At a time when women in the United States were excluded from participation in the civic electoral system, nineteenth-century Catholic sisters voted in elections, held offices, and enacted a complex political culture. In both governmental structure and internal social interaction, these communities of women constructed a system that simultaneously mandated deference, participation, hierarchy, and equality, balancing these elements despite tensions and apparent contradictions. The tensions surrounding the two-tier system that assigned lay sisters an inferior status boiled over in the climate of late-nineteenth-century America and, in response to lay sisters' protests, communities modified their rules, creating a new equilibrium. The dynamic systems of self-governance created by women religious exemplify the potential for empowerment, authority, and social mobility offered to nineteenth-century women by religious life, as well as the ways these possibilities and their potentially radical societal implications were constrained by a language and culture that mandated submission and obedience.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 138-161
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.