When longtime activist Rev. Peggy Howland graduated from PTS in the ‘50s, female role models were few and far between. But that didn’t stop Peggy.
After serving in two church staff positions and getting her Master of Theology degree, cum laude, in 1966 from Union Theological Seminary (UTS) in New York, she began a three-year struggle to get an interview with a pastoral nominating committee, finally becoming Pastor of the Woodside Presbyterian Church in Troy, New York in 1969. By then, she was committed to women’s rights, and decided to focus her activism on peace and legalizing abortion.
“If we are followers of Jesus, we must speak out for peace, justice and equality, care for the earth, and visit prisoners.”
Throughout her life, she has been outspoken against war, nuclear weapons, and gun violence and an advocate for conscientious objection, alternatives to war, and LGBTQ rights. Though she has never been arrested, there have been life-risking moments. In 1968, responding to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Columbia University students were striking in protest against racism and the Vietnam War. She joined others from nearby UTS one night to help the Columbia students in anticipation of violence. She witnessed police dragging students from buildings and charging at them with clubs. Peggy was helping injured students get to waiting ambulances when a plainclothes officer clubbed her on the head. She went down, bleeding profusely before being taken to an ambulance.
Relentlessly three weeks later, with stitches in her head, Peggy chaired the Subcommittee on Vietnam at the Presbyterian Church’s 180th General Assembly, where she was the only woman Minister Commissioner.
Today, Peggy has not slowed down and considers her occupation a “passionate activist.”
She believes the church has a strong role to play in addressing social justice issues. “It’s extremely important for the church to speak out as Jesus did for the marginalized,” she says. “If we are followers of Jesus, we must speak out for peace, justice and equality, care for the earth, and visit prisoners.”
Peggy is the 2018 recipient of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s Anne Barstow and Tom Driver Award for Excellence in Nonviolent Direct Action in Retirement, at the same time she celebrates her 60th ordination anniversary.