Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary

Emilie M. Townes papers, 1960 -- 2019

Summary Information


Emilie M. Townes is a womanist ethicist and an author and speaker on African American women and the church, specializing in themes such as the oppressive forces of race, sex, and sexuality in the church and society. She has held appointments at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School, the Yale Divinity School, and Union Theological Seminary. The collection contains addresses and sermons, publications, correspondence, coursework and teaching material, memorabilia, and other related materials that reflect her life, work, and thought as a womanist theologian.

At a Glance

Bib ID 5907200 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Townes, Emilie Maureen, 1955-
Title Emilie M. Townes papers, 1960 -- 2019
Physical Description 28.25 linear feet (28.25 linear feet; 55 boxes)
Language(s) English .

This collection contains some restricted material. Restrictions related to specific material are listed in the detailed contents list.

Onsite storage.



This collection is arranged in 9 series: 1. Correspondence, 1998-2004; 2. Education and biographical, circa 1971-1996; 3. Courses and career, 1988-2005; 4. Sermons, 1979-2015; 5. Lectures, 1983-2005; 6. Professional organizations, 1985-2015; 7. Writings, 1983-2005; 8. General, 1960-2004; 9. Accessions, circa 1984-2019.


Scope and Contents

The collection contains addresses and sermons, publications, correspondence, coursework and teaching material, memorabilia, and other related materials that reflect the life, work, and thought of Emilie Townes as a womanist theologian.

  • Series 1: Correspondence, 1998 -- 2004

    This series contains correspondence files, including correspondence with publishers amd professional organizations, and relating to speaking engagements or requests for writing or reviewing written material.

  • Series 2: Education and biographical, circa 1971 -- 1996

    This series contains graduate school papers, notes, and examination essays in the fields of feminist theology, Christian social teaching, Christian social ethics, and 19th Century American religious history; correspondence between Townes and her professors; PhD graduation and ordination correspondence and materials; as well as poems written in the early 1970's and a book of Townes genealogy.

  • Series 3: Courses and career, 1988 -- 2005

    This series contains print outs of course materials stored on computer discs from courses taught at Saint Paul School of Theology and Union Theological Seminary, as well as student records, and lectures and correspondence resulting from the interview process for positions at divinity schools.

  • Series 4: Sermons, 1979 -- 2015

    This series contains sermons by Townes, some with annotations.

  • Series 5: Lectures, 1983 -- 2005

    This series contains lectures given at conferences, commemorations, workshops, and other speaking engagements. The name of the address is listed first, with the venue and date following. Several addresses have the same opening title, with the subtitle often changing to reflect the specific focus of the talk. Conference brochures and linked correspondence are included with some lectures.

  • Series 6: Professional Organizations, 1985 -- 2015

    This series contains materials related to Townes' regular attendance at conferences of various professional organizations, and includes lectures, reviews, correspondence, and leadership materials from the Society for Christian Ethics, the Society for the Study of Black Religion, the Association of Theological Schools, and the American Academy of Religion. Also included are papers presented by Townes, and addresses and papers (listed with title and author) by other participants when Townes was part of a panel, or responded to papers presented.

  • Series 7: Writings, 1983 -- 2005

    This series contains drafts, manuscript notes, and final copies of published articles written by Townes, as well as chapters for books, and essays for dictionary and encyclopedia entries. Also included is correspondence with magazine editors and/or publishers.

  • Series 8: General, circa 1960 -- 2004

    This series contains the writing, Bible study work (including weekly Sunday service programs), and memorabilia of Emilie's father, Dr. Ross E. Townes (1914 – 1990), as well as general information relating to the Methodist church and Emilie Townes' yearly planning calendars from 1988 through 2004.

  • Series 9: Accessions, circa 1984 -- 2019

    This series contains accruals to the original accession of Townes material (Series 1-8).

Burke Library record group:

Archives of Women in Theological Scholarship (AWTS)

Using the Collection

Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary

Conditions Governing Access

This collection contains some restricted material. Restrictions related to specific material are listed in the detailed contents list.

Onsite storage.

Conditions Governing Use

Some material in this collection may be protected by copyright and other rights. Information concerning copyright, fair use, and reproduction requests can be consulted at Columbia's Copyright Advisory Office.

Preferred Citation

Item description, AWTS: Emilie M. Townes papers, 1960-2019, series #, box #, folder #, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact burkespecial@library.columbia.edu for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Townes donated her papers in March 2005, with additions in 2006, 2016, 2018, 2019, and 2020. Accessions AWTS-2022-008 and 009 were added to the collection in 2022.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary

Processing Information

An attempt was made to maintain original order of this collection. Limited adjustments of order have been made for clarity when adding additions which needed to be interpolated into the collection. Material on discs in Series 3 was printed out. Folded materials were flattened. Newspaper clippings were photocopied on acid free paper. Staples, rubber bands, and metal clips were removed. All materials were placed in acid-free folders and boxes. The finding aid was created by Patricia E. LaRosa in 2006, revised with additions by Ruth Tonkiss Cameron in 2006, revised with additions by Andrew Sweet and Rebecca Nieto in 2016, and edited with additions by Leah Edelman in 2022.

Revision Description

2021-07-12 PDF converted to EAD and description updated by Leah Edelman.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
College teachers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Theologians Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Townes, Emilie Maureen, 1955- -- : Archives Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Union Theological Seminary (New York, N.Y.) -- : Archives -- : Faculty Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Womanist theology -- History -- Sources Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

Emilie Maureen Townes was born on August 1, 1955 in Durham, North Carolina. She was raised in a strong tradition of church on Sunday, first at United Methodist, and then in the Baptist tradition. She obtained her bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Chicago and recognized her call to ordained ministry in the American Baptist Church, while working at her field education site at Hyde Park Union Church in Chicago, and as a Doctor of Ministry degree student at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Emilie was ordained as a Baptist minister on June 22, 1980. She graduated with a D.Min degree from the University of Chicago in 1982. Emilie also taught as an Adjunct professor at Chicago Theological Seminary and McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. From 1983 to 1987 Townes was Adjunct Professor of Ethics and Society, involved in Field Education and also with administration in the Office of Ministry Programs at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. She was Interim pastoral leader of Christ the Redeemer Metropolitan Community Church from 1986-1989 during her doctoral studies in the joint Garrett Evangelical Seminary/Northwestern University program. She earned her Ph.D. there in 1989. Her Doctoral dissertation was based on the work of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the turn of the century activist in anti-lynching campaigns and co-founder of the NAACP. Townes taught at Saint Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, MO, 1989 -1999, and was named full Professor of Christian Social Ethics in 1998. She joined the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in 1999 as the Carolyn Williams Beaird Professor of Christian Ethics. She then held an appointment as the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African-American Religion and Theology at Yale Divinity School, and as of 2013, is the Dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society.

Townes speaks regularly at conferences and churches and is involved in numerous professional associations, including as president of the Society for the Study of Black Religion and the Society of Christian Ethics, 2012-2016. She served as the first African American woman elected to be president of the American Academy of Religion in 2008. She received a Doctorate of Human Letters from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and also Honorary doctorates from Washington and Jefferson College and Franklin College. Townes' primary focus, in both speaking and writing, is the African American woman in the church, and the oppressive forces of race, sex, and sexuality in the church and in society.