Year of Publication

2015

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Karen Petrone

Second Advisor

Dr. David Hamilton

Abstract

Church Women United incorporated in December 1941 as an interdenominational and interracial movement of liberal Protestant women committed to social reform. The one hundred organizers represented ten million Protestant women across the United States. They organized with the express purposes of helping to bring peace on Earth and to develop total equality within all humanity.

Church Women United was the bridge between the First and Second Wave of Feminism and the bridge between the Social Gospel and Social Justice Movements. Additionally they connected laterally with numerous social and religious groups across American society. As such, they exemplify the continuity and matrix of reform in American history. Because they worked to promote international peace, develop positive race relations, and advance women’s rights, their campaigns give us a model for how to rectify the social problems of today.

These women used communal prayer, politics, education, and hands-on labor to promote their ideas. They originated in collective prayer and continued this tool, but they added letter writing campaigns, public education forums, and lobbying politicians at all levels including the president to advance their goals. They held massive campaigns to collect needed items for war-torn countries and natural disaster areas as well as acting as counselors to the needy. They raised public awareness of issues facing migrant laborers, inner-city residents, Native Americans, Japanese internment detainees, and then worked hard to ameliorate the worst of these problems. They promoted literacy around the world, as well as new agricultural techniques to address human conditions that were known to lead to political and social unrest.

This dissertation covers the mid-twentieth century while being predominately focused on the years 1941-1968. This study is built upon multiple archives across the United States and oral histories of movement leaders. It is one of the first interdenominational studies focused on the work of women in social reform work. This dissertation enlarges our knowledge of feminism and social reform work.

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