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The Forgotten Contribution of the Teaching Sisters

The Forgotten Contribution of the Teaching Sisters: A Historiographical Essay on the Educational Work of Catholic Women Religious in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Bart Hellinckx
Frank Simon
Marc Depaepe
Volume: 44
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Leuven University Press
Pages: 126
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  • Book Info
    The Forgotten Contribution of the Teaching Sisters
    Book Description:

    For far too long Catholic teaching sisters have been denied their rightful place in the history of education. It is only during the past twenty-five years that researchers in many countries have begun to reveal the fundamental role played by these women in the schooling of children of both the masses and the elite during the 19th and 20th centuries. This essay provides for the first time a detailed overview of the historiography of the teaching sisters in Western Europe, North America, Latin America and Australasia, surveying scholarship since 1985. It reviews the literature on six major themes: contribution to schooling, teaching orders and schools, educational philosophy, content and practice, life and lived experience of teachers and students, the professionalization of teaching, and changes in the composition of the teaching staff. Very rich in bibliographical references, this book is indispensable for all further research on this significant but underexplored group of women teachers.

    eISBN: 978-94-6166-050-3
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 9-12)

    While we were studying the process of the feminization of the teaching profession in Belgium in the 19th and 20th centuries as part of a research project of the Flemish teachers’ unionChristelijk Onderwijzers Verbond(COV) and the sections on history of education of theKatholieke Universiteit Leuvenand theUniversiteit Gent,¹ we noticed that the extensive international literature on the feminization of teaching focuses almost exclusively on the influx of lay women into teaching.² This observation made us wonder what is known about the women religious who entered teaching in huge numbers during the 19th and 20th centuries.


  2. Chapter 2 Evolution of scholarly interest in the educational work of women religious
    (pp. 13-18)

    Historians from Europe, Australia and the Americas have observed that the involvement of women religious in education has hardly been studied hitherto.¹⁴ Elizabeth Smyth in 2006 called them “a marginalized cohort of educators”.¹⁵ In astatus quaestionisof educational historiography in Europe Marie-Madeleine Compère noted that the teaching profession is usually associated with the lay woman teacher.¹⁶ That disproportionate attention is paid to lay educators appears clearly from Isabelle Havelange’s evaluation of the bibliography regarding the history of education in France which is published annually in a separate issue of the journalHistoire de l’Éducation: in 1995, the studies about...

  3. Chapter 3 Overview and assessment of the literature
    (pp. 19-54)

    Women religious played a fundamental role in the schooling of girls of both the masses and the elite during the 19th and 20th centuries. In a study of the first decade of the Society of the Sacred Heart in St. Louis (1827-late 1830s), Nikola Baumgarten declared the teaching orders to be ‘ the pioneers of truly universal schooling’, offering education open to girls and young women of all social, ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds.⁴⁷ According to her, the fact that the Sacred Heart sisters provided the only educational opportunities for black, orphaned, and poor girls in St. Louis for nearly...

  4. Chapter 4 Conclusions
    (pp. 55-56)

    Since Elizabeth Smyth’s statement in 1994 that “the research on the history of teaching sisters is just beginning”,²⁷¹ studies about the subject have multiplied considerably and a start has been made to apply to it some of the newer methodologies of the history of education. The numerous case studies on teaching congregations and schools run by sisters provide an immense number of useful data which can form the basis for developing general theories, concepts and models. Likewise, the many ‘national’ and ‘regional’ syntheses about women religious in the 19th and 20th centuries which have appeared in the last twenty years...