Date of Award

Spring 1999

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



Committee Director

Carolyn J. Lawes

Committee Member

Anita Fellman

Committee Member

Jeffery Richards

Call Number for Print

Special Collections LD4331.H85 M338


This study calls into question common assumptions about the limited public role of Catholic women during the antebellum period of American history. To understand the roles Protestant women played during this era, it is important to understand Catholic women's roles. Through primary and secondary source documents, the similarities and differences relating to church structure and theology will be documented. The study will also examine reasons why Protestant women converted to Catholicism during a profoundly anti-Catholic era.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, women, both Catholic and Protestant, played an increasingly public role through organized benevolence and other activities. In a time when there was insufficient social welfare, the roles women played were important as poverty, sickness, and death began to reach crisis proportions. Women's benevolent and other activities were often organized through churches. This thesis suggests that Catholicism and Protestantism both supported and subverted traditional gender roles, and aided the emergence of a new feminine ideal. This ideal was an extension of the more activist components of the traditional female roles of mother and wife.


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