Feminism and the Catholic Community

The Catholic press, and the Catholic community at large, were not receptive to feminism. Although many female suffrage activists were sympathetic to the plight of immigrant women, Irish women for the most part did not take part in the suffrage movement, which the Irish community regarded -- like most other reform movements, from temperance to abolition -- as a Protestant endeavor. The exception to the general Irish antipathy to progressive movements was the Labor struggle, of which Irish women were actually leaders (Diner, 150).

Historian Hasia Diner notes the apparent contradiction in so many Irish Catholic women's lives: they often migrated to America alone, were economically independent and more likely than their Protestant counterparts to delay or forego marriage, yet scorned feminism. For Irish women, ethnicity nearly always superseded gender loyalty. Opposed to a largely Protestant society, one in which Protestants were often their employers, Irish women usually clung to their ethnicity as a way to differentiate themselves from mainstream society (Diner, 139). Irish women who favored suffrage would have gotten much resistance within their community, as Irish men were vociferously opposed to it. A leading Catholic newspaper, The Irish World, condemned feminism as anti-Catholic, suggesting that any Irish woman who supported it was a traitor to her people:

In this century of revolutions, not only political but social, when women of almost all nationalities were to be found in the pulpit and on the rostrum howling for imaginary rights which once obtained must necessarily degrade the sex and deprive them of that God-like influence which they now possess over their husbands and brothers, be it to the eternal praise of noble Irish women, recorded, that not a single instance can be found, where she has so far forgotten her native dignity -- so far forgotten her native modesty as to put herself forward as a champion of a movement. --- Diner, 139

In Old and New; or, Taste Versus Fashion, Sadlier draws a parody of the Protestant women who campaigned door-to-door for suffrage, whom she associates with other Protestant reformers who often mixed preaching with charity or "reform," in Sadlier's eyes. Sadlier scornfully names one of the proselytizers after the British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Feminism, as a largely Protestant and British movement, may have been unpalatable to nationalistic Irish accustomed to regard them as the oppressor.


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