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Tracing the development of social reform movements among American Catholics from 1880 to 1925, Deirdre Moloney reveals how Catholic gender ideologies, emerging middle-class values, and ethnic identities shaped the goals and activities of lay activists.
Rather than simply appropriate American reform models, ethnic Catholics (particularly Irish and German Catholics) drew extensively on European traditions as they worked to establish settlement houses, promote temperance, and aid immigrants and the poor. Catholics also differed significantly from their Protestant counterparts in defining which reform efforts were appropriate for women. For example, while women played a major role in the Protestant temperance movement beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, Catholic temperance remained primarily a male movement in America. Gradually, however, women began to carve out a significant role in Catholic charitable and reform efforts.
The first work to highlight the wide-ranging contributions of the Catholic laity to Progressive-era reform, the book shows how lay groups competed with Protestant reformers and at times even challenged members of the Catholic hierarchy. It also explores the tension that existed between the desire to demonstrate the compatibility of Catholicism with American values and the wish to preserve the distinctiveness of Catholic life.
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