Katie Funk Wiebe, when young and single, worked as a legal secretary and later paid her way through bible college by working as secretary for the college president. From these early experiences she knew she was skilled working with words.“I was a fast typist and a good steno, and I knew it. Confidence was my trademark.”
But she left this work experience in her past to become the wife of a teacher and aspiring preacher. The early married years were filled with children and financially lean times. As a preacher’s wife she was expected to fit within the expectations of the church community, and that did not include appreciation of her writing abilities. “When we visited with friends, the interesting talk was usually in the men’s corner. Women were content to discuss hemlines, new knitting patterns, and potty-training pointers. ... ... The worst aspect of this turmoil was that I didn’t dare discuss my confusion with anyone--not even with myself. To do so would reveal a liberal, and worse still, an unspiritual attitude toward life.”
Eventually her writing abilities did find an outlet in a church publication, under her husband’s name. The problem was church expectations, not her husband willfully depriving her of recognition. Her husband, to his credit, didn’t feel comfortable with the situation, and eventually she was able to write under her own name.
Soon after moving to Hillsboro, Kansas her husband died, and she found herself supporting her family of four children by working as an assistant editor--mostly proof reading--for the MB Publishing House. Her abilities soon became apparent as her work began to expand into other areas, including writing and speaking engagements. She was given a temporary assignment to teach a first year writing class at Tabor College--during the noon hour so it wouldn’t interrupt her work at the publishing house. Her obvious abilities overcame her lack of a college degree and experience. Soon she was a full time college instructor working on her B.A. and then her M.A. She served a number of years as head of the College’s English Department.
To say she flourished in the academic setting is an understatement. She appreciated it more than others who had finished college at a young age because she had been deprived of this type of intellectual stimulation for so many years. She observes that, “College is wasted on the young.”
She discusses both pros and cons of working for a church college. One of her negative experiences included resigning from being head of the English Department due to accusations of assigning unchristian literature to her classes. Years later she was reinstated.
The second half of the book branches away from the chronological narrative to focus on various subjects such as changing attitudes about women’s roles, theology, writing, speeches, aging, genealogy, and harvesting one's life (i.e. writing your own memoir). Her reminisces show her horizons expanding in ways that most of us who lived through that era can relate to. Her articulation of facing and welcoming change can serve as an inspiration to the rest of us who are trying to find our way. The following words have the ring of wisdom to my ears:"I am willing to acknowledge that aspects of my world-view have outlived their time and should be yielded up for something nearer to truth. To change my theology has been most difficult, for to do so makes some readers believe that God and the Bible are variable with the times. I knew that life would become increasingly difficult unless I changed my mind and kept changing it about what I accepted as God's Word for humanity as the culture around me changed."
This book discusses the history of the reluctance of the Mennonite Church to accept women in leadership positions. This is a continuing unresolved issue for the Mennonite Brethren Church. Perhaps this book should be required reading for all Mennonites, particularly young women who take their freedom to have careers outside the home for granted.
The following quotation from the book is an affirmation of the author's positive influence on one person's life that I believe is also true for the lives of many others."A letter from a friend in Ohio mentioned that at the Mennonite Assembly in San Jose a few weeks earlier one of the speakers, a successful college president and church leader, had mentioned, "I want to pay tribute to a woman who influenced me tremendously. She is someone I have never met--Katie Funk Wiebe."
Sentiments such as these are why, in 2000, The Mennonite magazine honored Katie Funk Wiebe as one of the most influential Mennonites of the 20th century, citing her writing and advocacy for women’s leadership within the church.
If you haven't read them already, I recommend the following two reviews from the Mennonite Weekly Review. Link to review by Elaine Sommers RichLink to review by Rachel Waltner Goossen
The following is a comparison of Yon Never Gave Me A Name by Katie Funk Wiebe with Rhoda Janzen's book, Mennonite In A Little Black Dress. The comparison of these two books is a study in contrasts and similarities. They are both of similar backgrounds, but of different generations. Funk Wiebe is older, probably from Janzen's father's generation.
Katie Funk Wiebe has been a long time advocate in accepting and encouraging of the talents of women in leadership positions of the church. It is interesting to speculate how things would be different if the church, and the MB Church in particular, had been more accepting of women. One can't help but wonder whether Rhoda Janzen may have attended seminary had the M.B. Church been more welcoming of talented women. (Her application had been approved, but she decided at the last minute to not enroll.) Janzen admits in her memoir that her life would have probably turned out very differently had she attended the seminary.
Katie Funk Wiebe started out from a background similar to that of Rhoda Janzen, but rather than leaving the Mennonite community, she stayed with it and grew out of the early environment of narrow horizons to a point of insightful perspective on life. One can't help admire the patient contributions she has made to the lives of others through her writing and speeches. And she has been recognized and thanked by many for her work. However, her book will never achieve the attention and notoriety of Janzen's book because she's not controversial enough. That is intended to be a complimentary comment about Funk Wiebe's writing, but alas good writing alone doesn't sell books.
No doubt Janzen will continue to entertain readers in her next memoir with the same creative spark that permeates her first memoir. Janzen's talent as a poet will probably receive increased attention from the public due to the popularity of her memoir(s). Her contributions to literature may be different from those of Funk Wiebe, but nevertheless they deserve admiration too.