The Valiant Woman: The Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century American Culture

By Swan, Laura | Magistra, Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

The Valiant Woman: The Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century American Culture


Swan, Laura, Magistra


The Valiant Woman: The Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century American Culture. Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez. University of North Carolina Press, 256 pp, $27.50. ISBN 978-1-4696-2741-0

Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez demonstrates a sophisticated command of the history of religion in American social life. Her study consistently situates the19th-century experience at the level of the average American person and not necessarily the official leadership of various Christian traditions. She begins her discussion with the Roman Catholic Church's formal proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. While some Protestant leadership expressed disdain at this teaching as proof of Catholicism's ignorance and idolatry (believing that Catholics worship Mary as some "extension" of the Trinity), others overcame this bigotry with curiosity. Granted, the proclamation came at a time in America where there was fear and distrust of the large numbers of Catholic immigrating to the United States with the No-Nothing Party growing.

With the social upheaval of the American Civil War and industrialization with its emerging market economy, women's self-identity began to shift. Possibly unexpected by readers of The Valiant Woman, the Virgin Mary increasingly became a liberating symbol for many women. …

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