The Valiant Woman

The Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century American Culture

By Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez

256 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 14 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2741-0
    Published: April 2016
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-2742-7
    Published: February 2016

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Nineteenth-century America was rife with Protestant-fueled anti-Catholicism. Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez reveals how Protestants nevertheless became surprisingly and deeply fascinated with the Virgin Mary, even as her role as a devotional figure who united Catholics grew. Documenting the vivid Marian imagery that suffused popular visual and literary culture, Alvarez argues that Mary became a potent, shared exemplar of Christian womanhood around which Christians of all stripes rallied during an era filled with anxiety about the emerging market economy and shifting gender roles.

From a range of diverse sources, including the writings of Anna Jameson, Anna Dorsey, and Alexander Stewart Walsh and magazines such as The Ladies' Repository and Harper's, Alvarez demonstrates that Mary was represented as pure and powerful, compassionate and transcendent, maternal and yet remote. Blending romantic views of motherhood and female purity, the virgin mother's image enamored Protestants as a paragon of the era's cult of true womanhood, and even many Catholics could imagine the Queen of Heaven as the Queen of the Home. Sometimes, Marian imagery unexpectedly seemed to challenge domestic expectations of womanhood. On a broader level, The Valiant Woman contributes to understanding lived religion in America and the ways it borrows across supposedly sharp theological divides.

About the Author

Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez is assistant professor of religion at Temple University.
For more information about Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez, visit the Author Page.


“A well-researched exploration of America's widespread interest in the Virgin Mary between the Immaculate Conception declaration of 1854 and its semicentennial in 1904. . . . Convincingly argues that Americans of the period, Protestant and Catholic alike, understood Mary as an exemplar of both woman- and motherhood.”--Library Journal

“Alvarez argues that during the 19th century, the figure of Mary was significant in US culture: irrespective of her theological and devotional significance, understanding of Mary profoundly shaped ideas of the role[s] of women in society. Recommended.”--Choice

“A remarkable new book. . . . Draws on a wide range of historical contexts, literary sources, art criticism and theology.”--National Catholic Reporter

“An important contribution to American religious and cultural history, and it reminds us that the history of nineteenth-century Protestant-Catholic relations is more complex than mere rivalry and apathy.”--Journal of American History

“A fascinating history in American culture brought to renewed life”---American Historical Review

“A fascinating account of the Virgin Mary in nineteenth-century American popular culture.”--Reading Religion

Multimedia & Links

Follow the author on Twitter @hayesalvarez.

Read: Alvarez writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Fostering Open Communication in a Culturally Diverse Classroom." (9/18/2016)