Farians, Elizabeth Papers

Span Dates: 1880-2013
Bulk Dates: 1942-2013
Volume: 16.3 linear feet; 149.3 Megabytes (251 files)


Writings, correspondence, and papers collected and created by theologian, feminist, animal rights advocate, and social justice activist Elizabeth Farians. Of interest is a folder, "Old Catholic church," 1968-1974; includes correspondence with Reverend Michael Augustine Francis Itkin re: frustrations with church; "The Radical Jesus and Gay Consciousness: Notes for a Theology of Gay Liberation" by Itkin; "The Community of the Love of Christ Released by Mankind" by Itkin; booklets

Hist/Bio Note

Educator, theologian, eco-feminist, and social justice activist Elizabeth Farians was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1923, to Hilda Elizabeth and Charles Farians. Farians attended Catholic elementary school and Withrow High School, where she graduated in 1940. She attended the University of Cincinnati, where she received a Bachelor's degree in physical and health education (1943) and a Master's degree in education (1953). In 1958 Farians received her PhD in theology from Saint Mary's College Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Farians expressed concern about social injustice early in her life. While attending the University of Cincinnati in the 1940s, she developed a racially integrated physical education program for girls at Girls Town, a residential school and orphanage run by the Good Shepherd Sisters. Believing that team sports would promote leadership skills for women, Farians taught physical education at Our Lady of Angels High School in St. Bernard, Ohio, after graduating from the University of Cincinnati. In the 1940s she also worked at a small Catholic college, St. Mary of the Woods, in Terre Haute, Indiana, and worked in the Physical Education Department at Eastern Illinois State College. She then became director of a girls' and women's athletic program run by the Catholic Youth Organization of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for five years. In this job, Farians worked toward racially integrating the girls leagues of the program, after talking with her supervisor Father Dominic Ferrara, a priest who opposed the racial segregation of the teams. When Farians learned that St. Mary's College Notre Dame had created the first doctoral program in theology for women, she enrolled. But after earning her PhD, Farians had difficulty finding permanent teaching positions in theology, which she attributed to her gender. She accepted temporary teaching jobs at Cardinal Cushing College, Boston, Massachusetts (1959-1960); Salve Regina College, Newport, Rhode Island (1960-1962); the University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio (1962-1964); and Sacred Heart University, Bridgeport, Connecticut (1964-1967). Farians applied for membership in the Catholic Theological Society but when she arrived at the society's annual meeting in 1966, she was initially denied entry due to being the only woman at this traditionally all-male gathering. In the early 1960s Farians joined the Catholic women's organization St. Joan's International Alliance. The alliance supported some feminist causes but, at the time, did not overtly criticize the patriarchal stance of the Catholic church. Farians wanted to be a part of an organization that was more far-reaching in its feminist principles, so in 1965 she started a new organization, the Ecumenical Task Force on Women and Religion. The Task Force was more critical of the church establishment, and its members included both Protestant women ministers and Catholic women. When the National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded in 1966, Farians joined the national board and brought the Task Force under NOW. In addition to her work on feminist causes, Farians was involved in the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war movement during the 1960s, participating in marches and other demonstrations, and becoming friends with the civil rights activist Reverend Maurice McCrackin and peace activist Father Daniel Berrigan. In the late 1960s Farians lectured throughout the country about feminism and women's status in the church, and participated in protests and rallies. She started a NOW chapter in New Jersey; and would eventually start NOW chapters in Connecticut and Cincinnati. She convened the first meeting of NOW in Ohio in 1969. Farians also founded the Joint Committee of Organizations Concerned About the Status of Women in the Church, an umbrella group of which NOW's religious task force was a member. In 1968 Farians was hired as an assistant professor to teach theology at Loyola University, Chicago, Illinois (1968-1971). At Loyola she also developed a women's studies course on feminism where she invited many lecturers to speak, including Betty Friedan, Kathryn Clarenbach, and Naomi Weisstein. After only a couple of years, Loyola terminated her position and Farians filed a complaint of sex discrimination with the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Organizations which supported her case included NOW's Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Education Association, and the American Association of College and University Professors. Years later, Farians received a small settlement from Loyola University. Farians' outspokenness on issues of women's rights and the church continued into the 1970s. In 1970 Farians appeared on the Phil Donahue television program to discuss the topic of women and the priesthood. In 1971 she testified before the House and Senate on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment, contending that the ERA did not violate religious doctrine. In 1973 she was invited to give the Baccalaureate address at Brown University, becoming the first woman to speak from the pulpit in the Brown chapel. Farians was hired for one year to develop and direct a women's institute within the Boston Theological Institute, initially created by feminist theologian Mary Daly. Afterwards, she returned to Cincinnati, and developed another women's studies program which she presented to the University of Cincinnati. Her proposal, however, was rejected by the university. Farians continued to work on ERA ratification in Ohio and was a member of the National Women's Political Caucus, bringing together Ohio's politically active women to promote women as candidates for political office. During the 1970s Farians interest in other social movements flourished. She began working with the Reverend Maurice McCrackin to contest the validity of the death penalty, and she founded the Cincinnati Chapter of the Ohio Coalition Against the Death Penalty. She continued her activities in the peace movement and became a vegetarian, and then a vegan in 1980. She co-founded the organization Feminists for Animal Rights, an organization dedicated to ending all forms of abuse against women and animals. She became actively involved in many animal rights organizations, protesting the abuse of animals including in factory farms, circuses, and animal testing for product development. She wrote about the importance of advocating for animal rights within the fabric of all social and political movements: "Besides hurting the animal, how we treat animals has an effect in the larger scheme of things. Our attitudes toward each other, the animals, the earth and indeed, to life itself are all interconnected." In 2002 Farians approached Xavier University about creating a new theology course concerning religious doctrine and its role in both cruel and ethical treatment of animals. Just after reaching 80 years of age in 2003, Farians began teaching "Theology and Animals" at Xavier, a job which lasted until 2008. In 1998 Farians received the Reverend Maurice McCrackin Peace and Justice Award for her work with social justice causes, including civil rights, the anti-war movement, and her efforts abolishing the death penalty. In 2006, long after she had renounced the Church, Farians was honored by the Catholic Theological Society of America for breaking down the society's gender barrier forty years earlier. In 2008 EarthSave Cincinnati honored Farians with a lifetime achievement award. Farians died in October 2013 at the age of 90.

Finding Aid

An online finding aid is available.


The collection is housed at Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Harvard Radcliffe Institute 3 James St. Cambridge MA 02138 USA


Civil Rights Movement | Itkin, Michael | Feminism | Women and Religion | Theology | Catholic (Roman)