Barbara Raines meets Richard Feynman
First let me say that I saw as the immediate goal of women in Ethical Culture to work< toward the achievement of full equality for women, inside the Society, not by becoming more like men, but by securing an equal valuingof those qualities which in our culture have been called feminine and denigrated: greater sensitivity to people - greater empathy, compassion, warmth, nutururance; greater awareness of and response to physical surround;greater openness to the immediately felt quality of life, to what is immediately apprehended rather than logically comprehended, i.e., mediated by the intellect. In short, greater valuing and incorporation of intuition, emotionality, human heartedness.
I am not saying women should bow to men intellectually any more than I would deny that there are men who are gifted with these "feminine" attributes.
...I want equal valuing, for women here and everywhere; for human beings here and everywhere.
Barbara Raines, January 1982
Dr. Barbara Raines would have turned 100 sometime this year. I'm not sure when her
birthday is, so I decided to write about her during International Women's Month.
Dr. Raines was the first woman Leader to work as a congregational Leader in the Ethical
Culture Movement. That was in the early 1960's. We didn't have another woman Leader
(Judith Eckerson) for almost 20 years. You will have to read to the end to understand the title, but I hope it got you attention.
I remembered seeing Barbara Raines at the Ethical Society of Northern Westchester in Ossining, NY when I was a girl of 10, back in 1965. It made an impression on me that there was a woman Leader. Seeing a woman Leader planted a seed on my own path to becomming an Ethical Culture Leader.
Some years into my training I was taking a graduate course in Creative Thinking. One of our assignments was to do biographical reports, both written and oral, about a creative person. I chose Barbara as my subject. I didn't know too much about her to start, but I
figured that if she could be the first woman to be Leader of a congregation, she must be pretty creative. That certainly proved to be true.
Barbara was kind enough to let me come interview her in her Brooklyn apartment. She told me some of the challenges of being the first woman Leader of a Society, and dealing with male colleagues at what was then called the Fraternity of Leaders and is now called the
National Leaders Councill(NLC). She also shared some of the other adventures she had including having the idea to create the Eastern Cooperative Recreation School* and creating courses at the Institute for Retired Professionals** at the New School in New York, a forerunner of many programs providing educational opportunities for retired people. Both of these programs are still going strong.
In her Ethical Culture work she helped start two Ethical Societies in Los Angeles. She wascommitted to the ideas and ideals of Ethical Culture, and I see her as at least starting Ethical Culture of the path to an equal valuing of men and women, female and male. Sitting at our most recent NLC meeting, I thought of how Barbara would smile to see that at some points during our meetings two-thirds of the participants were women.
Barbara was only the first "modern woman" Leader. You can learn about the very first woman Ethical Culture Leader, Anna Garlin Spencer, by watching the Platform Anne Klaeysen gave recently at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, and reading the Platform given by Jone Johnson Lewis .
And you can learn about other Women of Ethical Culture, both professional Leaders and active lay leaders in the Ethical Movement in a Platform address given by Jean Somerville Kotkin some years ago. I was still Susan Teshu back then. And since that talk we've added more women Leaders. Kate Lovelady, Martha Gallahue, Mary Herman, and Amanda Poppei, and we have one woman Leader-in-Training, Catherine Bordeau.
I have my own story of Richard Feynman. It was about 1962 in Pasadena, CA in my own glory days. I was Leader (a professional position with an unfortunate title) of the Foothill Society for Ethical Culture whose existence I had spearheaded. This setting was, for me,
one in which everything was grist for the mill.
I had dreamed up a new offering for our Adult Education Program. Considering that we lived in a world where (it seemed at the time) science had largely replace religion as conveyer of values, we, as educated people, should know something of where it (science)
was heading. I proposed that in each of five different fields of hard science, we ask an expert to respond to the question: What is the cutting edge of your field?
I was privileged. I had Cal Tech in my back yard. And I knew some of the faculty wives through the League of Women Voters. We got our presenters, including one who subsequently won the Nobel Prize.
Now I had an honest PhD in phsyics [at Bryn Mawr], but I had, many years before that time, ceased my active connection with field. I didn't know Richard Feynman. I blush for my ignorance. But he, also at Cal Tech, had heard of my project. He called, and came to see
me. "Who is this curious creature?" he may have thought, "and what is she up to?" So I have touched greatness.
I felt validated by his visit, confirmed in my judgment that I had made the right choice in leaving physics. I still believe that if I'd stayed, I'd never have done anything that would intrigue Richard Feynman, even for a moment.
Barbara Raines - from an end-of-year letter in 1994
*Eastern Cooperative Recreation School is a nonprofit organization founded in 1940 to provide cooperative recreation as a way to rest and refresh, to add richness and depth to living, and to aid the development of communities and humanity at large.
**Established in 1962, the IRP was the first peer learning program for retirees in the United States. The impetus came from a group of retired New York City schoolteachers who asked The New School to collaborate in designing a program for retired and semiretired
people seeking intellectual stimulation and ways to explore new areas of interest. The New School made space available and encouraged the group to form an organization to design and manage course offerings.