Matilda Hansen

HansenMatilda Hansen, 89, on August 19, 2019, at home in Laramie, Wyo. Matilda was born to Arthur J. Henderson and Sara G. Thompson near Paullina, Iowa. She was raised in Paullina (Iowa) Meeting.

Matilda began her education in one-room schools in northwest Iowa. She attended Scattergood Friends School, graduating in 1948. Matilda earned her bachelor’s degree (anthropology) from the University of Colorado in 1963 and her master’s (geography) from the University of Wyoming in 1970.

Matilda was a high school and adult education teacher before being elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives in 1975. She was the first woman to serve 20 consecutive years in the House, finishing her term as assistant minority floor leader (Democrat) in 1994. She was known for her decisive leadership and willingness to speak truth to power during her service to the state. Matilda was described as a “force of nature” and noted for impeccable research. Her Quaker sensibilities informed her civic leadership and earned her respect that transcended her gender or party affiliation. She was a role model as an ethical leader and as a woman in politics. 

Activism, spiritual journey, and personal life intersected for Matilda. Her leadings shared at meetings were often connected to current world and regional events.  

Matilda had a rich family history, two marriages, children and grandchildren, an education that took her to Sri Lanka, and her lengthy public career as one of few women in politics in Wyoming at that time. 

Matilda completed a four-volume memoir during the last decade of her life. Her books read as a U.S. and Quaker timeline. The experiences of her Norwegian, Quaker, immigrant family that established a Quaker community in Iowa; a Quaker education at Scattergood Friends School; and peaceful protest and conscientious objection to the U.S. wars of the twentieth century prepared Matilda to organize Laramie Friends in the 1960s and to be one of the founders of Wyoming Meeting in the late 1980s. The photos of Matilda and other Quakers who found themselves together at a summer retreat in Camp Story (Hugh Hansen [Matilda’s husband], Bob Murphy, Chelsea and Donn Kesselheim, Bill Young, Jean Jorgensen, and others from across Wyoming) speak to the informal roots, respect for land and place, and deep caring for each other that provided the foundation for a new community of Friends in Wyoming. 

Matilda was an elder voice in her meeting. She had been a leader at Scattergood Friends School, served as clerk for Wyoming Meeting, and held numerous leadership positions in national and Western Friends organizations. Matilda was simply a leader and initiator. In the last months of her life, she slowly lost the ability to speak and turned to writing. As she lost her ability to write, she was present in silence. Just months before her death, Matilda hosted a quarterly gathering as had been her custom. Her grace in her last year of life was inspiring. For more than a year following Matilda’s death, her usual seat at meeting was left open. This unspoken acknowledgment of Matilda’s absence confirmed her continued presence. Matilda continues to be a cornerstone of Laramie Meeting and Wyoming Meeting that she helped establish.   

Matilda was predeceased by her first husband, Robert Michener; her second husband, Hugh Hansen; her sister, Rebecca Henderson; and her stepdaughters, Betsy and Christina. She is survived by her two sons, Eric (Kay) Michener and Douglas (Jill) Michener; stepson David (Kjersti) Hansen; six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. 

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