"That crisis served to try women's hearts": Nuns and the Protection of Irish Catholicism in Philadelphia and Boston, 1829-1900 Open Access

Stillmun, Shannon Augusta (2016)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/9p290986k?locale=en


Over the course of the nineteenth-century, many Catholic institutions were founded in the cities of Philadelphia and Boston. These institutions, including convents and orphan asylums, served the purpose of fighting against vehement anti-Catholic and anti-Irish violence in the American mainstream. Catholic women who felt called to a life of service to God and seeking to devote their lives to good works could join a convent, a community of Catholic religious women. Convents drew in thousands of women in the United States over the course of the nineteenth century. Nuns staffed Catholic schools, hospitals, and orphan asylums. In their capacity as caretakers nuns protected children against the violence of anti-Catholic, nativist outrage, outrage which often utilized rhetoric that victimized these very women and in doing so helped preserve Catholicism in America. This paper will portray the climate of hostility that existed in the cities of Boston and Philadelphia toward immigrants of Catholic and specifically Irish-Catholic descent. I will place women religious at the center of that conflict both as objects appropriated to suit anti-Catholic narratives and as actors uniquely situated to combat that anti-Catholicism. Lastly, I hope to provide concrete examples of how nuns protected and propagated the physical and spiritual well-being of America's Catholic population by raising, educating, and safeguarding the children of those cities.

Table of Contents

Introduction - 1

Nativism and the Problem Irish - 4

Women, Faith, and Reform - 14

Recreating Culture in Catholic Orphanages - 31

Bibliography - 41

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