Marylouise Oates ’73 M.Div.

2023William Sloane Coffin '56 Award for Peace and Justice

Marylouise Oates—Oatsie to the world at large—has brought the skills of a journalist to a historic era in American life, and she has done it with great gusto, curiosity, and heart.

Writer and activist have been her mainstays, but those words don’t fully cover the impact of her passion for advocacy across six decades.

In 1964, as UPI’s youngest national reporter, she covered the Democratic convention and the Philadelphia race riots. She has kept a sharp eye on politics and society ever since, focusing on people who suffer because of bad public policy or historic hatreds. As Lauren Yanks ’19 M.Div. wrote in her YDS article about her, Oates learned about righting wrongs from her parents—her father was a union organizer, and her mother came from a political family.

As the 1960s convulsed, she was there. She joined Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 presidential bid as a press secretary. She covered the Poor People’s Campaign. She was a leader in the Vietnam Moratorium movement.

In 1970 she and YDS found each other. Her Yale experience sharpened her ethical questions and gospel framework. She didn’t pursue the ministry, but Harry Adams taught her how to preach anyway. It would come in handy.

Her inquiring spirit rampaged through the decades. She worked for Lutheran Social Services and California Rural Legal Assistance. She pitched stories to the LA Times—and soon became a society columnist there. She broadened traditional society-page themes to include affordable housing and HIV/AIDS awareness, getting the attention of Betty Ford and Elizabeth Taylor. 

An old Yale friendship later had international impact: in the 1990s she collaborated with First Lady Hillary Clinton in the Vital Voices initiative, which invests globally in female leadership.

Her heart for women’s empowerment continues—in Los Angeles she spends time at the Downtown Women’s Center. In 2016, she created a YDS scholarship for mid-career women who want to go into ministry.

The list goes on. She worked to advance peace in Northern Ireland, she’s a novelist, a memoirist, a universally acclaimed chef—in short, a human dynamo, and a treasure to Yale Divinity School.

The William Sloane Coffin award commemorates the former Chaplain to the University and one of the great religious leaders of the 20th century. The award recipient shares Coffin’s prophetic witness, a courageous devotion to the dignity of all persons, and has contributed significantly to the work of peace and reconciliation. We are excited this year to honor Marylouise Oates.