A topic I’m eager to explore in more depth is the built environment of religion on women’s college campuses — connecting threads I’ve pursued since my second year of graduate school, when I wrote pages and pages on the intersection of labor, education, and gender at Mary Lyon’s Mount Holyoke Female Seminary for my religion and history classes while researching a seminar paper on Mundelein, Chicago’s “skyscraper college” for Catholic women.
As I work with the Bryn Mawr College Archives, and on the project team developing College Women: Documenting the History of Women in Higher Education (collegewomen.org) I often think of the questions that many of my students have raised about the role of religion in their college lives, and the ways in which religious and interfaith spaces on college campuses have developed.
While much of my work at Bryn Mawr moves my research on Catholic women and girls into the larger world of women’s education history — with a particular focus on the Seven Sisters colleges — this week I’ve been enjoying a return to my American religious history roots. With #PopeinPhilly just a few days away, I’ve been tweeting glimpses of the Catholic public culture I’ve been seeing around town (while carrying my Pope Tote, of course) and following Philadelphia-area colleagues who are using the occasion of the Papal Visit in their college classes.
As the trailer teases, “Urban Trinity” is a terrific film, and I’m proud to have had a (very small) part in its making! I’ll update this space when the film and additional educational materials go online, but if you’re in Philadelphia’s 6ABC viewing area, the first two parts will air tonight, Tuesday, September 22, at 7pm (and the third on Sunday, September 27 at midnight) before a sold-out World Premiere at the World Meeting of Families film festival Wednesday, September 23. For more information, visit the Urban Trinity website here, or follow the latest news from the production team on Facebook.
Yesterday, Lincoln Mullen‘s tweets (and some great responses) about sources for the study of “U.S. children’s religion” got me thinking about the ways in which the projects I’m working on increasingly flirt with the small but growing literature on religion and childhood.
Certainly, for the middle-class Catholics I study, providing children with new, distinctively “American Catholic” reading materials was the impetus for a wide range of new publishing ventures in the 1870s and 1880s. [Some readers will note this is also the era of the Baltimore catechism, published in 1885.] Right now I’m writing on Isaac Hecker’s lesser-known labor of love, The Young Catholic, a monthly paper for children founded in 1870, and edited by his sister-in-law, Josephine Hecker. Yes, that’s her here, documented in a 1957 issue of the Catholic comic book series, Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact (digitized by the CUA Archives).**
The Young Catholic provided children in Catholic academies and Sunday schools with games, stories, and the chance to see their names in print — all under the warm, loving guise of a fictional editorial family: columnists “Uncle Ned,” “Aunt Jane,” and a host of “cousins” meant to be understood by readers as running the show (and providing Josephine Hecker relative anonymity). But back to Twitter. Lincoln made a good point point — we talk about children in terms of education, but how are they understanding religion? How do they participate in the making of their own religious subjectivity?
I don’t have the answers to these questions yet, of course, but the other reason I’ve been thinking about childhood lately is a conference paper I put together for the upcoming University of Chicago conference “Invisible Designs: New Perspectives on Race and American Consumer Capitalism.” Thanks to a cache of found photography and a personal interest in midcentury Nuyorican memoirs, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the visual and religious worlds of Puerto Rican Catholics in twentieth-century New York. At the conference, I’ll be speaking about First Holy Communion portrait photography, and the intersection of religious and commercial impulses in El Barrio. And now that the Archives of the Archdiocese of New York is back open to the public, this conference paper may spin itself into an article…someday. I have a dissertation to finish, after all!