By Tina Alvey
Two West Virginia women were afforded the rare opportunity this autumn to share insights into American culture during an international conference held in France.
The Rev. Dr. Patricia A. Jarvis of Charleston and Joan C. Browning of Greenbrier County were described by the conference’s organizer, Professor Anne Stefani, as “in many ways the very incarnation of our topic.”
“Histories of American Women: Writings and Rewritings” was staged at the University of Toulouse-Le Mirail, whose Anglo-Saxon Cultures research team organized the multi-disciplinary conference.
The two West Virginia women comprised one panel at the October conference, discussing the film “Standing on Holy Ground,” a biographical film about Jarvis commissioned by the Lewisburg United Methodist Church as a celebration of her life and ministry upon her retirement. Browning served as the film’s executive producer.
“Filmmaker B.J. Gudmundsson helped me choose elements of the film that demonstrated the many roles that a woman Methodist pastor plays in the life of her congregation, community and world,” Browning said.
At the Toulouse conference, Browning and Jarvis were able to show excerpts from the film as well as tell about it.
“Patricia joked that she was my ‘show and tell’ for the conference,” Browning said. “In fact, Patricia was not only the ‘star’ of the film, she was quite the star with the European scholars and students.”
Jarvis noted, “The students and faculty were beyond gracious to us. They made us feel warmly welcome and very much appreciated.”
Browning was initially invited to participate in the conference along with Connie Curry of Atlanta. Both Browning and Curry contributed to the collection “Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement.”
The two women are also featured in Stefani’s upcoming book.
When Curry was unable to travel, Browning alone presented the conference program on the involvement of women in the American civil rights movement.
“Back in 1996, when we got together to talk about writing about our times in the 1960s freedom struggle, we hired a videographer to film some of our discussions,” said Browning, a former Freedom Rider.
“Showing clips from that film allowed Connie Curry and Casey Hayden, organizer of the writing group, to speak for themselves in Toulouse. And then I talked about my experience in the writing project.”
Stefani said, “Joan offered a moving testimony on her personal experience of the (civil rights) movement. She also presented a powerful reflection on the interaction between memory and history lying at the core of historical interpretation.”
Browning and Jarvis also spoke with two classes of students who were studying American segregation and religion.
“France is a highly secular culture, so we were not sure just how to talk about religion,” Jarvis said. “I was surprised to see how interested they were in the intersection of Joan’s and my faith journey with our involvement in justice issues.”
Copies of “Standing on Holy Ground” and “Deep in Our Hearts” have been added to the U.S. Consulate-Toulouse’s lending library of materials about the United States.
The U.S. State Department funded the travel and participation of Jarvis and Browning at the conference. U.S. Toulouse Consul Rachel Schneller and public affairs assistant Aurelie Delaissez-Forstall represented the State Department at the conference.
“Part of the mission of the State Department is to ensure American voices and experiences are heard and appreciated abroad,” Schneller said. “It was an honor to represent the U.S. at a conference in France on American women in literature and history.”