The Laywoman Project

Remaking Catholic Womanhood in the Vatican II Era

The Laywoman Project

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

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5449-2
    Published: February 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5448-5
    Published: February 2020

Paperback Available February 2020, but pre-order your copy today!

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Summoning everyday Catholic laywomen to the forefront of twentieth-century Catholic history, Mary J. Henold considers how these committed parishioners experienced their religion in the wake of Vatican II (1962–1965). This era saw major changes within the heavily patriarchal religious faith—at the same time as an American feminist revolution caught fire. Who was the Catholic woman for a new era? Henold uncovers a vast archive of writing, both intimate and public facing, by hundreds of rank-and-file American laywomen active in national laywomen’s groups, including the National Council of Catholic Women, the Catholic Daughters of America, and the Daughters of Isabella. These records evoke a formative period when laywomen played publicly with a surprising variety of ideas about their own position in the Catholic Church.

While marginalized near the bottom of the church hierarchy, laywomen quietly but purposefully engaged both their religious and gender roles as changing circumstances called them into question. Some eventually chose feminism while others rejected it, but most, Henold says, crafted a middle position: even conservative, nonfeminist laywomen came to reject the idea that the church could adapt to the modern world while keeping women’s status frozen in amber.

About the Author

Mary J. Henold, John R. Turbyfill Professor of History at Roanoke College, is the author of Catholic and Feminist: The Surprising History of the American Catholic Feminist Movement.
For more information about Mary J. Henold, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

“Why did some Catholic women embrace feminism while others tried to conserve traditional church dogma about women’s complementary role to men? This beautifully written book tells a new story about how Catholic laywomen reinvented themselves—or not—in light of both internal religious pressures and external sociocultural changes of the latter half of the twentieth century. The Laywoman Project—an apt way to describe what happened during these years of change—shines a spotlight on the one segment of the Catholic population, more than half of its membership, that as yet has received less attention than bishops, clergy, and prominent laymen.”—Paula M. Kane, University of Pittsburgh

“Important and timely, this history of American Catholic laywomen breaks new ground, providing a unique perspective on women’s experiences within the church. Henold gracefully demonstrates how laywomen—a population whose national presence and sheer size alone make them deserving of study—negotiated the dual transformations unleashed by the Second Vatican Council and the women’s rights movement.”—Thomas F. Rzeznik, Seton Hall University