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Profiles of Anabaptist Women

Sixteenth-Century Reforming Pioneers

C. Arnold Snyder

Publication Year: 1996

During the upheavals of the Reformation, one of the most significant of the radical Protestant movements emerged — that of the Anabaptist movement. Profiles of Anabaptist Women provides lively, well-researched profiles of the courageous women who chose to risk prosecution and martyrdom to pursue this unsanctioned religion — a religion that, unlike the established religions of the day, initially offered them opportunity and encouragement to proselytize.

Derived from sixteenth-century government records and court testimonies, hymns, songs and poems, these profiles provide a panorama of life and faith experiences of women from Switzerland, Germany, Holland and Austria.

These personal stories of courage, faith, commitment and resourcefulness interweave women’s lives into the greater milieu, relating them to the dominant male context and the socio-political background of the Reformation. Taken together, these sketches will give readers an appreciation for the central role played by Anabaptist women in the emergence and persistence of this radical branch of Protestantism.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Series: Studies in Women and Religion

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

The publication of Profiles of Anabaptist Women is the culmination of a dream and an idea that began to take definite shape in 1992. From April 30 to May 2 of that year Conrad Grebel College hosted a conference titled "In a Mennonite Voice: Women Doing Theology."1 In her contribution...


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pp. xi-xii


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pp. xiii-xxii

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pp. 1-15

The story of Anabaptist women of the sixteenth century is just now beginning to be told. The scarcity of references to women in historical accounts undoubtedly has been due, at least in part, to the general orientation of historians. One proposed definition of the...


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The Swiss Anabaptist Context

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pp. 19-24

The first known cases of adult baptism in the sixteenth century occurred in Zurich, Switzerland, in January 1525.1 Involved in that first rebaptism were former followers of Ulrich Zwingli and early supporters of his reforms-most notably Conrad Grebel and Felix Mantz-who had...

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Agnes Zender of Aarau

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pp. 25-31

The story of Agnes Zender of Aarau, like that of so many Anabaptist women, can be told only in a fragmented way. She appears in the historical record only briefly, and then disappears again, leaving too many questions unanswered. But even from the brief glimpse...

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Agnes Linck from Biel

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pp. 32-37

There are people who, in spite of only brief mention in the historical sources, nevertheless leave the unmistakable mark of their personalities etched there. Agnes Linck was one such person. On April 16, 1528, Agnes Linck, from the small Swiss city of Biel, was questioned in Solothurn, on suspicion of heresy....

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Adelheit Schwartz of Watt

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pp. 38-42

We first meet Adelheit Schwarz in spring of the year 1529. In testimony reported to the authorities in Zurich, Bartli Hug of Dallikon said that several women from Watt had come to Dallikon, and had gone into Elsa Spilmann's house where they had had a discussion. They included Jakob...

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Margret Hottinger of Zollikon

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pp. 43-53

That we know anything at all about Margret Hottinger is remarkable, for people of her economic and social station have rarely left a mark in the historical records. ,In Margret's case, we owe the existence of historical records to the fact that she was born into a family for whom questions of faith and religious reform were considered of utmost...

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Elsbeth Theiller of Horgen

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pp. 54-57

It is a well-known and often-repeated fact that the Zurich authorities were successful in suppressing the Anabaptist movement by the 1530s. A prime example is the village of Zollikon, where Anabaptism had flourished in 1525 as a mass movement among the common people, but had...

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Anna Scharnschlager of Hopfgarten, Tirol

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pp. 58-63

The year was 1530. It was a situation made for panic and would have paralysed a weaker person. But not Anna Scharnschlager. She dealt with it deliberately and with an eye to the future. She and her husband Leupold were forced to leave the home where they had lived for over twenty years, and the beautiful...

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Margaret Hellwart of Beutelsbach

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pp. 64-68

Margaret Hellwart was born about 1568 and lived a few kilometres east of Stuttgart, in the village of Beutelsbach, one of a number of villages whose administrative centre was Schorndorf. Her husband was Georg Hellwart. He was not an Anabaptist, but seems to have supported...


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The South German/Austrian Anabaptist Context

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pp. 71-81

The theological tap root of South German/Austrian Anabaptism ran to the same source from which Swiss Anabaptism drew: the evangelical critiques brought into focus by Martin Luther.1 Equally important, a second theological root ran back from both Anabaptist...

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Anabaptist Women Leaders in Augsburg

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pp. 82-105

This chapter will explore religious leadership roles among Augsburg Anabaptist women in the dynamic period from August 1527 to April 1528. Except for Dutch Anabaptist women captives, court interrogators usually asked very little of Anabaptist women, frustrating the researcher...

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Sabina Bader of Augsburg

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pp. 106-110

It is surprising that the origins of Sabina Bader are totally unknown. At one stage in her life she moved in the company of prominent people, and she was, by any measure, a remarkable woman herself. Thus she first stands before us in Augsburg in September 1527. She and her...

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Magdalena, Walpurga, and Sophia Marschalk von Pappenheim

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pp. 111-123

The stories of Magdalena Marschalk von Pappenheim, her niece Walpurga, and Sophia von Pappenheim are unique in the annals of Anabaptist history. The few appearances of these strong and remarkable personalities in the historical record have left an indelible imprint. They were born...

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Helena von Freyberg of Münichau

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pp. 124-139

Of the 210 women who became members of the Anabaptist movement in the Austrian territory of Tirol, the story of Helena von Freyberg is one of the most intriguing.1 That a person from the upper classes would even consider taking the risk of being baptized as an adult was already...

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Anna Gasser of Lüsen

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pp. 140-155

A study of the court records for the Austrian territory of Tirol reveals that each of the women discussed there had a somewhat different experience. This is particularly true for Anna Gasser. We know for certain that in 1525 she participated with her husband, Hans, in the Peasants' War...

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Anabaptist Women in Tirol who Recanted

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pp. 156-163

There were some women in the Anabaptist movement for whom recantation and pardon were alternatives to execution and death. In the Tirol of 1527, when a person was arrested for the first time, he or she was given the choice of recanting or renouncing adherence to the outlawed...

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Elisabeth von Wolkenstein of Uttenheim

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pp. 164-177

In the centre of the village of Uttenheim, near the church, stands the Plankenstein residence. Since 1563 it has been the property of the lords of Wolkenstein. It stands out from the newer buildings surrounding it because of its noble architectural lines, its beautiful window...

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Katharina Purst Hutter of Sterzing

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pp. 178-186

The best-known Anabaptist leader of the Tirol was Jacob Hutter. In 1529 he succeeded George Blaurock, who was executed in Gufidaun in that year. Our interest here, however, is not in Jacob, but in his wife Katharina, about whom little has been written to date. Her life was characterized...

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Wives, Female Leaders, and Two Female Martyrs from Hall

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pp. 187-194

In the regions around the city of Hall, the Anabaptist movement grew dynamically between 1526 and 1529. To combat this growth the authorities stepped up the persecution of Anabaptists by executing key leaders like Leonard Schiemer and Hans Schlaffer, as well as women...

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Ursula Hellrigel of the Ötz Valley and Annelein of Freiburg

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pp. 195-201

The persecution of Anabaptists in Tirol reached its peak in the mid 1530s. During this time many of the pursued believers left their homes in the Austrian territory and escaped to Moravia to make a new life for themselves where the rulers were more tolerant. If the fleeing Anabaptists...

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Women in the Chronicle of the Hutterian Brethren

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pp. 202-221

Susanna's story reveals a fragment of women's historical experience within an early Hutterite community. The loss of her father at the hands of an army of the centralizing state, and the danger and distress of imprisonment because of Anabaptist belief, were common potential experiences to any member...

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Women in the Hutterite Song Book (Die Lieder der Hutterischen Brüder)

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pp. 222-243

Singing has been an integral part of the life of all Hutterites throughout their entire history. This has been so in part because they live in isolation from the rest of the world and have shunned almost all recreational activities, and in part because they take seriously...


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The North German/Dutch Anabaptist Context

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pp. 247-257

The beginnings of Anabaptism in North Germany and the Netherlands, unlike the Anabaptism of Switzerland or that of South Germany and Austria, can be traced to the overwhelming influence of one man, who stamped the northern movement with very discernible...

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Margarethe Prüss of Strasbourg

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pp. 258-272

In sixteenth-century Strasbourg men were "printers" and women were "printers' wives." Being female, however, did not prevent Margarethe Prtiss3 from becoming involved in the enterprise of publishing which, as described by her contemporary Jeanne Giunta, a publisher in Lyon,...

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Ursula Jost and Barbara Rebstock of Strasbourg

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pp. 273-287

Ursula lost and Barbara Rebstock were two of the most influential Anabaptist women in Strasbourg; down the Rhine into the Low Countries. Both were prophets, and Barbara also was counted as an "elder of Israel" in one of the Anabaptist congregations in Strasbourg....

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Hille Feicken of Sneek

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pp. 288-297

One of the most disturbing chapters of the history of the city of Munster began in February 1534 when the Anabaptists came to power.1 A month earlier, in January 1534, the persons sent out by the Netherlands prophet Jan Matthijs had carried out the first adult baptisms in the city. In doing so they carried forward the process of reform that had begun...

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Divara of Haarlem

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pp. 298-304

Life and death decisions often have been based on gender. When the city of Minister fell on June 24, 1535, after a long siege, the great slaughter began. It was primarily the men who died. The conquerors made short work of the approximately eight hundred remaining Anabaptists capable of bearing arms. Only a few escaped. The women were treated with...

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Fenneke van Geelen of Deventer

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pp. 305-315

On April, 17, 1535, in Deventer (at the time the largest city in the northeastern Netherlands), a woman was killed on account of her faith. For the first time, the city government had arrested an Anabaptist woman. As commonly was done in the Netherlands at that time with...

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Women Supporters of David Joris

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pp. 316-335

In his writings the Dutch Anabaptist leader David Joris (c. 1501-1556) expressed a rather negative evaluation of the role of women in the church.1 One might therefore expect that women played a negligible role in his religious mission or among his Anabaptist...

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Anna Jansz of Rotterdam

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pp. 336-351

Anna Jansz has been immortalized as a model martyr in both the Martyrs' Mirror1 and the Ausbund,2 but modern scholars have had second thoughts. The Dutch Mennonite Karl Vos considered Anna somewhat "unbalanced, nervous, over-strung" and given to "fantastic expectations...

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Maria and Ursula van Beckum

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pp. 352-358

Anabaptism could be the sword of Christ that cut families apart. Sisters-inlaw Maria and Ursula van Beckum were executed for their Anabaptist faith; their mothers bitterly opposed their Anabaptist persuasions and tried desperately to dissuade them. Jan, husband of Ursula...

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Elisabeth and Hadewijk of Friesland

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pp. 359-364

The stories of Elisabeth and Hadewijk are intertwined and best told together. Both accounts appear in the Martyrs' Mirror1 and, in part, in other literature.2 That the stories are true is confirmed by Remmeltje Wubbers, who reported that she heard them frequently not only...

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Soetken van den Houte of Oudenaarde

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pp. 365-377

According to Soetken van den Route, those who had professed and lived by God's truth had endured the brunt of persecution and martyrdom from the time of Abel: "they have been despised, scorned, persecuted and killed because they would not follow the wicked world with...

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Anna Hendriks of Amsterdam

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pp. 378-383

On November 10, 1571, Anna "Heyndrixs" or Hendriks (daughter of Hendrik), housewife from Franeker in Frisia, Netherlands, was executed in a barbarous manner.1 The hangman tied her to a ladder, filled her mouth with gunpowder and cast her onto a bed of burning...

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Soetjen Gerrits of Rotterdam and Vrou Gerrits of Medemblik

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pp. 384-405

In or about 1559, a martyr's song, written by an unknown poet and commemorating six female martyrs who were executed at Antwerp, begins with "Babels Raets Mandamenten" [The Mandates of the Council of Babel], Like most martyr songs, it deals with the martyrs'...

Appendix: Review of the Literature on Women in the Reformation and Radical Reformation

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pp. 406-415


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pp. 416-435

Contributors to Profiles of Anabaptist Women

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pp. 436-442

E-ISBN-13: 9780889206038
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889202771
Print-ISBN-10: 088920277X

Page Count: 464
Publication Year: 1996

Series Title: Studies in Women and Religion

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Reformation.
  • Christian women martyrs -- Europe -- Biography.
  • Anabaptist women -- Europe -- Biography.
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