Jill Raitt was born on May 1, 1931 in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Neysa Atherton Raitt and Arthur Taylor Raitt. She grew up with one older brother, Richard Arthur Raitt. As a child, Raitt enjoyed adventure and time spent outside. While working on a cattle ranch during high school, she developed an attachment to horses and farms that would follow her into adulthood.
After graduating from Santa Monica High School as Salutatorian in 1949, Raitt began her first year at Radcliffe College where she studied Latin and English. After her sophomore year, Raitt worked as a nanny and studied in Rome for nine months. In Rome she attended the General Historicum of the Society of Jesus where she studied philosophy and theology under the guidance of Father E.J. Burrus. During this time Raitt felt called to join the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Upon retuning from Rome, Raitt transferred from Radcliffe College to San Francisco College for Women, run by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, where she studied philosophy, graduating in 1953.
After graduation, Raitt joined the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and spent eleven years in the cloister. During these eleven years, she lived in upstate New York, California, and Rome. In the summer of 1964, after leaving religious life, Raitt enrolled at Marquette University to continue her theological education. She primarily dedicated her research to medieval and reformation theology, completing her masters in Theology in 1965. She then entered the University of Chicago Divinity School. Raitt was among the first Roman Catholics to enroll in the Divinity School. She received her PhD in Theology from the University of Chicago in 1970. While completing her dissertation, Raitt took a teaching position at the University of California-Riverside in 1969, where she taught for four years.
Duke Divinity School
In 1973, Raitt joined the faculty of Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, as an associate professor; she taught at Duke until 1981. She was the first woman on the school’s faculty. Her mother lived with her in Durham. To aid students in their effort to make Duke Divinity more inclusive of women, Raitt donated her office to start the school’s Women’s Center. In August of 1975, Raitt moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts to spend a year as a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow and a Fellow of the Radcliffe Institute. While in Cambridge, Raitt was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a year in Cambridge, Raitt returned to Durham in May of 1975, where she underwent two years of chemotherapy. The treatment was successful in eliminating her breast cancer. In 1977, she was granted tenure, making her the first woman to receive tenure at Duke Divinity School.
University of Missouri
In 1981, Raitt was invited by the University of Missouri at Columbia to found a Department of Religious Studies. That same year the Divinity School of the University of Chicago named Raitt Alumna of the Year. After establishing a successful department, Raitt taught full-time at the University of Missouri at Columbia from 1981 to 2001, and, after retirement, part-time from 2002 to 2008. In 2008, she began a three-year term at Fontbonne University (in St. Louis) as the CSJ endowed chair in Catholic thought, followed by an appointment as visiting professor at St. Louis University. She returned to the University of Missouri as a part-time visiting professor in 2013.
American Academy of Religion
In 1972, Raitt was elected the National Secretary of the American Academy of Religion, a position she held for three years. In 1979, she was elected Vice-President, then President-elect, and President of the American Academy of Religion. In 1991, Raitt was awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Center for the Humanities in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, an honor she declined because of her appointment at the University of Missouri.
Raitt has published five books and numerous articles. She wrote The Colloquy of Montbéliard: Religion and Politics in the Sixteenth Century(1993), and The Eucharistic Theology of Theodore Beza: The Development of the Reformed Tradition (1972, reprinted 1987) and edited Encyclopedia of the Reformation (1996), Christian Spirituality: High Middle Ages and Reformation (1987), Shapers of Traditions in Germany, Switzerland and Poland, 1560-1600 (1981).
Meadow, M. J., & Rayburn, C. A. (1985). “Deserts, Glades, and Precipices.” A Time to Weep, a Time to Sing: Faith Journeys of Women Scholars of Religion(pp. 3–12). Minneapolis, MN: Winston Press.