Mary Daly died on January 3, 2010. Several longtime feminist friends (“Team Mary”1) had been her “feminist family” over the last few years, providing for her care. A core group of younger feminists (“The Hedge Hags”2) both studied with her at her apartment and also became key participants in caring for her. Of course, numerous others formed wider circles of support for Mary and in turn for those who insured her care. Creating and participating in these radical circles of care are important feminist ethical acts, especially when done for someone like Mary, who had no living relatives. The women’s movement was her family. We also arranged for Mary to be buried at historic Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where many important women and feminists associated with religion and social justice have also been buried. A small group of us committed her ashes to the ground with loving remembrances.
With a wider group of women, we planned and held two Memorial Celebrations of Mary Daly’s life in Cambridge—fittingly, over the 2010 May Eve/May Day weekend. The first gathering, held at Harvard Divinity School, was women-only, a true “feminist Irish-inspired wake,” at which friends, colleagues, and other women who wanted to honor Mary and her work told stories, remembered rich times with Mary, read from her work, and shared libations in her honor. The second event, open to all and held at Episcopal Divinity School, included wonderful harp music, testimonies, readings from her books, and a festive party. We thank both of these institutions, as well as generous donors, for their help and support offering space for these two events. A video of the public “Celebration of the Life of Mary Daly” was made and will be available in the future.
After Mary’s death, those of us on Team Mary who participate in the American [End Page 89] Academy of Religion (AAR) and some of our other friends/colleagues came together to propose to the Women and Religion Section a plenary session that fall (in Atlanta, Georgia, October 2010) to honor Mary’s work and continuing legacy. We were clear from the start that the best and truest way to do so would be to assemble a panel of women from diverse backgrounds, generations, and feminist perspectives who would offer “critical appreciation” of Mary’s work. Mary was a radical and strong-minded feminist whose work, from the outset, provoked controversy and sparked enormous change. To “do justice” to Mary’s life’s work demanded honest, forthright dialogue from many points of engagement. Our goal for the session was to acknowledge it all—the grand, joyful, painful, amazing, and thought-provoking power of Mary Daly’s work and legacy. These papers offer many angles of vision and analysis of Mary’s life and work. They are definitely not intended to sum it up, gloss over disagreements, or even address all of Mary’s influences. Our session was crafted in the feminist tradition, still sometimes possible at AAR sessions, of allowing ample time for open discussion. All present were welcome to wrestle openly with any aspect of Mary’s work and impact they felt important. No topic was taboo. It was an electrifying session— both in the high level of feminist scholarship in the papers presented, and in the creative, sometimes raw, sometimes touching, insights from those attending.
To our delighted astonishment, our session drew the witchy date of October 31—the pagan Sabbat marking the passage of the old wheel of the year into the new, most close to the spirits of those who have died. We could readily imagine Mary herself cackling over this date as much as we did. Someday, we hope the description of that magical discussion can be written and added to this stellar collection of the papers that were presented that day.
A Mary Daly Reader is under development, edited by Jennifer Rycenga and Linda Barufaldi. Mary’s papers are now archived in the Sophia Smith Collection: Women’s History Archives, at Smith College, along with the papers of other noted feminists.
Emily Erwin Culpepper is Professor Emerita...