Beisswenger, Joyce, 1930-2002
- Existence: 1930 - 2002
Joyce Evelyn Horton Beisswenger, social worker and civil rights activist, was born in 1930 in Osage, Iowa, the youngest child of Guy and Fern Horton. After completing two years at the Iowa State Teacher's College (now the University of Northern Iowa), she transferred to the University of Iowa, where she pursued a degree in speech therapy and helped start a program at the University where international students are invited to spend Thanksgiving with Osage families. Upon completion of her degree, she enrolled in the Yale Divinity School, where she received a Master of Religious Studies and met her future husband, Don Beisswenger. The Beisswengers were married in 1954, had six children of their own: Simon, Drew, Tom, Philip, Suzanne, and Rebecca, and also took in eight foster children at various times. While living in Chicago in the 1960s, the Beisswengers collaborated with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to fight discriminatory housing practices, including purchasing a house in an all-white community and then immediately reselling it to an African-American family. Joyce Beisswenger returned to college in 1971, earning a Master's in Social Work from the University of Tennessee in 1974. Between 1974 and 1991, she held various social work positions with Planned Parenthood, Scarritt College, the YWCA, and Matthew 25, all in Nashville, Tennessee. Notably, in her time at the YWCA, Beisswenger developed and directed the Displaced Homemakers Program and also the New Start Program, an aid for women re-entering the workplace after incarceration. In 1983 she and her husband founded the Penuel Ridge Contemplative Retreat Center, a facility for tranquil religious reflection in Cheatham County, Tennessee. Beisswenger was active with the retreat center up until her death in 2002. Upon reading of the plight of incarcerated mother Donna Sexton in The Tennessean in 1998, Beisswenger became involved in trying to get Sexton released from prison. Although the attempt was unsuccessful, the two women maintained contact, and Sexton continued to have a relationship with the Beisswenger family after Joyce Beisswenger's death.