Women, Religion, and Social Change in Chicago and the Midwest | Newberry

Women, Religion, and Social Change in Chicago and the Midwest

Mercy Hospital

Built in Chicago in 1864 by the Sisters of Mercy, Mercy Hospital become one of the city’s most prominent.

A Symposium with Wallace Best, Rachel Bohlmann, Mary Beth Connolly, Karla Goldman, and Ann Durkin Keating
Saturday, April 21, 2018

9 am to 1 pm

Ruggles Hall

Free and open to the public. Registration required.
Open to the Public

The panel will explore connections between religious practice and social activism in the lives of Midwestern women and their communities, focusing on Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish traditions of the 19th and 20th centuries.


9 to 9:30 am: Coffee

9:30-9:55 am: Introduction by Ann Durkin Keating

9:55-10:20 am: Mary Beth Fraser Connolly,“’Souls are Trained and Prepared for the Other’: The Mercy Charism and Catholic Female Education in Chicago, 1840s-1940s, A Comparative Study”

Dr. Connolly will compare the education ministry of the Sisters of Mercy in the second half of the nineteenth century to that of the first half of the twentieth century. In the formative years of the nineteenth century, the Mercys offered affordable parish school education as well as pension or academy schools for paying students. This ministry evolved in the twentieth century to reach even more parish school children and two high schools and a college for women. Countless young women were formed by Mercy education amidst a changing church in the decades prior to Vatican II. This presentation comes out of Fraser Connolly’s research for her book-long study of the history of Sisters of Mercy Chicago Regional Community from 1846 to 2008, Women of Faith: The Chicago Sisters of Mercy and the Evolution of a Religious Community.

10:20-10:45 am: Rachel Bohlmann, “Frances Willard and Gospel Temperance Politics in Illinois during the Gilded Age”

The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in Chicago and in Illinois used gospel temperance meetings-revival-type services that ended in dramatic and very public temperance pledge signing-to advance their political reforms. The women offered a gospel message of forgiveness while insisting that their male converts pledge their public support for the women’s temperance reforms. Willard and her fellow reformers used these commitments to claim new rights for women and for changes in political and family culture.

10:45-11 am: Break

11-11:25 am: Karla Goldman, “With a Capital ‘J’ and a Capital ‘W’: The Emergence of Chicago Jewish Women in the Work of Political, Religious, and Social Reform”

Dr. Goldman will explore the emergence of Chicago Jewish women into public roles within American Judaism and the city of Chicago. As leaders in the creation of the first national Jewish women’s organization, Chicago Jewish women in the 1890s opened the first channels for on-going public activism and identities for Jewish women across the United States. As advocates for progressive reform in Chicago, Jewish women helped to transform the city in matters ranging from the provision of public health measures for school children to the creation of public beaches for the city as a whole.

11:25-11:50 am: Wallace Best, “Woman’s Work, An Urban World: Black Women Preachers in Chicago during the Great Migration”

Paper description will be added soon.

11:50 am-12:30 pm: Panel Discussion

12:30-1 pm: Q&A

Moderated by Ann Durkin Keating

Download a PDF flyer for this event to post and distribute.

Wallace Best is the author of Passionately Human, No Less Divine: Religion and Culture in Black Chicago, 1915-1952 and Langston’s Salvation: American Religion and the Bard of Harlem. He is currently at work on an anthology titled Elder Lucy Smith: Documents from the Life of a Pentecostal Woman Preacher.

Rachel Bohlmann is the American History Librarian at the University of Notre Dame. She holds a PhD in history from the University of Iowa.

Mary Beth Fraser Connolly is Continuing Lecturer in History and Concurrent Enrollment Program Liaison for History and Political Science at Purdue University Northwest. She is a historian of American women and religion with a particular interest in Catholic women religious.

Ann Durkin Keating, a historian of urban and suburban studies, teaches broadly in U.S. history at North Central College. She was co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Chicago (University of Chicago Press, 2004), a print and online project.

Karla Goldman is the Sol Drachler Professor of Social Work and Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan where she directs the Jewish Communal Leadership. Her research focuses on how American Jewish experience reflects the social, gender, class, racial, and political identities available within broader American contexts like cities, social movements, and universities.

This program bridges two major interdisciplinary projects at the Newberry, Religious Change, 1450-1700 and What is the Midwest? The projects are generously supported by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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Excuse our dust!!!

Beginning January 2018 the Newberry is undertaking renovation of much of the ground floor. Ruggles Hall will not be affected, but please check this link frequently for the latest conditions - which exterior doors are open or closed, where to find an accessible entrance, which restrooms are available, etc.

Cost and Registration Information 

Free and open to the public, but registration is required. Register online using this form by 4 pm Friday, April 20.

Doors open half an hour before the program begins, with first-come, first-served seating for registered attendees. If seats remain available, non-registered individuals will be permitted to enter about ten minutes before the event’s start. Questions? Contact us at publicprograms@newberry.org or 312-255-3610.