The library’s collections tell more than one story about religious women, both positive and negative. This exhibition focuses on several women sharing three concerns: religious struggle, voice, and social justice. The women documented here are unique and in some way representative of the many women whose records are housed here. They represent the Judaeo-Christian tradition because the collections are strongest in this area; the Schlesinger Library is seeking collections that will expand the range of faiths, denominations, and religious practices that currently constitute the religious life of American women.
From the Temperance Movement of the 19th century to the Vietnam War protest in the 20th century, women religious leaders have influenced and shaped the public discourse about social justice. Ironically, many have had to fight a personal battle for public voice and recognition in their own churches. The women featured in this exhibition have sacrificed much and gained much in their search for authority and power in the realm of religion.
This exhibition includes women who fought for suffrage, against slavery, for human rights, and against war. Perhaps most importantly, some fought for the right to be ordained, challenging the Pauline injunction for women to remain silent in churches, “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.” (Corinthians 14:34) Others took on not only gender constraints, but also race prohibitions in their churches.