Women and Gender Seminar: Marcia Chatelain, Georgetown University, and Marcia Walker, University of Chicago

Center for American History and Culture Programs
Women and Gender Seminar
Friday, February 24, 2012

3:00 pm to 5:00 pm

Room 101

Religion, Feminism, and Beauty Culture in Black Chicago

“‘Modesty on Her Cheek’: The Moorish Science Temple, African- American Girls and Great Migration Beauty Culture”
Marcia Chatelain, Georgetown University

This paper discusses the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) movement during the Great Migration era and its distinct beauty industries.  The MSTA emerged in the 1910s, as a Black supremacist, nationalist religion, which preached economic self-determination and some tenets of Islam before the rise of Chicago’s Nation of Islam and Black Muslim movement.  My research focuses on Moorish conceptions of female sexuality and purity, the religion’s ideas on beauty, and the Temple’s manufacturing and marketing of women’s beauty products.  Although Moorish Science considered vanity a violation, they still allowed and encouraged girls and young women to indulge in their beauty products.  The Moorish beauty industry proved profitable inside and outside of the Temple and provided employment for Moorish women away from the racially discriminatory practices of other businesses in the city.  I engage questions of Blacks and Orientalism, Black women’s bodies in nationalist public culture and the marketing of ‘exotic’ beauty to Black women.  Using a close reading of the Temple’s Circle Seven Koran, advertisements for Moorish beauty aids in Moorish and mainstream newspapers, and accounts of the sexual culture (and many scandals) of the Temple, this paper examines how the Temple created a sometimes contradictory and multi-tiered beauty culture of its own in the center of Chicago’s thriving market for Black women’s cosmetics and hair products

“To be Black, Christian and Feminist: Rev. Addie Wyatt, the Women’s Movement and the formation of a Progressive Faith Politic”
Marcia Walker, University of Chicago

Perhaps best known as a labor leader in the United Packinghouse Workers of America and its successor unions, as a firebrand civil rights activist, or as a founding member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women and proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment, Addie Wyatt is less known as an ordained minister in the Church of God.  In high demand throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Rev. Wyatt addressed congregations across the nation on the rights and responsibilities of women in the church and in society—as workers, wives, mothers, voters, and leaders.  This paper analyzes the ways in which Rev. Addie Wyatt opened up religious spaces and engaged feminist, racial, and religious conceptualizations of justice and fairness in an attempt to bridge sacred and secular through the language of equality.  Through sermons, speeches, articles and correspondence with congregations, Rev. Wyatt’s theology of equality and progressive faith politic offered an alternative to conservative religious and anti-feminist readings of the Bible and interpretations of Christianity during the height of the women’s movement and the rise of liberation theology in the United States. 

Commentator: Kevin Mumford, University of Iowa

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically.  For a copy of the paper, e-mail the Scholl Center at scholl@newberry.org.  Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.