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Georgia Harkness (1891-1974)

Georgia Elma Harkness was born on April 21, 1891 to Lillie and Joseph Harkness in Harkness, New York. She was their only child. Georgia studied at Cornell University, where she was active in the Student Volunteer Movement. After graduating, she taught history at the high school level, but, wanting to teach at the college level, she returned to school. At Boston University, she earned two master’s degrees in art and religious education. She earned her PhD in 1923. Harkness taught at Elmira College in New York until 1937. During this time, she wrote two books, numerous articles and her first volume of devotional poetry. She became well-known as an author, lecturer and preacher. In 1939, she became professor of applied theology at Garrett Biblical Institute and so became the first woman theology professor in the United States. In 1950, Harkness moved to the Pacific School of Religion and was professor of applied theology there until her retirement in 1961. Harnkess died in 1974 in Claremont, CA.

Harkness was actively involved in pacifist, ecumenical and social justice issues. She attended the first meeting of the World Council of Churches in Holland as a representative of American Methodism. In 1950 she served on a committee called by the National Council of Churches to evaluate the use of atomic weapons and was one of only two members of the committee who absolutely opposed their use. She was outspoken in her belief that women should be treated as equals in the church. In the Methodist Church, this would mean with full conference membership and clergy rights. When the vote granting these rights was taken at the General Conference in 1956, Harkness received a standing ovation.

Garrett created the Georgia Harkness Chair of Applied Theology and in 1977. Rosemary Radford Ruether was the first to hold the Chair. Dr. Nancy Bedford currently holds the Chair.