Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Origins of Women's Activism: New York and Boston, 1794-1840

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Origins of Women's Activism: New York and Boston, 1794-1840

Article excerpt

The Origins of Women's Activism: New York and Boston, 1794-1840. By Anne M. Boylan. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. 2002. Pp. xv, 343. $49.95 clothbound; $19.95 paperback.)

Few historians have attempted to incorporate Catholics into the story of women's emergence into public life in nineteenth-century America. As Maureen Fitzgerald has observed concerning the Progressive Era, Protestantism often functions as an unmarked category in women's history because religion is not analyzed as a source of difference, just as whiteness disappears when the impact of race is only considered for non-whites. Anne Boylan invites historians to redress this problem by including groups founded by Catholic laywomen in her long-awaited study of the country's first women's organizations, The Origins of Women's Activism: New York and Boston, 1794-1840. Boylan's goal is to help explain how the "republican mother" described by historians of the revolutionary period became the "true woman" of the 1830's and after. She points to "the new arenas of collective action" that women opened by forming associations as ideal venues in which to analyze this transition. Lavishly documented, with over 100 pages of appendices, tables, and notes, the book is based on the surviving records of seventy groups and the life histories of over 1000 founders and leaders in New York City and Boston.

Important revelations emerge from this comprehensive study. While the earliest women's groups probably understood their charitable activities as religiously inspired, their goals became much more explicitly religious during the second Great Awakening, when women, like men, were inspired by individual conversion experiences to initiate collective projects for the transformation of society along evangelical lines. …

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