Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 2000;
M.A., University of Pennsylvania, 1996;
B.A., Trinity University, 1994.
From very early on, the historical questions that have interested me involved women, especially how women organized their worlds, where they found agency and how the culture around them affected their social visions. I was trained as a European historian, and primarily a historian of French history and women's history, but my horizons expanded with my first book, where I explored ideas of childhood, education, and individuality as well. I used all of these histories to explore how French culture, especially the rhetoric of nurturing domesticity, shaped eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women's lives. I wondered especially how women who embraced the new domestic ideal as it came to prominence in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries could believe that they were doing something that would change their world for the better.
My current research takes the same ideas of agency, activism, and affectionate domesticity and moves them forward in time and emphasis, exploring how French women of the later nineteenth century took the idea of a woman's "natural" ability to nurture and create and applied it to their spiritual lives. In particular, I investigate how these ideals affected ideas about women's vocation, new devotional practices, hagiography, and the work of women religious. After all, new forms of biological determinism accompanied the advance of the domestic ideal, and many of the central arguments in favor of maternity as a woman's natural destiny grew out of religious language. According to preachers and religious reformers, women who were active in public life, including celibate nuns, had abandoned their vocation from God, that of domestic motherhood. And yet, the same period also saw an explosion in the creation of public societies for women, including a boom in religious orders that were not only active in the world, but also missionary in nature. Given that nurturing motherhood came to be seen as a woman's only real destiny in many circles of nineteenth-century thought, it is curious that the same period saw numerous individual women and female organizations which downplayed the importance of physical maternity and believed women called to create feminine public institutions and activities. An examination of these documents will thus demonstrate how modern discourses about religion, gender, and public activity intersected with assumptions about maternity and private life.
Honors and Fellowships:
Essays in Edited Volumes