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A Colloquium on Kathleen Sprows Cummings’s New Women of the Old Faith: Gender and American Catholicism in the Progressive Era

Oct 19 2009 4:30pm
University of Chicago
5801 S Ellis Ave
Chicago, IL 60637
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Kathleen Neils Conzen

University of Chicago

Catherine Brekus

Harvard Divinity School

Kathleen Sprows Cummings

University of Notre Dame

American Catholic women rarely surface as protagonists in histories of the United States. Offering a new perspective, Kathleen Sprows Cummings places Catholic women at the forefront of two defining developments of the Progressive Era: the emergence of the “New Woman” and Catholics’ struggle to define their place in American culture. Cummings highlights four women: Chicago-based journalist Margaret Buchanan Sullivan; Sister Julia McGroarty, SND, founder of Trinity College in Washington, D.C., one of the first Catholic women’s colleges; Philadelphia educator Sister Assisium McEvoy, SSJ; and Katherine Eleanor Conway, a Boston editor, public figure, and antisuffragist. Cummings uses each woman’s story to explore how debates over Catholic identity were intertwined with the renegotiation of American gender roles. By examining female power within Catholic religious communities and organizations, she challenges the widespread assumption that women who were faithful members of a patriarchal church were incapable of pathbreaking work on behalf of women.

Kathleen Neils Conzen is the Thomas E. Donnelley Professor of American History and the College at the University of Chicago. Conzen’s research and teaching focus on the social and political history of the United States in the 19th century, with a special interest in issues of immigration, ethnicity, religion, western settlement, and urban development.


Catherine Brekus is Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America at Harvard Divinity School and in the Department of American Studies. She graduated from Harvard University with a BA in the history and literature of England and America, and she holds a PhD in American Studies from Yale University. Before coming to Harvard she taught at the University of Chicago Divinity School, where she was Professor of the History of Christianity and Religions in America. She was also an Associate Member of the University of Chicago's Department of History and an affiliate of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality.


Kathleen Sprows Cummings is an assistant professor of American Studies and the Associate Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism. Her research interests center onthe study of American religion, with a particular focus in the history of gender and Catholicism.