Harriett Jane Olson
Harriett Jane Olson serves as general secretary and chief executive officer of United Methodist Women (the policymaking body was formerly the Women's Division). United Methodist Women is a nearly 800,000-member organization within the United Methodist Church in the United States. Its purpose is to foster spiritual growth, develop leaders and advocate for justice. United Methodist Women members give about $20 million a year for mission work related to women, children and youth in the United States and around the world.
A Harvard graduate and attorney, Ms. Olson was a partner specializing in real estate and environmental law for the Pitney, Hardin, Kipp and Szuch law firm of Morristown, N.J., (1983-1996) before working for the church full-time. Prior to leading United Methodist Women, Ms. Olson served at the United Methodist Publishing House as senior vice-president for publishing, editor for church school publications and United Methodist Church book editor. She supervised a staff of 125-150 persons responsible for the development, production and trade distribution of resources from Abingdon Press, Cokesbury and Kingswood Books.
Ms. Olson has a long history of service in the United Methodist Church. From 1988-1996, she was a director of the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship and was a delegate to the 1988, 1992 and 1996 General Conferences of the denomination. She also served on a number of committees in the former Northern New Jersey Conference. Among those were the conference task force on sexual harassment policy and the conference Commission on the Status and Role of Women. From 1985-1996, she spoke and taught on Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, the landmark publication that defined inclusive language needed for the church to embrace all people.
Ms. Olson said United Methodist Women’s work is rooted in the past and poised for the future, as the needs of women, children and youth around the world continue to demand the organization’s attention.
"United Methodist Women's story is of powerful women who overcame real limitations and took the church to a new place," Ms. Olson said. "For example, in the 1920s, United Methodist Women's predecessors were active serving women, children and youth wherever non-English-speaking populations grew up in response to labor demands. We have these demands springing up everywhere today. We still have work to do."
This holistic approach to being Christian women is at the heart of United Methodist Women, Ms. Olson said. She explained:
"Critical to United Methodist Women is the combination of spiritual formation, leadership development, personal engagement in mission work and social advocacy. In the spirit of John Wesley and in accordance with our United Methodist self-understanding, these are interdependent approaches.
"Women do mission in a unique way. They are empathetic, on-the-ground, standing side by side with women, children and youth. Helping women know they are loved by God, empowered by God, and equipped to live and work for the new creation to which we are called is close to my heart. This requires a blend of political intervention, practical assistance and loving support that I believe United Methodist Women is well positioned to deliver through active units in local congregations.
"United Methodist Women is called to do something not being done by the rest of the church. It's a privilege to stand with women, children and youth. It's a role particularly well connected to our theological DNA as United Methodists: spiritual nurture and action."
Ms. Olson has a bachelor's degree from Houghton College in Houghton, N.Y., where she serves on the board of trustees.
She is a member of Morristown United Methodist Church in Morristown, N.J., and an affiliate member of McKendree United Methodist Church in Nashville.