Protestant Women between the Times: Ecumenism, Activism, and Feminism, 1920-1970
Historical accounts often treat the mid-twentieth century as a hiatus, a waiting period for the rise of 1960s-style feminism. In reality, especially for mainline Protestant women, those decades were pivotal. While traditional missionary fundraising faltered, mainline Protestant women took on an ever-widening array of causes, from human rights and pacifism to interracial understanding. Taken together these efforts reflect a particular understanding of ecumenism, centered on an ethic of female solidarity and a deep knowledge of institutions, how they work and how to change them. This paper analyzes these developments through a particular lens, the introduction of the term “churchwoman.” In organizations like United Church Women, formed in 1941, it came to define women’s religious activism in the post-suffrage era, institutionally savvy and articulate—and explicitly not feminist. In fact, the final burden of this paper is to explain the complex relationship between the feminist theologians and activists of the 1960s and 1970s and the churchwomen who preceded them.
Respondent: Barbara Dobschuetz