The Valiant Woman

The Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century American Culture

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Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez
  • Chapel Hill, NC: 
    The University of North Carolina Press
    , April
     256 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.
Review coming soon!

Review by Mary-Joan Leith forthcoming.


Nineteenth-century America was rife with Protestant-fueled anti-Catholicism. This book reveals how Protestants nevertheless became surprisingly and deeply fascinated with the Virgin Mary, even as her role as a devotional figure who united Catholics grew. Documenting the vivid Marian imagery that suffused popular visual and literary culture, the book argues that Mary became a potent, shared exemplar of Christian womanhood around which Christians of all stripes rallied during an era filled with anxiety about the emerging market economy and shifting gender roles. A range of diverse sources, including the writings of Anna Jameson, Anna Dorsey, and Alexander Stewart Walsh and magazines such as The Ladies’ Repository and Harper’s, reveal that Mary was represented as pure and powerful, compassionate and transcendent, maternal and yet remote. Blending romantic views of motherhood and female purity, the virgin mother’s image enamored Protestants as a paragon of the era’s cult of true womanhood, and even many Catholics could imagine the Queen of Heaven as the Queen of Home. Sometimes, Marian imagery unexpectedly seemed to challenge domestic expectations of womanhood. On a broader level, the book contributes to understanding lived religion in America and the ways it borrows across supposedly sharp theological divides.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez’s research and teaching interests include American religious history, religion and gender, and cultural studies. She received her Ph.D. in History of Christianity from the University of Chicago, Divinity School. Her book, The Valiant Woman: The Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century American Culture, explores Marian imagery and the female ideal in American popular culture. She’s at work on various projects including an edited reader entitled Religion in Philadelphia (Temple Press) and a new book examining gendered rhetoric in anti-Catholic propaganda. She teaches in the Department of Religion and the Intellectual Heritage Program at Temple University.

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