woman movement), her writing focused exclusively on feminist theology. In writing about her commitment to understand what it means to enable women to name and interpret their theology, she said in the Prelude to her book, The journey is home, “for sheer nourishment, to isolate our own experiences and images, and for exploration into new ways of being present to one another and visible in the world my primary support at this stage is in all-women’s groups.” (xxviii) Her passion and commitment to hearing women to speech remained as the central theme of her teaching and writing until her death.
When examining the body of her work, one consistent theme becomes apparent, the education and empowerment of the outsider, those who are considered different by the dominant powers in the culture. Though Nelle’s name is certainly more widely known as feminist theologian, her leadership and experiences as social activist, public school educator and religious educator provided the threads essential in weaving together the tapestry of her life and work.
Nelle Morton influenced a generation of women in theological education. She was a leader at “Woman Doing Theology” Conferences at Grailville, Ohio in the early 1970’s. In commenting on her presence and leadership with women, Joan M. Martin said, “She offered a place for reflection, rest and comfort, but complacency and comfortableness, no.” (Martin, 1987, 5-6) In hearing a woman to voice, Nelle held her also accountable for her continued growth and development and leadership in the church and the world.
Nelle died on July 14, 1987 in residence at Pilgrim Place where she had lived in retirement since 1976. In writing about her life, those who knew her described her as theologian, religious educator and social activist Her obituary in the Claremont Courier noted that she was pioneer a feminist, early civil rights and anti-war advocate and a resident of Pilgrim Place. In reflecting on Nelle’s life and work, Carter Heyward has commented that “Nelle’s vision was global, multi-cultural and multicolored. Nelle saw our shared sisterly power. She saw us as the hope for the world.” (Heyward, 1987, 286)
The voice that Nelle raised in all of these roles is still alive and well in the life and faith of those who were “heard to speech” by this remarkable woman.
- Caldwell, E. F. (1997). Nelle Morton, A Radical Journey, In Barbara Anne Keely (Ed.), Faith of our foremothers: Women changing religious education (pp. 43-58). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
- Graybeal, D. (1984, March 8). Presentation of Nelle Katherine Morton, to receive honorary Doctor of Human Letters, Drew University.
- Heyward, C. (1987, September). “Nelle Morton journeys home”, Christianity and crisis, 276.
- Martin, J. M. (1987). On the passing by of Nelle Morton, in the Newsletter of the Women’s Theological center, Boston.
- Morton, N. (1985). How images function, in The journey is home, Boston: Beacon Press.
Contributions to Christian Education
Like other women in this field, Nelle’s teaching was integrated with the knowledge and experience gained from her work as education prior to joining a theological faculty. In commenting on Nelle’s book, The Journey is home, Rosemary Radford Ruether said it contained “the best of her spirit, both radical and rooted.” (Quoted in Betty Thompson, “Nelle Morton: Journeying Home: in The Christian Century, August 26, 1987, 711) This describes Nelle’s major contributions to the field of Religious Education.
The religious education in which she was engaged was rooted in her experiences as a southern Presbyterian. The Bible she read and from which she quoted revealed a God of inclusion, peace, and the nature of the church to be in community and in radical witness of belief and faith. She was rooted as an educator in the developmental research of Jean Piaget which shaped her continuing interest in the concepts of image and metaphor and the contribution they make to how we know, how we learn and how we live and act in the world.
She was radical in her belief in what today we would call liberative education or religious education which works to transform the world. Like Paulo Friere’s commitment to conscientization, Nelle Morton held people accountable to connecting language, thought and action.
Two comments about Nelle written forty years apart capture the essence of who she was as religious educator. In an article that featured “Notable Presbyterians of 1949”, the writer said this about Nelle. “She has worked beyond all seeming human endurance to replace the marked Bibliolatry of the South by the gospel which is the Bible’s core and life. Nelle is bored to death by the claptrap that glorifies the prophets but has lost their source of courage and their power to fit positive and permanent Christianity to the day in which we live.” (Presbyterian Outlook, 1949, 6-7)
In an issue of The Christian Century which focused on essays “In Praise of Teachers”, Catherine Keller wrote about the only woman included in this group of nine theological educators, Nelle Morton. Keller believes that her influence can be linked to two qualities, her “risk-taking curiosity” and her courage. Writing about Nelle’s insistence on removing the image of God as “Yahweh with a skirt” in order to make room for Goddess imagery, Keller recalls that “A few weeks before her death she noted to me her indignation at a review that suggested she had moved to the margin of the Presbyterian Church. In her view, she had never been more faithful than in this intimate challenge to its assumptions. Nelle’s deep fidelity to her own questions and communities was inseparable from a never-ending process of inquiry, self-critique and transformation.” (Keller, The Christian Century, 1990, 143)
“Whether she was working for the education of mentally challenged children, the civil rights of African Americans in the South, or the liberation for leadership in the church and the world of all those to whom the church has attempted to deny voice – women, young people, gays and lesbians – Nelle Morton spent a lifetime ‘hearing people to speech’ and thereby to responsible living and acting as agents of change in a world constructed to deny voice to those groups” (Caldwell, 1997,55)
Books and Monographs
- (1985). The journey is home. Boston: Beacon Press.
- (1955). The Bible and its use. St. Louis: The Bethany Press.
- (1953). The Church we cannot see. New York: Friendship Press.
- (1953). Making our group Christian. Richmond: John Knox Press.
- (1953). Making our group Christian: Pupil's book. Richmond: John Knox Press.
- (1952). Living together as Christians: A guide for camp leaders on creating Christian community. Philadelphia: Christian Education Press.
- (Date Unknown) Learning to be Christian in a group. Richmond: Board of Christian Education.
- (Undated) The Biblical faith and your campus in dialogue on campus. National Student Councils of the YMCA and YWCA.
Articles and Chapters
- (1991). How we learn. What we learn (audiocassette) (Louisville, Presbyterian Church USA, 80 minutes.
- (1987). "Eulogy: Anne McGrew Bennett," October, Personal Files, Charlotte Ellen, Santa Barbara, California.
- (1985, Winter). "Een word dat nog onzegbaar is," Lust and Gratie, 57-72.
- (1984, November). "Myths and truths in theology," Presbyterian Survey, 18-21.
- (1984). "Seeds of justice (manuscript), February 29, Nelle Morton Archives, Presbyterian History Center, Montreat, NC.
- (1983) ."Toward a whole theology, Frau and Religion, ed., Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel, Germany: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag.
- (1982). "Women's Spirituality, " Lecture Manuscript, National Council of Jewish Women, November 14, Nelle Morton archives, Presbyterian History Center, Montreat, North Carolina.
- (1981). "A view of Sheffield at a distance (manuscript)," Vespers sermon, Pilgrim place, Claremont, California, November 19, Nelle Morton archives,Presbyterian History Center, Montreat, North Carolina.
- (1980). "Beloved image," La Sfida del Femminismo all teologia, eds.Rosino Gibellini and Mary Hunt. Editrice Queriniana Brescia, Via Piamarta, 6, 1980.
- (1980). Untitled lecture manuscript, Young women of the United Church of Christ, Claremont, California, October 27, Nelle Morton archives, Presbyterian History Center, Montreat, North Carolina.
- (1977, Winter). "A word we cannot yet speak," New Conversations, 10-16.
- (1977). "Beloved image: Feminist imagining: Seeing and hearing A-new” (manuscript), American Academy of Religion, December 28, Nelle Morton archives, Presbyterian History Center, Montreat, NC.
- (1977). "Hearing to speech: A sermon” (manuscript, audiocasette), Kresge Chapel, Claremont School of Theology, April 27.
- (1976). "Auf dem Weg zu einer ganzheitlichen Theologie," Lutherische Rundschau, 1/2, 16-26.
- (1976). "Holy Spirit, Child Spirit, Air Spirit, Woman Spirit (manuscript), Commencement Address, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, CA. May 29.
- (1976, Fall). "How images function," Quest.
- (1975, January). "Toward a whole theology," Lutheran World.
- (1974, Winter). "Review: Beyond God the father, Toward a philosophy of women's liberation," with Brita and Krister Stendahl, The Drew Gateway..
- (1974). "The dilemma of celebration," in Fisher, Clare Benedicks, et al., eds., Sexist religion and women in the church: No more silence, New York: Association Press, 29-46.
- (1972-1973). Harvard Divinity School and Boston Theological Institute Lentz Lecture] Preaching the Word, " Sexist Religion and Women of the Church-No More Silence," ed., Alice L, Hageman, New York: Association Press, 1974, 29-46.
- (1972, March). "The rising woman consciousness in a male language structure," Andover Newton Quarterly, 171-190."The rising woman consciousness in a male language structure, WomanSpirit 1. 2.
- (1971, January). "An open letter to the women of the Churches about women," The Church Woman , 14-18.
- 1971, January 11). "What's happening to individual theologian's concern (interview), Dallas Times Herald.
- (1971). "The Functioning of Images in the Learning-Teaching Process (liturgy and teaching comments), Consultation on Seminary Field Education, Union Theological Seminary, Nelle Morton Archives, Montreat, NC.(1971, May). "Speculations of the role of women in Biblical perspective," The Christian Ministry, 23-26.
- (1971). "Groundswell will not be denied (interview), Morristown Daily Record, July 15.
- (1971, April). "Women and the church: A dialogue (with Elizabeth Johns)," Social Action,, 22-35.
- (1970, August). "Introduction to Consciousness-raising (manuscript).
- (1970, Winter). "Women---on the march," The Drew University Magazine.
- (1970, October). "Women --- on the march," Tempo, (National Council of Churches – USA.
- (1970-71, Winter). "Women's liberation and the church," The Drew University Magazine. 14-16.
- (1967-68). "Art: The ministry of celebration," The Drew Gateway 38. 1-2, 26ff.
- (1967, June). Review, "Religious pathology and the Christian faith by J. E. Loder," The Princeton Seminary Bulletin, 74-83."Response to John Bennett: Sin and the possibility for social transformation," Symposium manuscript. October 7 (?), Nelle Morton archives, Presbyterian History Center, Montreat, North Carolina.
- (1965, Nov-Dec). Ministry and the retarded. Religious Education. 437-442.
- (1965, December). "The drama of social protest," Social Action, 9-20.
- (1964, Spring). "The goddess as Metaphoric image," Woman Spirit.
- (1962, April-June). "The teacher and the witness of faith, " Opening Doors,1-4.
- (1961, July). "The teacher and the witness of faith," The Bethany Guide, 20ff.
- (1961, August). "The teacher and the witness of faith, " Children's Religion.
- (1960, July-August). "Listening to children," International Journal of Religious Education, 12-13.
- (1960, November). "Communication, " The Intercollegian, 16.
- (1959, Autumn). "Towards the Church's self-understanding in race relations,"The Drew Gateway, 20-21.
- (1959, November). "A steward of God's world, Highroads, 30-36.
- (1956). "How to use "Day after tomorrow," (New York: Friendship Press.
- (1955, December). "Dear teacher," The Bethany Guide. 18-20
- (1954, April-June). "The church around the world," Lessons for Intermediates, 35-48.
- (1954). "Hath not one God created us? For Brotherhood Week in Protestant Churches,” February 21-28, National Conference of Christians and Jews.
- (1953). "Notes for counselors (column), Workers with Youth, January – March, 1952; July-September."Perception and image at the root of feminism (Manuscript), McAllister Hall, Claremont Colleges.
- (1953, July, August, September.). "Human rights, " Our Intermediate Fellowship.
- (1953, July). "Living in our father's world: Notes for counselors using our 'Intermediate Fellowship,'" in Workers With Youth, 34-35.
- (1953, July-September). "Working with God and human rights," Our Intermediate Fellowship, 25-39.
- (1953, August). World of prayer: Notes for counselors Using 'Our Intermediate Fellowship,'" in Workers With Youth,32-33.
- (1952). "Talking it over," Workers with Youth, March.
- (1952). "The Tanbark Church, The Missionary Story Hour, ed., Nina Millen, New York: Friendship Press, 152-157.
- (1951, January). "The wit to win," The Christian Home, 28-30.
- (1951, March). "The choice," Trails for Juniors.2-3.
- (1951). "Sharing with fellow Christians: Sacrificial giving," The Intermediate Fellowship: Evening Meetings 10. 1, October, November, December.
- (1951). "Sunday, March 4 – Saturday, March 10, 1951," in John L. Fairly,ed., Day by Day: A Devotional Quarterly, Presbyterian Church USA.
- (1951). "Sharing with fellow Christians: Where Christians need our help," The Intermediate Fellowship: Evening Meetings10. 1, October, November, December.
- (1951, October). "What Church membership means: Reporting on the interviews," The Intermediate Evening Meetings .
- (1951, October-December). "What the church means to its members," The Intermediate Evening Meetings.
- (1950-51). "Worship resources for Junior High School," Columnist, International Journal of Religious Education.
- (1950, Spring). Nelle Morton and T. B. “Scotty” Cowan, The Fellowship and the Church. Prophetic Religion, 2-3.
- (1950, May). "The migrant Laurie," Trails for Juniors, 1-8.My Camp book: Christian community; Camping together as Christians. Philadelphia: National Council of Churches Christian Education Press.
- (1950, Fall). True Christianity versus Southern religion. Prophetic Religion, 20-23.
- (1950, October). "Are they growing up naturally," The Christian Home, 34-35.
- (Undated ). The Biblical faith and your campus … in dialogue Manuscript), National Student Councils of YMCA and YWCA, Nelle Morton archives,Presbyterian History Center, Montreat, NC.
- (1950, November). "It's not for sale," Workers with Youth, 2-4.(1949). "Christianity Today, Course 8, Part 3," Intermediate Closely Graded Lessons in C. A. Owen, ed., The Graded Press, Pierce and Smith. And Christianity Today Guidebook: Course 8, Part 3, in C. A. Owen, ed., The Graded Press, Pierce and Smith.
- (1949). Why the fellowship of Southern Churchmen, An examination of the religion in the South which led to the formation of the Fellowship, Archives, Fellowship of Southern Churchment, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
- (1948). "Sunday, June 13 – Saturday, June 18, 1948," in John L. Fairly, ed., Day by Day: A Devotional Quarterly, PresbyterianChurch USA.
- (1948, November). "Let's talk it through," Workers with Youth..
- (1945, February). "Not intermediates," The Church School, 58ff.
- (1945, Summer). The light of Tyrrell. Prophetic Religion, 23-25.
- (1942). Worship (manuscript)," Montreat Leadership School, Nelle Morton Archives, Presbyterian History Center, Montreat, NC.Oral and Written Histories Undated autobiographical journal, Nelle Morton archives, Presbyterian History Center, Montreat, NC
- Blair, Tina, "Getting to know Nelle Morton: Arts in Ministry Oral History Project, December 12, 1984, Nelle Morton archives, Presbyterian History Center, Montreat, North Carolina.
- Blanchard, Dallas, July, 1983, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wilson Library, Southern Oral History Collection.
- Rich, Adrienne, February 19, 22, 24, 1984, Pilgrim Place, Claremont, California, Unreleased and unpublished manuscript. Obituaries"A prophet before her time," The Presbyterian Outlook, 167 (38), November, 4, 1985 , cover and 11.
- Heyward, Carter, "Nelle Morton journeys home," Christianity and Crisis, September 14, 1987.
- Krall, Ruth E., "Eulogy: Nelle Morton (Manuscript), August, 1987" Personal Files, Elkhart, Indiana.
- "Nelle Morton,: Claremont Courier, July 18, 1987, 6.
- Rich, Adrienne and Cliff, Michelle, "Tribute," Claremont memorial service, Margaret Fowler Garden, Scripps College, September 12, 1987.
- Skaggs, Merrill, "Nelle Morton: Home is where the journey is," Drew Gateway 12 (1), June, 1986, 8-9
- Thompson, Betty, "Nelle Morton: Journeying home," Christian Century, August 26, 1987, 711.
Books and Videocassettes
- Claremont Women in Theology, un-named videotape (includes Nancy Webster's interview of Nelle Morton, ca 1983. Private collection of Dr. Daryl Smith, Claremont GraduateSchool, Claremont, CA.
- The journey is home: A film about Nelle Morton (Louisville, KY:Presbyterian Church USA, 1989).
- Leaders guide to the journey is home: A film about Nelle Morton (Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Church USA, 1989).
Articles and Chapters
- Caldwell, Elizabeth Francis. (1997). "Nelle Morton: A Radical Journey," in Barbara Ann Keely, ed., Faith of our foremothers: women changing Religious education, Louisville, KY: Westminster-Knox Press, 43-58.
- Culpepper, Emily. (1985, December). "Fantastic coherence," The Women's Review of Books, 12-13.
- Harrison, Beverly Wildung. (1983, Fall). "Restoring the tapestry of life: The vocation of feminist theology," Drew Gateway, 39-48.
- Keller, Catherine. (1989). "An Introduction to some themes in Nelle Morton's work," in A leader's guide to the journey is home: A film about Nelle Morton, Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Church USA.
- Keller, Catherine. (1990, February 7-14). "Nelle Morton: Hearing to speech," ChristianCentury, 126, 143.
- "Letty Russell, Nelle Morton, and Gerta Scharffenorth. (1975). Women's journey towards freedom and wholeness in theology," Lutheran World,.
- Magalis, Elaine. (1972, November). "Nelle Mortona: A woman for all seasons," Response, 16-26.
- "[Nelle Morton] Notable Presbyterians of 1949." Presbyterian Outlook 131 (10), March 7, 1949, 6-7.
- Papavoine, Marian, "Horen tot nieuw spreken," 22-54, Nelle Morton archives, Presbyterian History Center, Montreat, NC.
- Salmond, John A.,(1992,April). "The fellowship of Southern Churchmen and interracial change in the South, North Carolina Historical Review 61 (2),180 ff.
- Smith, Daryl and Elderkin, Linda review, "The journey is home," Nelle Morton archives, Presbyterian History Center, Montreat, NC.
- Thompson, Betty. (1989) "Nelle Morton: Journeying home," in A leader's guide to the journey is home: A film about Nelle Morton, Louisville, KY: Presbyterian Church USA,
Reviews of The Journey is Home by Nelle Morton
- Culpepper Emily Erwin. (1985) Fantasic coherence. The Women’s Review of Books, vol. III, No 3, 170-171.
- Heyward, Carter. (1985) Nelle Morton: on her way. Christianity and Crisis, vol 45, No 17 428-430.
- Taylor, Lillian McCulloch Taylor. (1985) Book of the week. The Presbyterian Outlook, vol 167, No 38, 11. Thanks to the research of Ruth Krall of Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana for the major work in collecting this bibliography of Nelle Morton’s writing.
Excerpts from Publications
(1972). “How images function” in (1985) The journey is home. Boston: Beacon Press.
Through many years of teaching and leadership I gave increasing attention to the place of image and symbol in the teaching/learning process. I became convinced that we live out of our images; not out of our concepts or ideas. Yet education on the whole continues to teach conceptually and religious education is no exception. (pg. 31).
(1976) “Educating for wholeness” in (1985) The journey is home. Boston: Beacon Press
We have been taught that education is a matter of intellectual pursuit and have given little attention to the images that are projected in our educational materials, our methods of teaching, and the teachers as models. The church has supported such a system to the extent that it continues to express its faith in ancient patriarchal symbols that project images of “power-over,” might, and rulership. See how we still address the deity as King of Heaven, Lord, Prince, Mater, Father – all terms of early rulership, control and dominance. (pg. 110)
(1977) “Beloved image” in (1985) The journey is home. Boston: Beacon Press.
We empower one another by hearing the other to speech. We empower the disinherited, the outsider, as we are able to hear them name in their own way their own oppression and suffering…Hearing in this sense can break through political and social structures and image a new system. A great ear at the heart of the universe – at the heart of our common life – hearing human beings to speech – to our own speech. (pg. 128)
(1979) “Unfinished business” in (1985) The journey is home. Boston: Beacon Press.
I was well into my second decade of teaching in the Theological School of Drew University when the woman movement crested and its profound theological implication dawned on me. The very foundation of my earth shook. Then the pieces of my life began to come together and make more sense than they had ever made. Feminism was not a new cause to me any more than the race issue and the peace issue had been causes for me and the young people in the South. It merely set me at a new cutting edge to view myself, the universe, and other human beings on this globe in a more radical way, and to raise theological questions I had never dreamed of before. It was out of the radical feminist perspective that I began to see racism, war, poverty, anti-Semitism, class, economics, compulsory heterosexuality, and politics as connected and interconnected for all these are women’s issues. I began to see clearly why women had been kept out of decision-making positions – that is, women who refused to be identified by male definitions. The moment we reached a high position and raised the economic, the political, or the war question from a woman perspective – OUT! It came clear to me that discriminations I had experienced all my life were not because I was incompetent but because I was a woman; that the humiliating putdowns women experienced in seminaries as students, in church as leaders, and in the world at large were conditioned by a patriarchal culture, a patriarchal political system, and a patriarchal religion.
(1985) The journey is home. Boston: Beacon Press.
I came to know that home was not a place. Home is a movement, a quality of relationship, a state where people seek to be “their own”, and increasingly responsible for the world. (pg. xix)
“Journal Jottings” in (1985) The journey is home. Boston: Beacon Press.
Maybe “journey” is not so much a journey ahead, or a journey into space, but a journey into presence. The farthest place on earth is the journey into the presence of the nearest person to you. (pg. 227)
(1985) The journey is home. Boston: Beacon Press.
This is a collection of her lectures which represents the movement of her thinking in religious education and feminist thought and practice.
Video and Audio Cassette
(1989) The journey is home: A film about Nelle Morton. Louisville: Presbyterian Church USA.
(See also, the Leader’s Guide) An excellent visual presentation of Nelle speaking about her life and work.
(1991) Nelle Morton on how we learn and what we learn. (audiocassette) Louisville: Presbyterian Church, USA.
This tape represents her thinking about learning theory.
Articles and Chapters
(1990) Catherine Keller, “Nelle Morton: Hearing to speech” in “In Praise of Teachers” The Christian Century, Feb. 7-14, 1990, 127-128.
An excellent article about Nelle’s legacy as a teacher in theological education.
(1997) Elizabeth F. Caldwell, “Nelle Morton: A radical journey” in Barbara Anne Keely, ed, Faith of our foremothers: Women changing Religious Education. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press.
This is a brief Chapter that captures Nelle’s work as teacher, educator and feminist theologian.
Elizabeth F. Caldwell
Elizabeth F. Caldwell is the Harold Blake Walker Professor of Pastoral Theology at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois where she has been a member of the faculty since 1984. She has a MEd from Vanderbilt University, a PhD from Northwestern University and a DD from Rhodes College. She is the author of The Biography of Hulda Niebuhr, A mysterious mantle, Pilgrim Press, 1992.