Rebecca J. Henderson was born on August 29, 1943, in Paullina, Iowa, to Sada Thompson and Arthur James Henderson. She grew up in Paullina Meeting of Iowa Yearly Meeting, Conservative, where some still used plain language and dress, and children sat through meeting for worship, attended business meeting after age ten, and served on committees after age twelve.
Rebecca graduated from Scattergood Friends School and attended Earlham College before transferring in 1964 to Iowa State University to study landscape architecture. At Ames (Iowa) Meeting, she found rest and comfort from the sexism at school. At a Vietnam War protest in Washington, she first saw women who were open lesbians and came to realize that she was a lesbian. She moved to Iowa City in 1970 and served on Iowa City Meeting’s Scattergood School Committee; as clerk, recording clerk, and meetinghouse resident; and as representative to the 1973 FWCC Triennial in Sidney, Australia.
With a BS in Landscape Architecture from Iowa State (1968), Rebecca analyzed environmental impact of transmission lines, power plants, and waterway improvements for eight years for Stanley Consultants. In 1975, when Stanley’s took a Trident nuclear submarine contract, she resigned and began living a simpler life, came out of the closet, and found an Iowa City lesbian community focused on equality, justice, peace, and feminism.
She founded small press bindery, Prairie Fox Publications, in 1977 and protected more than 600 rare books for University of Iowa with custom-sized cloth-covered boxes. Iowa City Meeting’s unreadiness to accept lesbians and gays led her to quietly withdraw from Quaker work and the meeting. In 1985, she sold the bindery when chemical sensitivity made her unable to work. That year Rebecca moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for better air and healing, and worked five years for University of New Mexico. She walked 1700 miles in four summers, mostly in New Mexico and Colorado. The vigorous movement of air through her lungs helped her recover enough to work full-time during the winters.
With encouragement from Al-Anon, she began attending Albuquerque Meeting. In 1989, Rebecca met Pelican Lee. In 1990, she moved to Santa Fe to live with Pelican, and in 1992, they married at Albuquerque Meeting under the care of Paullina Meeting. With others, they founded West Wind, a lesbian intentional community where Rebecca built straw bale houses, used solar energy, collected rainwater, gardened, and kept chickens. Rebecca and Pelican (and their chickens) lived half the week in Santa Fe and half the week at West Wind. Rebecca served Santa Fe Meeting and Intermountain Yearly Meeting (IMYM) on committees, as clerk, and as representative to FWCC peace conferences and gatherings.
After she was diagnosed in 2006 with myelofibrosis, a rare blood cancer, Rebecca led IMYM’s restructuring, conducted clerking workshops, spoke at Quaker gatherings, and wrote and published two works: a book, Ingrid’s Tales: A Norwegian-American Quaker Farming Story, and a booklet, Quaker Practice and Business Meetings. She died of complications of myelofibrosis on March 4, 2014, at the age of 70, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Rebecca touched many lives as she exempliﬁed how to live by Quaker principles, nurtured newer Friends, and was her meeting’s informal consultant for just about every project, committee, and connection to other Quaker groups. She will be remembered as a baker of superb pies and Norwegian pastries, for her clever inventions, unswerving optimism, kindness, mentoring and defusing of conflicts, and her passion for right action.
She was buried in the Friends cemetery in Paullina, Iowa, where her parents, and nine of her twelve grandparents and great-grandparents, are buried. Rebecca is survived by her wife, Pelican Lee Ellen Ackerman; her sister, Matilda Hansen; two nephews, Eric Michener (Kay) and Douglas Michener (Jill); two nieces, Chelsea Ackerman and Serendipiti Mariah Ackerman; two great-nephews; and a wide circle of friends.