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Catholic Women, Hidden Work, and Separate Spheres: The Columbian Catholic Congress of 1893

  • William S. Cossen

Abstract

In September 1893, Catholic laypeople, clergy, and prelates met at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago as the Columbian Catholic Congress to discuss their church's history and chart its course into the future. The leadership of Catholic laywomen in shaping the course of the Congress has been virtually absent in scholarship, much as it was hidden from contemporaries in the past. The act of a Catholic woman speaking among both men and women in a public space was significant, as it demonstrated an increasing assertiveness on the part of Catholic women, including those holding to a conception of gendered, separate spheres, that women had key roles to play in shaping public Catholicity and Catholics’ ideas about their own community of faith. A core group of Catholic women played a hitherto underappreciated part in bringing the Congress to life. This study therefore centers women in the history of, more narrowly, Catholicism's place at the World's Columbian Exposition and, more broadly, the Catholic public of the early Progressive Era, and demonstrates the often-invisible labor in which women engaged to develop their church's intellectual life in the early Progressive Era.

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*Corresponding author. E-mail: william.cossen@gcpsk12.org

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1 On the Chicago fair, see Trachtenberg, Alan, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age, 2nd ed. (New York: Hill & Wang, 2007), 208–34; Rydell, Robert, All the World's a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876–1916 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 3871; Cronon, William, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991), 341–69; Bederman, Gail, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880–1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 3141; Bay, Mia, To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells (New York: Hill & Wang, 2009), 151–70; White, Richard, The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 756–64.

2 On the Columbian Catholic Congress, see William S. Cossen, “The Protestant Image in the Catholic Mind: Interreligious Encounters in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era” (PhD diss., The Pennsylvania State University, 2016), 25–51.

3 On U.S. Catholics’ historical memory of Columbus and on Columbus's role in American civil religion, see Kauffman, Christopher, “Christopher Columbus and American Catholic Identity, 1880–1900,” U.S. Catholic Historian 11 (Spring 1993): 93110. On the changing images, memories, and usages of Columbus by Americans between 1792 and 1892, see Schlereth, Thomas J., “Columbia, Columbus, and Columbianism,” The Journal of American History 79 (Dec. 1992): 937–68.

4 Moloney, Deirdre M., American Catholic Lay Groups and Transatlantic Social Reform in the Progressive Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 25.

5 Kane, Paula M., Separatism and Subculture: Boston Catholicism, 1900–1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994); Cummings, Kathleen Sprows, New Women of the Old Faith: Gender and American Catholicism in the Progressive Era (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009). My thinking on women's speech in masculine spaces has been shaped by Beard, Mary, Women & Power: A Manifesto (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017).

6 McGovern, James J., The Life and Letters of Eliza Allen Starr (Chicago: The Lakeside Press, 1905), 430–31.

7 On the separate spheres ideology in history and historiography, see Welter, Barbara, “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820–1860,” American Quarterly 18 (Summer 1966): 151–74; Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll, “The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations between Women in Nineteenth-Century America,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1 (Autumn 1975): 129; Freedman, Estelle, “Separatism as Strategy: Female Institution Building and American Feminism, 1870–1930,” Feminist Studies 5 (Autumn 1979): 512–29; Faragher, John Mack, “History from the Inside-Out: Writing the History of Women in Rural America,” American Quarterly 33 (Winter 1981): 537–57; Stansell, Christine, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789–1860 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986); Kerber, Linda K., “Separate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman's Place: The Rhetoric of Women's History,” The Journal of American History 75 (June 1988): 939; Boydston, Jeanne, Home and Work: Housework, Wages, and the Ideology of Labor in the Early Republic (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990); Ginzberg, Lori D., Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics, and Class in the Nineteenth-Century United States (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990); Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher, A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785–1812 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990); Isenberg, Nancy, Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998); Boylan, Anne M., The Origins of Women's Activism: New York and Boston, 1797–1840 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002); Warren, Kim, “Separate Spheres: Analytical Persistence in United States Women's History,” History Compass 5 (Jan. 2007): 262–77; Glymph, Thavolia, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

8 My thinking on women's archival and historigraphical erasures has been informed by Faragher, “History from the Inside-Out”; Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, ed. Nelson, Cary and Grossberg, Lawrence (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 271313; Boydston, Home and Work; Trouillot, Michel-Rolph, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995); Braude, Ann, “Women's History Is American Religious History,” in Retelling U.S. Religious History, ed. Tweed, Thomas A. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 87107; Smith, Bonnie G., The Gender of History: Men, Women, and Historical Practice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001); Gordon-Reed, Annette, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009); Fuentes, Marisa J., Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016); Owens, Deirdre Cooper, Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2017).

9 Braude, “Women's History Is American Religious History,” 87, 88–92.

10 On the World's Parliament of Religions, see Hanson, J. W., ed., The World's Congress of Religions: The Addresses and Papers Delivered Before the Parliament and an Abstract of the Congresses Held in the Art Institute, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A., Aug. 25 to Oct. 15, 1893, Under the Auspices of the World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago: International Publishing Co., 1894); Feldman, Egal, “American Ecumenicism: Chicago's World's Parliament of Religions of 1893,” Journal of Church and State 9 (Spring 1967): 180–99; Cleary, James F., “Catholic Participation in the World's Parliament of Religions, Chicago, 1893,” The Catholic Historical Review 55 (Jan. 1970): 585609; Seager, Richard Hughes, The World's Parliament of Religions: The East/West Encounter, Chicago, 1893 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995); Mislin, David, Saving Faith: Making Religious Pluralism an American Value at the Dawn of the Secular Age (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015), 4062.

11 Catholic Journal (Rochester), Oct. 5, 1889, 1; “Call for a General Congress of the Catholic Laity of the United States, to be Held in the City of Baltimore, MD., Nov. 11–12, 1889,” correspondence IX-1-a 1889/09, William J. Onahan Papers [hereafter cited as ONA], University of Notre Dame Archives, Notre Dame, IN; Official Report of the Proceedings of the Catholic Congress, Held at Baltimore, Md., Nov. 11th and 12th, 1889 (Detroit: William H. Hughes, 1889).

12 Hanson, The World's Congress of Religions, 984; Official Report of the Proceedings of the Catholic Congress, ix–x.

13 “Around the Globe,” Catholic Journal, Nov. 21, 1891, 1.

14 Katherine E. Conway to William J. Onahan, July 13, 1893, correspondence IX-1-e, ONA [emphasis in original]; Leonard, Seraphine, Immortelles of Catholic Columbian Literature: Compiled from the Works of American Catholic Women Writers by the Ursulines of New York (Chicago: D. H. McBride & Company, 1897), 199. In her next letter, Conway also recommended Boston's Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, “a very wealthy Catholic of extraordinary generosity and great interest in all national Catholic events.” See Katherine E. Conway to William J. Onahan, July 14, 1893, correspondence IX-1-e, ONA. On conversion to Catholicism, see Franchot, Jenny, Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), esp. 277–349; Allitt, Patrick, Catholic Converts: British and American Intellectuals Turn to Rome (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997); Mullen, Lincoln A., The Chance of Salvation: A History of Conversion in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017), 221–69.

15 M. J. Harson to William J. Onahan, Feb. 24, 1893, correspondence IX-1-d, ONA; ; Meline, Mary M. and McSweeny, Edward F. X., The Story of the Mountain: Mount St. Mary's College and Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland (Emmitsburg, MD: The Weekly Chronicle, 1911). The author wishes to thank Philip Gleason and Charles Strauss for their assistance in learning more about Mary M. Meline.

16 Mary Theresa Elder to William J. Onahan, June 6, 1893, correspondence IX-1-e, ONA.

17 Mary Theresa Elder to William J. Onahan, Aug. 21, 1893, correspondence IX-1-f, ONA; Susan B. Elder to W. J. Onahan, Aug. 30, 1893, correspondence IX-1-f, ONA; M. T. Elder to William J. Onahan, Aug. 16, 1893, correspondence IX-1-f, ONA.

18 Anna T. Sadlier to William J. Onahan, Feb. 1893, correspondence X-1-d, ONA; Anna T. Sadlier to William J. Onahan, Aug. 11, 1893, correspondence IX-1-e, ONA; Leonard, Immortelles of Catholic Columbian Literature, 413.

19 Leonard, Immortelles of Catholic Columbian Literature, 413.

20 Leonora M. Lake to William J. Onahan, Aug. 1893, correspondence IX-1-e, ONA; Levine, Susan, “Labor's True Woman: Domesticity and Equal Rights in the Knights of Labor,” The Journal of American History 70 (Sept. 1983): 331–35.

21 Isabel Shea to William J. Onahan, Jan. 18, 1893, correspondence IX-1-d, ONA; Anna T. Sadlier to William J. Onahan, July 2, 1893, correspondence IX-1-e, ONA.

22 Isabel Shea to Mr. William J. Onahan, Jan. 11, 1893, correspondence IX-1-d, ONA.

23 Smith, The Gender of History.

24 F. M. Edselas to William J. Onahan, June 29, 1893, correspondence IX-1-e, ONA [emphasis in original]; Leonard, Immortelles of Catholic Columbian Literature, 180–81.

25 F. M. Edselas to William J. Onahan, June 22, 1893, correspondence IX-1-e, ONA.

26 F. M. Edselas to William J. Onahan, Aug. 21, 1893, correspondence IX-1-f, ONA [emphasis in original].

27 F. M. Edselas to William J. Onahan, June 23, 1893, correspondence IX-1-e, ONA [emphases in original].

28 Barrows, John Henry, The World's Parliament of Religions: An Illustrated and Popular Story of the World's First Parliament of Religions, Held in Chicago in Connection with the Columbian Exposition of 1893, vol. 2 (Chicago: The Parliament Publishing Company, 1893), 1,410, 1,414.

29 Mary Theresa Elder to William J. Onahan, Sept. 18, 1893, correspondence IX-1-f, ONA[emphasis in original].

30 Mary Theresa Elder to William J. Onahan, Aug. 1893 [no day on letter], correspondence IX-1-e, ONA [emphasis in original]; Susan B. Elder to W. J. Onahan, Aug. 30, 1893.

31 Mary Theresa Elder to William J. Onahan, Sept. 18, 1893, correspondence IX-1-f, ONA [emphasis in original]; Mary Theresa E. to William J. Onahan, July 17, 1893, correspondence IX-1-e, ONA [on Elder's health].

32 Elder to Onahan, June 6, 1893.

33 On Vatican I and ultramontanism, see O'Malley, John W., Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2018). On the nineteenth-century power struggle between American bishops and laypeople, see Carey, Patrick W., People, Priests, and Prelates: Ecclesiastical Democracy and the Tensions of Trusteeism (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1987); Dolan, Jay P., The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992), 158–94, 221–40; Dolan, Jay P., In Search of an American Catholicism: A History of Religion and Culture in Tension (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 4770.

34 Mary Theresa Elder to William J. Onahan, July 13, 1893, correspondence IX-1-e, ONA.

35 “Catharine Cole's Columbian Correspondence,” Daily Picayune (New Orleans), Oct. 1, 1893, 7.

36 Elder to Onahan, July 17, 1893.

37 Welter, “The Cult of True Womanhood”; Cummings, New Women of the Old Faith.

38 Elder to Onahan, June 6, 1893.

39 Turner, Frederick Jackson, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” in Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 1893 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1894), 197227.

40 Painter, Nell Irvin, Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877–1919 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008), 231.

41 Muncy, Robyn, Creating a Female Dominion in American Reform, 1890–1935 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), xiii.

42 On Conway and disagreements among Catholics on women's roles in the church and at the Congress, see Moloney, American Catholic Lay Groups, 23–26.

43 Katherine E. Conway to William J. Onahan, 1893, correspondence IX-1-d, ONA.

44 Schechter, Patricia A., Ida B. Wells-Barnett and American Reform, 1880–1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 9497; Bay, To Tell the Truth Freely, 158–69.

45 Katherine E. Conway to William J. Onahan, July 7, 1893, correspondence, IX-1-e, ONA [emphasis in original].

46 Katherine E. Conway to William J. Onahan, July 11, 1893, correspondence IX-1-e, ONA.

47 Katherine E. Conway to William J. Onahan, Apr. 5, 1893, correspondence IX-1-d, ONA.

48 Conway to Onahan, July 7, 1893 [emphases in original].

49 Katherine E. Conway to William J. Onahan, Feb. 12, 1893, correspondence IX-1-d, ONA.

50 Hecker, I. T. [Isaac Thomas], The Church and the Age: An Exposition of the Catholic Church in View of the Needs and Aspirations of the Present Age (New York: Office of the Catholic World, 1887), 177.

51 Katherine E. Conway to William J. Onahan, Feb. 12, 1893 [emphasis in original]; Katherine E. Conway to William J. Onahan, July 25, 1893, correspondence IX-1-e, ONA.

52 Katherine E. Conway to William J. Onahan, Feb. 19, 1893, correspondence IX-1-d, ONA.

53 Katherine E. Conway to William J. Onahan, May 10, 1893, correspondence IX-1-d, ONA.

54 Hanson, The World's Congress of Religions, 998; Leonard, Immortelles of Catholic Columbian Literature, 433.

55 Patrick W. Riordan to William J. Onahan, Feb. 18, 1893 [year corrected from 1892 by archivist; “1892” was preprinted on Riordan's stationery and was likely used in error on this letter], correspondence IX-1-d, ONA.

56 Conway to Onahan, July 7, 1893 [emphasis in original].

57 Katherine E. Conway to William J. Onahan, June 30, 1893, correspondence IX-1-e, ONA; Conway to Onahan, Feb. 19, 1893.

58 Conway to Onahan, July 7, 1893.

59 Progress of the Catholic Church in America and the Great Columbian Catholic Congress of 1893, vol. 2: World's Columbian Catholic Congresses, 6th ed. (Chicago: J. S. Hyland and Company, 1897), 28–33, 106–11, 183–85.

60 Katherine E. Conway to William J. Onahan, July 12, 1893, correspondence IX-1-e, ONA.

61 Rose Hawthorne Lathrop to William J. Onahan, July 21, 1893, correspondence IX-1-e, ONA.

62 Conway to Onahan, June 30, 1893.

63 Progress of the Catholic Church, 82–83; Hanson, The World's Congress of Religions, 1,015–16.

64 Leonard, Immortelles of Catholic Columbian Literature, 440.

65 Rose H. Lathrop to William J. Onahan, Mar. 25, 1893, correspondence IX-1-d, ONA.

66 James M. Cleary to William J. Onahan, Feb. 17, 1893, correspondence IX-1-d, ONA; Rodgers, Daniel T., Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998), 19; Leonard, Immortelles of Catholic Columbian Literature, 199; Moloney, American Catholic Lay Groups, 24. Jackson Lears also notes that mainly Protestant women reformers of the Progressive Era “were inspired by a belief that they could use the values associated with woman's sphere (the bourgeois home) to transform the public realm—to ‘make the world more Homelike,’ in [Frances] Willard's phrase.” See Lears, , Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877–1920 (New York: Harper Perennial, 2009), 198.

67 James M. Cleary to William J. Onahan, Aug. 26, 1893, correspondence IX-1-f, ONA.

68 Rose Hawthorne Lathrop to William J. Onahan, Feb. 21, 1893, correspondence IX-1-d, ONA.

69 Rose H. Lathrop to William J. Onahan, Aug. 27, 1893, correspondence IX-1-f, ONA; G.P. Lathrop to William J. Onahan, Aug. 28, 1893, correspondence IX-1-f, ONA.

70 Rose H. Lathrop to William J. Onahan, Aug. 24, 1893, correspondence IX-1-f, ONA. Lathrop's husband, George (The Atlantic's editor), mentioned to Onahan a month before the Congress that domestic affairs—namely, establishing a new home—played a role in her inability to attend. The same factor caused George to express concern about his ability to present a paper at the Congress. See George P. Lathrop to William J. Onahan, Aug. 5, 1893, correspondence IX-1-e, ONA; Leonard, Immortelles of Catholic Columbian Literature, 440. Rose wrote previously to Onahan to regret her paper's delay, which was caused by her family's “change in residence.” This “crowded all [her] work very much.” See Rose H. Lathrop to Onahan, July 21, 1893.

71 Rose H. Lathrop to William J. Onahan, Sept. 2, 1893, correspondence, IX-1-f, ONA [emphasis in original].

72 Valenti, Patricia Dunlavy, To Myself a Stranger: A Biography of Rose Hawthorne Lathrop (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991), 53, 120.

73 Boydston, Home and Work; Ginzberg, Women and the Work of Benevolence; Beckert, Sven, The Monied Metropolis: New York City and the Consolidation of the American Bourgeoisie, 1850–1896 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Isenberg, Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America; Boylan, The Origins of Women's Activism.

74 Valenti, To Myself a Stranger, 100–01.

75 Flanagan, Maureen, America Reformed: Progressives and Progressivisms, 1890s–1920s (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 35.

76 Valenti, To Myself a Stranger, 126–31.

77 Alice Timmons Toomy, “There is a Public Sphere for Catholic Women,” in Alice Timmons Toomy, Eleanor C. Donnelly, and Katherine E. Conway, “The Woman Question Among Catholics: A Round Table Conference,” Catholic World (New York), Aug. 1893, 674; Toomy, Donnelly, and Conway, “The Woman Question Among Catholics,” 671.

78 Toomy, “There is a Public Sphere for Catholic Women,” 676.

79 Katherine E. Conway, “Woman Has No Vocation to Public Life,” in Toomy, Donnelly, and Conway, “The Woman Question Among Catholics,” 681, 682, 683.

80 Cummings, New Women of the Old Faith, 3, 4.

81 Freedman, “Separatism as Strategy”; Faragher, “History from the Inside-Out”; Ginzberg, Women and the Work of Benevolence; Isenberg, Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America.

82 “Columbian Catholic Congress,” World (New York), Sept. 4, 1893, 4; Moloney, American Catholic Lay Groups, 25.

83 Beard, Women & Power, 22.

84 Progress of the Catholic Church, 28, 33.

85 Progress of the Catholic Church, 41–42; “Columbian Catholic Congress,” World, Sept. 4, 1893, 4.

86 Progress of the Catholic Church, 72.

87 Leonard, Immortelles of Catholic Columbian Literature, 180, 181.

88 Progress of the Catholic Church, 78–87; “The Columbian Catholic Congress,” Donahoe's Magazine (Boston), Oct. 1893, 377; Hanson, The World's Congress of Religions, 1,015–16, 1,021; Leonard, Immortelles of Catholic Columbian Literature, 45–46, 151; Eleanor C. Donnelly, “The Personality of a Favorite Poet,” Catholic World, Mar. 1897, 772–76; Thomas M. Schwertner, “Eleanor Donnelly—The Singer of Pure Religion” Catholic World, June 1917, 352–60. Boston's Sacred Heart Review reported a month before the event, “A special session of the Congress will be devoted to papers on the work of woman in the Church and in the world. The writers are well-known Catholic women.” See “The Catholic Congress,” Sacred Heart Review, Aug. 12, 1893, 16. Donnelly's paper was actually delivered by a substitute speaker because, on the second day of the Congress, she lost her voice due to “a severe bronchial attack.” See P. C. Donnelly to William. J. Onahan, Sept. 5, 1893, correspondence IX-1-f, ONA.

89 Progress of the Catholic Church, 84–85.

90 Progress of the Catholic Church, 111.

91 Hanson, The World's Congress of Religions, 1,014; Progress of the Catholic Church, 179–83.

92 “A Paper Which Made a Sensation,” Daily Charlotte (NC) Observer, Sept. 9, 1893, 3; “The Catholic Congress,” Irish American Weekly (New York), Sept. 16, 1893, 2.

93 P. C. Boyle to William J. Onahan, Oct. 8, 1893, correspondence IX-1-f, ONA.

94 “The Columbian Catholic Congress,” Donahoe's Magazine, Oct. 1893, 374, 375.

95 “Editorial Notes,” Sacred Heart Review, Sept. 23, 1893, 8.

96 “Mr. M. T. Elder Again,” Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago), Jan. 1, 1894, 12.

97 “Editorial Notes,” Sacred Heart Review, Sept. 9, 1893, 8.

98 Hanson, The World's Congress of Religions, 1,021.

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Catholic Women, Hidden Work, and Separate Spheres: The Columbian Catholic Congress of 1893

  • William S. Cossen

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