Human Rights Activist | Class of 2000
Theressa Hoover worked for human rights and unity through the United Methodist Church for nearly fifty years. An Arkansas native, she represented those who, in the words of her 1974 monograph, were in “triple jeopardy”: female, African American, and Christian. Hoover worked for justice and empowerment for women and children around the globe. She provided inspiration for others through her words and actions, and her influence has been far-reaching.
Theressa Hoover was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on September 7, 1925. She was one of five children of James C. Hoover and Rissie Vaughn. Her mother died when Hoover was a small child. She was reared by her father, who worked for many years at City Hospital in Fayetteville. Hoover attended elementary school in Fayetteville but could not attend the segregated high school. Instead, she went to live with an aunt in Atlanta, Texas, until she graduated. She returned to Arkansas to study at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration in 1946.
Hoover worked for the Little Rock Methodist Council as associate director. Her work in this position included a project that offered outdoor recreation opportunities for African Americans in Little Rock. This project brought her to the attention of the Methodist Church’s governing body. In 1948, she was hired by the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Church as a field worker to assist in the integration of Methodist churches in Little Rock and then throughout the nation. She moved to New York during the decade she spent in this position and received her Master of Arts degree in human relations and social policy from the Steinhardt School of New York University in 1962.
Hoover rose through the ranks of the church government to become head of staff of the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church in New York City. Time magazine described her as “a highly influential Methodist bureaucrat.” Asked about this description, Hoover said, “If you’re going to be a bureaucrat, you ought to be a good one. I was a good one.” She was known for her support of women, in particular women of color, using her strong communication skills to smooth integration and inclusion for those who had been excluded in the past. Hoover worked in all fifty states at one time or another, as well as in both Pakistan and India. She wrote “Black Women and the Churches: Triple Jeopardy,” anthologized in Sexist Religion and Women in the Church: No More Silence in 1974, and With Unveiled Face: Centennial Reflections on Women and Men in the Community of the Church in 1983, as well as regular columns in Response magazine. All these publications, and most of Hoover’s speeches, focused on power and equality for women and for people of color in the church and in society.
Hoover also served on the Commission on the Churches’ Participation in Development of the World Council of Churches, the Methodist Church’s Joint Commission on Church Union, the executive board of the National Council of Negro Women, the National Board of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the National Council of Negro Women, and the board of the Bossey Ecumenical Institute in Celigny, Switzerland. She retired in 1990 and spent the next ten years traveling and speaking before retiring to Fayetteville.
On October 6, 1990, the Women’s Division of the United Methodist Church established the $100,000 Theressa Hoover Community Service and Global Citizenship fund in her honor. This fund provided grants for young women to travel and study. In 2004, Hoover was on Ebony magazine’s list of the 100 most influential African-American women. The Theressa Hoover United Methodist Church in Little Rock was named for her. In May 2008, a scholarship was established in Hoover’s honor at the University of Arkansas (U of A) at Fayetteville, to support students from Fayetteville High School. Hoover never married. She has a grandniece who was named after her. She said that she felt as if she had served as a mother and a grandmother to dozens of young women.
Hoover died in Fayetteville on December 21, 2013, and is buried in Oak Cemetery there.