Within Patriarchy: Gender and Power in Massachusetts's Congregational Churches, 1630-1730
McNally, Deborah Colleen
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This dissertation explores the relationship between gender and power in the religious culture of Massachusetts's Congregational churches during the seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries. It contributes to the fields of women's history, church history, and colonial American history by complicating both the static concept of patriarchal New England society and the historiography, which largely portrays Puritan women as either saints or disorderly sinners. It addresses questions of the average Puritan woman's religious experience, something that is lacking despite the plethora of studies on Puritan culture, and demonstrates that women's place in the church was not fixed and immutable but fluid and varied geographically from congregation to congregation. This study charts the gendered dimensions of changes in church practices, such as giving public confessions of faith and worship singing, which had the effect of temporarily silencing women's voices within the meetinghouse and reveals how women and men responded to those changes. It demonstrates how despite the ambivalent nature of Puritan culture--women joined the church as full members, for example, yet the meaning of that membership was restricted-- church membership and affiliation afforded women a position of influence with their husbands, their ministers, within larger society, and with each other and that women benefited in tangible ways from church association such as during times of domestic discord and during the Salem Witchcraft Crisis. Although these women left few extant documents, church, court, and probate records, conversion narratives, ministerial diaries, sermons, and essays, and letters reveal that they acted both as independent religious agents, changing churches apart from their husbands, for example, and corporately in political solidarity, as in the case of the women of Boston Third church, even challenging the civil authorities on occasion when a church/state conflict impinged on their practice of religion. Within a decidedly patriarchal culture, women were both key participants in and patrons of their individual congregations and shapers of both their and their family's religious experience throughout the seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries.
- History