The Religious History of American Women

The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the Past

Edited by Catherine A. Brekus
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 352
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    The Religious History of American Women
    Book Description:

    More than a generation after the rise of women's history alongside the feminist movement, it is still difficult, observes Catherine Brekus, to locate women in histories of American religion. Mary Dyer, a Quaker who was hanged for heresy; Lizzie Robinson, a former slave and laundress who sold Bibles door to door; Sally Priesand, a Reform rabbi; Estela Ruiz, who saw a vision of the Virgin Mary--how do these women's stories change our understanding of American religious history and American women's history?In this provocative collection of twelve essays, contributors explore how considering the religious history of American women can transform our dominant historical narratives. Covering a variety of topics--including Mormonism, the women's rights movement, Judaism, witchcraft trials, the civil rights movement, Catholicism, everyday religious life, Puritanism, African American women's activism, and the Enlightenment--the volume enhances our understanding of both religious history and women's history. Taken together, these essays sound the call for a new, more inclusive history.Contributors:Ann Braude, Harvard Divinity SchoolCatherine A. Brekus, University of Chicago Divinity SchoolAnthea D. Butler, University of RochesterEmily Clark, Tulane UniversityKathleen Sprows Cummings, University of Notre DameAmy Koehlinger, Florida State UniversityJanet Moore Lindman, Rowan UniversitySusanna Morrill, Lewis and Clark CollegeKristy Nabhan-Warren, Augustana CollegePamela S. Nadell, American UniversityElizabeth Reis, University of OregonMarilyn J. Westerkamp, University of California, Santa Cruz

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0517-3
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction: Searching for Women in Narratives of American Religious History
    (pp. 1-50)
    Catherine A. Brekus

    Recently I was so eager to read a new dissertation on American religious history that I ordered an online copy from my university’s library. Given the author’s topic, I assumed that this new work would help me with my own research on early American women. Hoping for a preview, I typed the word “women” into the search engine so that I would not have to scroll through four hundred pages of text. Almost immediately, a message flashed on my screen: “Search term not found.” Surprised, I tried other words—female, feminine, gender, woman—but always with the same results. My...

  4. 1 Puritan Women, Spiritual Power, and the Question of Sexuality
    (pp. 51-72)
    Marilyn J. Westerkamp

    When Perry Miller publishedOrthodoxy in Massachusetts(1936), followed by the breathtaking two-volumeNew England Mind(1939, 1956), he charted the course for Puritan studies and, in the process, transformed historical understanding of Puritan New England.¹ Before Miller, New England had been seen as an exceptional, unpleasant place characterized by intolerance, theocracy, and hypocrisy—the New England of Nathaniel Hawthorne’sScarlet Letter. Miller redeemed the Puritans and their colonies, reconstructing their worldview and their theology while recognizing their complexity, dedication, and focus upon the divine. Encountering anxious men seemingly plagued with ideological contradictions, Miller untangled the contradictions and argued that...

  5. 2 Revelation, Witchcraft, and the Danger of Knowing God’s Secrets
    (pp. 73-90)
    Elizabeth Reis

    By ignoring the gendered dynamic of witchcraft accusations at Salem and elsewhere, historians of American religion have missed not only a compelling part of the witch-hunting saga, but also the broader relationship between Puritanism and womanhood. Scholars of American religion have taken for granted the simple fact that although witches could be male or female, in New England they tended to be women. In fact, so many of the accused witches at Salem were women (approximately 78 percent) that it is worth exploring Puritan attitudes towards women, sin, and the devil. While it would be easy to characterize the Puritans...

  6. 3 Hail Mary Down by the Riverside: Black and White Catholic Women in Early America
    (pp. 91-107)
    Emily Clark

    Jay Dolan’s description of the Catholic Church in nineteenth-century America presents us with its most familiar historical face: “In 1810, one Catholic parish served a community of ten thousand people in New York; fifty years later, Catholics numbered about four hundred thousand and the city had thirty-two Catholic churches. Of these churches, 70 percent could be described as Irish, and the clergy was said to be ‘almost entirely Irish.’ The next largest group was the Germans, who occupied one out of every four churches in the city.”¹

    Here is the immigrant church in full flower, eclipsing the colonial Maryland seedling...

  7. 4 Sarah Osborn’s Enlightenment: Reimagining Eighteenth-Century Intellectual History
    (pp. 108-141)
    Catherine A. Brekus

    In 1743, Sarah Osborn, a schoolteacher in Newport, Rhode Island, began writing a spiritual memoir. Influenced by the excitement of the Great Awakening, the religious revivals that brought thousands of converts into New England’s churches, she decided to reflect on the spiritual meaning of her life. How had God ordered her experiences? What could her life story tell her about both herself and God? Filling more than 130 pages with her bittersweet memories of God’s “dealings” with her, she wrote about her childhood sinfulness, her conversion, and her painful battles against despair—what we would call depression. The lesson she...

  8. 5 Beyond the Meetinghouse: Women and Protestant Spirituality in Early America
    (pp. 142-160)
    Janet Moore Lindman

    Abigail Harris, a New Jersey Baptist, spent a Sabbath evening in March of 1816 visiting friends. Recording this event in her journal, she remarked upon the spirituality of a “Mrs. Wooley”: “My Soul is refresh’d in her company, with her excellent conversation, it always appears to be savoury & savour of the things of God … , she is A sincere Christian. A strain of piety runs through all her conversation & she introduces it with the greatest ease imaginable & [is] never at A loss for something profitable & new.” After conversing together, Harris and Wooley agreed “to intercede for each other at...

  9. 6 Unrespectable Saints: Women of the Church of God in Christ
    (pp. 161-183)
    Anthea D. Butler

    I was wretched and undone, and was very sinful. My hair was cut in a boyish bob, and my skirts knee high, most of my blouses were without sleeves, and really, after hearing the gospel preached, I became a penitent. One day I decided to alter a garment so that I would not be ashamed to go to the Altar. But before I finished the garment, time came to prepare dinner, and I went to pick green peas. Oh, what a glorious day for me. While in the pea patch, I believed, and my sins were washed away. Then I...

  10. 7 Women’s Popular Literature as Theological Discourse: A Mormon Case Study, 1880–1920
    (pp. 184-205)
    Susanna Morrill

    Sometime between 1880 and 1885, Mormon teenager Colenda Chrilla Rogers Adams recorded in her personal journal a poem written in tribute to her sister, Fannie, who had died in 1880 at the young age of twenty-one. The third verse of the poem best sums up Adams’s anguish at her sister’s fleeting, delicate, and virtuous mortal life:

    Pale and sweet as the fairest liley.

    Pure as the falling snow

    Oh must thy life as fliting [fleeting?] be

    And quickly must though [thou?] go.¹

    About forty years later, in 1917, theRelief Society Magazine, the official publication of the women’s auxiliary of...

  11. 8 The “New Woman” at the “University”: Gender and American Catholic Identity in the Progressive Era
    (pp. 206-231)
    Kathleen Sprows Cummings

    In 1897, Sister Julia McGroarty, the American superior of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, announced the beginning of her community’s latest and most ambitious project: the founding of Trinity College for Catholic women in Washington, D.C. Trinity, which opened three years later, was not the first Catholic women’s college; that distinction belongs to its Baltimore neighbor, the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. Trinity was, however, unique among early Catholic women’s colleges in that it did not evolve from a preexisting academy.¹

    Founding Trinity presented Sister Julia with an array of challenges. Other founders were able to transform...

  12. 9 Faith, Feminism, and History
    (pp. 232-252)
    Ann Braude

    When I left the University of Chicago in 1978 after receiving my master’s degree, the scholarly literature on the religious history of American women fit between two bookends on my desk. When I returned twenty-five years later in the fall of 2004 for the first national conference on the topic (the conference that gave rise to this book), that literature had grown to exceed the grasp of any individual.

    There is no question that we have come a long way as a field in those twenty-five years. During my first year of graduate school (1977), two texts appeared that opened...

  13. 10 “Are You the White Sisters or the Black Sisters?”: Women Confounding Categories of Race and Gender
    (pp. 253-278)
    Amy Koehlinger

    In a 1966 essay on new forms of apostolic service by Catholic women religious, Sister Mary Peter Champagne, CSJ, stated a question that had consumed her generation of vowed women in the Catholic Church. “Among the questions being asked in this age of questioning,” she began, “the one concerning the relevance of religious life in the modern world is among the most frequent. Is there still a need within the church for the religious state? Could not the work being done by sisters be done just as effectively by lay women?”¹

    In the early 1960s numerous voices within the Catholic...

  14. 11 Engendering Dissent: Women and American Judaism
    (pp. 279-293)
    Pamela S. Nadell

    In the mid-1970s, a reporter for the Jewish press announced: “With the ordination of Rabbi Sally Priesand in 1972, Judaism learned that a great religious debate over women in the pulpit had been settled before it began.”¹ I opened my book,Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women’s Ordination, 1889–1985 (1988), with this conceit because it baldly states a trope familiar to those of us who write women’s history. It repeats what many, including some among our scholarly colleagues, advanced at one time with great certainty: that there was little for us to pursue. After all, conventional...

  15. 12 Little Slices of Heaven and Mary’s Candy Kisses: Mexican American Women Redefining Feminism and Catholicism
    (pp. 294-318)
    Kristy Nabhan-Warren

    According to Estela Ruiz, a Mexican American woman in her mid-sixties who claims to both see and hear the Virgin Mary, the Virgin of the Americas changed her life when she first appeared to her in her bedroom on the night of December 3, 1988. She was praying especially hard for youngest son Reyes Jr., who was battling a drug addiction, and for a mending of daughter-in-law Leticia and son Fernando’s troubled marriage. Estela was clutching her rosary tightly as she stared at a print of the Sacred Heart of Mary, which hung in front of her. She fingered the...

  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 319-320)
  17. Selected Readings
    (pp. 321-324)
  18. Contributors
    (pp. 325-326)
  19. Index
    (pp. 327-340)