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Kit Watts, Editor and Advocate for Adventist Women, Dead at 79

L-R: Norma Osborn, Kendra Haloviak, Penny Shell, Kit Watts.

Kit Watts, editor, historian, and women’s advocate, died on November 15, 2023. 

Born December 5, 1943, Watts’s interests in writing, research, and Bible study emerged when she was just 12 years old. Her literary accomplishments soon followed. She reported for the Far Eastern Academy newspaper, Ripples, and edited the yearbook at Union College. Later, she honed her journalistic skills with Roberta J. Moore, former chair of the Department of Journalism at Walla Walla College. In February 1970, she won $100 for suggesting the name for Insight magazine. 

In 1973, she became the first woman on the pastoral staff at a large church, serving as Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church’s minister of publications. She edited Sligoscope, the church paper, from 1973–1978. Watts obtained an MLS in library science at the University of Maryland, then received her master’s in religion from the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary while working as a periodical librarian at James White Library.

Watts became editor of The Adventist Woman, the newspaper of the Association of Adventist Women (AAW), in 1985. She wrote a smattering of articles with a byline and hundreds more anonymously. 

She was hired as assistant editor at the Adventist Review in 1988, where served as issue editor for three installments concentrating on women. She also served on the General Conference Global Missions Committee.

Watts was a member of all four of the first General Conference commissions on the Role of Women in the Church in 1973 (Mohaven), 1985, 1988, and 1989, giving her a unique perspective on how the issues of women’s ordination developed and (failed to) progress. 

Reflecting on this experience, Watts said, “Mohaven changed me. I still believe God was leaning down from heaven to touch hearts and change church policies. But I had much to learn about the ways of men and committees. I had much to learn about those who have an abiding confidence that God has endowed men with a divine right to lead.” 

She officially became the Association of Adventist Women’s historian in 1993. It was then that she started her timeline of women in Adventist history. Because of her extensive experience writing this first draft of denominational history, she was asked to be on the managing board for Adventist Heritage magazine.

“I reviewed the Ellen G. White material in chronological order and realized that she became increasingly outspoken in calling for just treatment of women,” Watts went on to say. “When she saw others treated badly and not complaining, she spoke out for them.”

Watts became the inaugural director of the Women’s Resource Center in 1997, where she compiled the history of Adventist women into a workable research hub. She also continued to work part-time in the communication department at the Southeastern California Conference, where she moved full-time in 2002.

She again became co-editor of The Adventist Woman with Penny Shell from 2000–2003. In 2005, it became apparent that she had long been involved in writing the news journal—which included a yearly list with photos and stories of Adventist women pastors and chaplains—as well as in depth articles on each AAW Woman of the Year recipient and comprehensive news on women’s accomplishments. Of the first 103 issues of The Adventist Woman (1980–2005), 69 were edited by Watts: 11 as editor, 10 as co-editor, 2 as contributing editor, 4 as guest editor, and 42 as ghost editor.

Kit Watts retired in 2007 to Milton-Freewater, Oregon.

“Working for the church radicalized me. I began to learn of inequality in the stories of Leona Running, Edith Davis, Lucille Knapp, Merikay Silver, and Pat Horning,” She reflected. “I believed, and still believe, that if you get the story out so people understand, reasonable people will consider it, and they will change. . . . I learned that sometimes when things are going bad, all you can do is ‘take notes.’”

_____________

Two months ago, I was given permission to search through documents from the Women’s Resource Center. I will admit to being angry even before I arrived. The Association of Adventist Women had championed and helped finance the Women’s Resource Center, but when I got there, the files and boxes were jumbled together in a locked room at the back of an unused office building. Now closed, the center had once been established and run by a group of hard-working women, including its founding director Kit Watts. 

Once in the room, faced with filing cabinets and piles of boxes, I was profoundly sad. I thought my trip was going to be fruitless. What were the odds of finding anything in the stacks of boxes? But when I opened the out-of-sequence filing cabinets, everything was organized in Watts's neat handwriting, and I quickly found what I had come for. 

But it wasn't what I was looking for that gave me hope. There, in Watts's meticulous hand, I found that every woman pastor in the Adventist church had a file. It was wonderful to see the care had been undertaken, right down to details like photos and letters about their joys and troubles while pastoring. In one cabinet, I found a true gem: files of all the women pastors who left the church (less than commonly believed), along with careful documentation on what they did next. It was reverent. It was grace-filled. And it was hopeful. 

I have been told that La Sierra University is willing to reopen the Women’s Resource Center . . . all it would take is a million-dollar donation! In the meantime, somewhere on campus in a jumbled, locked room sits the history of women that Kit Watts carefully collected. The files wait for daylight to again tend with hope the lives of women whose vision for Adventism did not come true. 

I can imagine Kit Watts making the rounds when we get to heaven, visiting all those women pastors who left Adventism and expressing her care for them just as she did on earth.

 

References to Kit Watts, The Adventist Woman, Spring, 2005, OctNov 1994, and SeptOct 1993.

 


Nerida Taylor Bates is the president of the Association of Adventist Women and working on digitizing the amazing history that is preserved in The Adventist Woman.

Title Image L-R: Norma Osborn, Kendra Haloviak, Penny Shell, Kit Watts.

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