Abstract

When Jane Minot Sedgwick II converted to Catholicism in 1853, at the height of U.S. anti-Catholic sentiment, her family members were generally accepting, despite being New England Unitarians with a dim view of Catholicism. They accepted her conversion because they thought it would provide Jane with the emotional stability to become a settled, useful woman. Throughout Jane’s childhood, the family had emphasized usefulness, rooted in Unitarian theology, as life’s central goal, and a goal Jane herself came to see as primary. Yet she and her family members struggled to understand the relationship between usefulness and happiness as Jane sought usefulness and craved happiness. Family members fretted over the impetuous, independent behavior Jane exhibited during her search for usefulness, but also hoped she would find emotional stability, unlike the other members of her family who had developed mental illness. After studying Catholicism for ten years, Jane decided to convert, and her family members marked the difference in her emotional state. Now that she had achieved a measure of spiritual and emotional happiness, they argued, she would be able to live the settled, useful life of an elite woman.

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