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The Catholic Historical Review 88.2 (2002) 397
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Frontier Woman Minister
Walker, Randi Jones. Emma Newman: Frontier Woman Minister. [Women and Gender in North American Religions.] (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. 2000. Pp. xxiii, 200.)
Randi Jones Walker's account of Emma Newman, a little-known Congregational preacher, addresses a current topic in American religious history, the impact of women as the builders of a faith. The book rests on the tripod of Protestantism, gender, and geography. Walker draws on a rich collection of previously untapped Newman papers to argue that the nineteenth-century ministry of an individual woman reflected patterns of female leadership, rather than personal exceptionalism.
The strongest feature of this book is the narrative that weaves together the forces of spirituality and gender. Walker makes a good case for the effectiveness of a female ministry, illuminating Newman's personal history and professional efforts as a pastor who merged her spiritual message with an interest in homeopathy. Although the text is burdened by overly long quotations, this slim volume conveys the way in which one woman crafted a presence as a minister, despite physical hardship and social barriers.
The weakest element rises out of attributing the evolution of Newman's ministerial persona to the impact of geography. Many would question whether, in years pushing toward the twentieth century, rural Illinois could be called "the West," or urban Kansas and Los Angeles should be labeled as "frontier." Although the ideas of some western scholars are mentioned, the work has little substantive grounding in the concepts of regional history, consequently stumbling with its sweeping assertions about the West.
Those intrigued by the possible interplay between Congregationalists and Roman Catholics in Newman's life will need to look elsewhere. Catholics are considered in passing, as the immigrants from alien cultures that so worried many Protestant authorities of the era.
Despite these shortcomings, this is an important book for its sensitive portrayal of the pastoral talents and life experiences of a woman undaunted by the institutional obstructions that often blocked her spiritual and employment path.
Anne M. Butler
(Utah State University)