Empowering Women: The Role of Irish-American Nuns in Antebellum Charleston, 1820-1860

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Hopkins, Kristin Elizabeth
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This thesis examines the pivotal roles of two orders of Irish-American women religious in Charleston between 1820 and 1860. These two groups, the Sisters of Mercy and the Ursulines, played a significant role in education, philanthropy, and social reform in the antebellum south. Building on the independence that their single status afforded them in Ireland, Irish-American nuns not only influenced the society and culture of Charleston; they also were able to transcend traditional southern gender norms. Nuns' abilities to defy normal gender standards in Charleston derived from their conscious decisions to reject marriage and to remain single, to free themselves from the attachments of material things and to live to follow God. While they were not always consciously making decisions to challenge gender norms, they deliberately existed outside of the traditional patriarchal family, even when their families wished differently, and their actions established them as educators and religious leaders. Nuns thus were able to help establish a central place in society for other women religious even as they empowered both the students that attended their schools and the entire Catholic community in Charleston.
Irish American Catholics -- History -- South Carolina -- Charleston; Nuns -- South Carolina -- Charleston; Sisters of Mercy -- South Carolina -- Charleston; Ursulines -- South Carolina -- Charleston