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Gender, Marriage, and Sexual Purity in American Religious History

Summary and Keywords

Throughout American history, religious people and groups have developed, sustained, or challenged cultural norms around gender, marriage, and sexual purity. Beginning with the earliest English Protestant settlers in the 17th century, American Christians have devoted consistent attention to the proper roles of men and women, and to the proper functioning of families. Throughout American history, religious leaders have assigned men as spiritual leaders of their families. Assessments of women’s piety—and its importance in maintaining social order—have grown more positive over time. Prophetic radicals and political activists have frequently challenged American Christianity by attacking its traditionalism on issues related to gender and sexuality. The ideal of a “traditional family” has, however, proven quite robust. Even as cultural attitudes around gender and sexuality have shifted dramatically in recent years, the presumption that typical American families are heterosexual, middle-class, and Christian has persisted. This presumption developed over time and has remained dominant owing in part to the contributions of American religious groups.

Keywords: marriage, family, gender, sexuality, Puritans, Mormons, evangelicals, domesticity

Families, Gender, and Sex in British Colonial America

When Puritan settlers arrived in the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1630, they brought with them grand visions of a holy commonwealth, alongside deep anxieties about the potential pitfalls facing their “errand into the wilderness.” The earliest generation of American Puritans endured food shortages, conflicts with Native Americans, and brutal winters. Their diaries, sermons, and poetry testified to a sense that these trials reflected God’s judgment of their own wickedness. Puritans held to a Calvinist theology that saw human nature as fundamentally corrupt. Children as young as three years of age learned that if they were bad, God would send them “down to everlasting Fire in Hell among wicked and miserable creatures.”1 In the meantime, God tested these wayward souls with all manner of earthly trials.

Family life in Puritan Massachusetts served a key role in cultivating the discipline that Puritans needed to weather these storms. Puritans disdained Native Americans’ family structures, which included polygamy and—among certain tribes—the “very common” occurrence of a type of divorce.2 The Native Americans’ gendered division of labor also struck Puritans as absurd: Europeans frequently viewed Native men as lazy drunkards and Native women as unduly burdened by their husbands’ indolence. Puritans’ repeated commentaries on Native American gender organization spoke to their belief that properly ordered families would constrain each gender’s “natural” inclinations. Like other 17th-century Europeans, Puritans thought of women as more susceptible to temptation than men were. The paradigmatic biblical woman was Eve, whom the serpent approached in the Garden of Eden because she was weaker than Adam. Eve, of course, succumbed to the serpent’s temptation, resulting in God cursing her, Adam, and the entire human race. Given Eve’s poor track record, Puritans determined not to let her descendants wreck their colonial experiment. Men were charged with leading daily family devotions. Puritan leaders preferred men to speak in church. Women often gave their testimonies—an important part of Puritan devotion—through a husband, father, or brother. The family, led by a patriarch, played a crucial role in mediating and disciplining women’s spiritual experiences.

Yet Puritans’ emphasis on individual relationships with God encouraged women to discuss their spiritual journeys.3 Puritans distinguished themselves from Catholics, where male priests mediated their congregations’ interaction with God. Every Puritan had to deal with God on his—or her—own terms. And every Puritan desiring membership in the church had to testify to God’s work in his—or her—soul. Puritan women spoke about their distinctive spiritual journeys, and some achieved notoriety. Anne Hutchinson, a Puritan immigrant to Massachusetts in 1634, found herself condemned by Governor John Winthrop for teaching “antinomianism” (literally, against the law). Winthrop contended that Hutchinson undermined law and order in the colony by testifying to the ability of believers to be certain about their own salvation. If people knew they were saved (rather than being continually in suspense, as Winthrop taught), the governor worried they would behave wildly.

The trial of Anne Hutchinson revealed the ways heterodox theology took on a gendered component. While Winthrop insisted that his main concern was Hutchinson’s theology, he condemned her willingness to hold a religious meeting in her home as “a thing not tolerable nor comely in the sight of God nor fitting for your sex.”4 Hutchinson’s theology differed little from that of her minister, John Cotton. But as a woman, Hutchinson stood under far more suspicion. She could not be allowed to pollute Puritans’ holy commonwealth with her teachings. Winthrop banished Hutchinson from Massachusetts in 1638. Hutchinson “confirmed” Winthrop’s judgment when, after moving to Rhode Island, she had a molar pregnancy (when a fertilized egg results in abnormal tissue rather than a viable fetus). Upon hearing the news, Winthrop gloated that Hutchinson “brought forth not one . . . but thirty monstrous births . . . See how the wisdom of God fitted this judgment to her sin every way, for look—as she had vented misshapen opinions, so she must bring forth deformed monsters.”5 Winthrop’s vindictive sermon revealed the ways Puritans connected heresy with bodily impurity, particularly among women.

Subsequent events in Massachusetts confirmed that Puritan leaders believed women endangered their colony. The infamous Salem witch trials of 1692–1693 resulted in the execution of twenty people, fourteen of them women. While some scholars have focused on the socioeconomic and political reasons behind these trials—Salem was riven by land disputes during the 1680s—others have insisted that the trials revealed Puritans’ misogyny. “Accused women were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t,” wrote historian Elizabeth Reis. “If they confessed to witchcraft charges, their admissions would prove the cases against them; if they denied the charges, then their very intractability . . . mark[ed] them as sinners and hence allies of the devil.”6 Salem was exceptional, not the norm for Puritan life. But the episode underlined early Puritans’ gendered understanding of godliness. While men and women were theoretically spiritual equals in Puritan theology, the history of Puritan New England underscored the conflation of womanhood and spiritual depravity.

English colonists throughout North America shared a sense of women as both physical and moral inferiors, unfit to participate in civic life. This sentiment constructed a patriarchal family model, in which men were the heads of their wives. Most colonies allowed women no role in policymaking and sharply limited their property rights. Ministers instructed women that their duty as wives was “subjection” or “submission.” Fathers controlled family property, chose marriage partners for their children, and administered discipline. Men, of course, needed wisdom to provide both material and spiritual nourishment for their families. But colonial courts did not hold men to the same standard as women. Men could face fines if their “brabling wives” slandered fellow colonists in Virginia, but after 1660, they could avoid these fines by sending their wives to the ducking booth. Ducking was a punishment used exclusively for women; it involved submerging the accused “in a pond or stream until she submitted to the will of the court.”7 In another instance of legal double standards, the General Court of Plymouth Colony prosecuted scores of adultery cases in the 17th century. But none of these cases involved a married man and a single woman. The implication was clear: adultery meant (married) women’s infidelity to their husbands, not the other way around.8

The rise of evangelical Christianity in the 18th century posed a threat to patriarchal family structures. Evangelicalism was a trans-denominational movement of Protestant Christians that coalesced around three fundamental impulses: the supreme authority of the Bible, the necessity of individual conversion, and the gospel command to evangelize. Beginning with a series of revivals in the 1730s and 1740s, evangelicalism featured a radically egalitarian theology: all humans were equally sinful in God’s eyes, and only complete surrender of one’s will to God facilitated salvation. The context of evangelical revivals also contributed to their radical nature: they often took place outdoors, away from hierarchically structured church buildings. Women and people of color flocked to the revivals, eager to participate in a movement that stressed their innate worth as children of God. The charged atmosphere of the revivals also excited more worldly impulses. Charles Chauncy, a leading critic of the revivals, wrote that evangelicals had “made strong attempts to destroy all property, to make all things common, wives as well as goods.” The spiritual individualism at the heart of evangelicalism led some to suggest that converts could leave their legal spouses for another partner. Such libertinism was rare, to be sure, but defenders of the revivals like Jonathan Edwards constantly warned against allowing “holy kisses” to become “unclean and brutish lust.”9

One group that seemed to confirm the stereotype of evangelical radicalism was the Moravians, a group of German evangelicals who immigrated to North America in the early 18th century. Moravians separated into single-sex “choirs,” who worshiped, studied, and—in the case of singles—lived together. Choirs took on some childrearing duties, substituting for the family. The church itself, rather than individual families, owned property. In North Carolina and the Caribbean, this property included slaves who had converted and lived in choirs with white Moravians. Such an arrangement presented obvious challenges, as Moravians attempted to live out their radical egalitarian theology in the midst of a hierarchical society. White and black brothers and sisters shared “love feasts” and engaged in bodily intimacy in worship, where they were expected to greet one another with a “holy kiss.” A mixed-race woman in St. Thomas named Rebecca took a German husband and led an island-wide revival, flouting both the racial and the gendered hierarchies that prevailed in the colony.10 But Moravians never fully transcended worldly hierarchies. Near the end of the 18th century, Moravians in North Carolina began to segregate their choirs by race and initiated a process returning slave ownership to individuals.11

The failure of Moravians to sustain their radical egalitarianism mirrored the struggles of evangelical groups throughout North America. As Methodists and Baptists grew in number, they increasingly emphasized the need for respectability. A foremost marker of respectability was sexual propriety. White evangelicals communicated to slaves that sexual propriety was the foremost Christian duty. Europeans considered African polygyny a kind of sexual licentiousness and insisted that the only way to be a true Christian was to enter into a monogamous family relationship. Slaves who had taken multiple spouses learned from white Christians that their previous marriages were invalid. A thornier issue presented itself when Christian slaves married in church found themselves forcibly separated because one’s master had decided to sell one’s spouse. Some white evangelicals insisted that Christian marriage was eternal and required involuntarily separated slave couples to remain chaste, while others allowed for flexibility in these instances. Regardless, white evangelicals emphasized the centrality of the monogamous family in Christian morality. This emphasis framed African American Christianity as a means for blacks to “transcend” the polygamous customs of their ancestors.12

The ideal family for most English Protestants in the late 18th century had undergone subtle changes since their ancestors first arrived in North America 150 years earlier. Patriarchal assumptions about men’s “headship” remained, as did the assumption that married couples would normally bear and rear children. But ministers and writers in the late 1700s portrayed women differently. Increasingly, women were seen as victims—rather than agents—of seduction. Stories of “abandoned” women proliferated, often with sympathy for the “ruined” women. The increased personal freedom offered by 18th-century urbanization had removed the constraints on personal behavior imposed by small communities. This led moralizing writers to emphasize women’s innate morality—a far cry from early Puritans’ sense of their depravity. Of course, women were held responsible for resisting sexual temptation in ways never applied to men. The emphasis on women’s moral guardianship “contained women’s agency even as it placed moral authority in female hands.”13 Such a view of women and sex set the stage for a new understanding of family in the 19th century.

Domesticity and Religious Exclusion in the 19th Century

The leaders of the American Revolution sounded heady egalitarian themes, most famously in Thomas Jefferson’s declaration that all men are created equal. Countless students have wondered at the tragic irony of a wealthy slaveholder serving as the founding fathers’ foremost voice for equality. Jefferson wrestled with this irony himself, though he never freed his slaves. White men with property controlled the political order in the new nation. Equality among races remained theoretical, not a reality.

Equality among sexes also proved elusive, though women’s role in the new republic spurred energetic debates. John Locke, the British political philosopher widely admired among the founding fathers, argued that “conjugal society” depended on the example of Adam and Eve, whose voluntary compact with one another set a model for social organization. Women were, in Locke’s reading, political actors with certain rights: determining how to rear children, for instance, but also controlling their own property. French theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau demurred, arguing that the family was the first organization of society and the only sphere where women should act. Rousseau contended that women should not participate in the political community.14

For a variety of reasons, the question of women’s role in the political order took on new urgency after the United States declared its independence from Britain. During the colonial period, fewer than 3% of women remained unmarried for life. After the Revolution, that number began to climb, nearing 20% by the eve of the Civil War. Historians have debated whether the rise in the number of spinsters was due to women’s growing independence or to changing notions of marriage that emphasized the importance of romantic love. One woman, Charity Bryant of Vermont, exhibited evidence for both historical interpretations. In 1800, when she was twenty-three, Bryant wrote a friend, “You say you hear I am going to be marrie’d . . . Such a thing will never take place.” As her biographer Rachel Hope Cleves demonstrates, Bryant saw marriage as a life of drudgery that would stifle her writing and consign her to housework, which she hated passionately. But Bryant also engaged in a number of romantic relationships with women and, for the last forty-four years of her life, shared a bed with one, Sylvia Drake. In this same-sex relationship, Bryant took on the roles typically assigned to husbands, including traveling to markets and conducting business, while Drake did all the housekeeping like a typical 19th-century wife. Bryant and Drake’s relationship took on all the trappings of early-19th-century marriages—a gendered division of labor, shared property, and romantic love—except, of course, the expectation of heterosexuality. Bryant avoided (heterosexual) marriage both because it would consign her to domesticity and because she believed marriage ought to include romance, something she only felt toward other women.15

Bryant’s unusual avoidance of marriage depended on her quite typical assumption about marriage: it ought to include romantic love. Whereas colonial Americans had insisted that affection should be subordinate to reason, early-19th-century Americans elevated the importance of passionate love. During this time, evangelical revivals proliferated across the new nation as part of a movement historians call the “Second Great Awakening.” At these revivals, preachers aimed to convict sinners of their wickedness, causing them to submit to the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit, which caused people to shout, cry, dance, and fall down. True conversion required ecstatic—and often spontaneous—emotion. Similarly, Americans came to trust (rather than discredit) the “spontaneous emotions in heterosexual love” as “a sure, though mysterious, sign of Providence. The Puritan view was reversed: love came first, sympathy and understanding followed.”16 Searching for one’s partner was no longer about finding a sensible match; instead, men and women began to look for love.

Early Americans’ emphasis on love-based marriages did not result in the abandonment of duty, however. Quite the contrary: Americans emphasized the compatibility of passionate love and lifelong monogamous marriages. Unlike many European romanticists, American lovers did not often challenge the pro-marital culture of the new republic. Women expected to find love that directed them into a life of “usefulness,” in which they would settle down with a husband and rear pious children. As the growing industrial economy focused men’s efforts on profits and wealth, women increasingly understood their role as prime movers in the domestic “sphere.” Love was the foundation of their marriages, but it was not an end unto itself. Protestants expected true love of God to result in useful contributions to social reform; in the same vein, they expected true love in marriage to result in useful contributions to families and childrearing.17

Early Americans upheld the ideal of “republican motherhood” as the epitome of women’s political contribution to the new republic. Just as American moralists condemned Europeans who did not connect romantic love with marital duty, so too did Americans disdain women who neglected their biological destiny to bear and rear pious children. Evangelical ministers, Whig politicians, and novelists collectively constructed a vision of women as instrumental in the formation of virtuous citizens. “The Republican Mother,” wrote historian Linda Kerber, “was to encourage in her sons civic interest and participation. She was to educate her children and guide them in the paths of morality and virtue.”18 To early Americans, the republican mother became the obvious means for women to contribute to their nascent democratic republic.

The idealization of republican motherhood worked alongside the construction of self-made manhood. Europeans and colonial Americans had conceived of men as patriarchs or artisans, depending on their wealth and status. In both ideals, men had domestic responsibilities, either to provide moral governance for his wife and children (in the case of the patriarch) or to guide an apprentice to adulthood (in the case of the artisan). But the self-made man—this new ideal for a new nation—saw his contributions measured only in the public sphere. Entrepreneurship became the coin of the American masculine realm, inspiring religious visionaries to craft new movements rather than retreat into mysticism. The emphasis on men’s public activity, along with the focus on women’s domestic role, helped to divide men and women’s lives into “separate spheres.” The rise of a separate spheres ideology in the early 19th century helped to cement an ideal of the “traditional family” that continues to resonate in contemporary America: husband as breadmaker, wife as homemaker.19

Protestants saw republican motherhood as the foundation of a moral citizenry, and groups that did not conform to the Protestants’ vision felt their wrath. As Catholic immigrants poured into the country during the antebellum era, Protestants juxtaposed their idealized domestic economy with scandalous forms of Catholic sexuality. Convents, in particular, came under scrutiny, as Protestants imagined dastardly priests seducing poor girls into lives of sexual slavery under the hypocritical cover of nuns’ habits. Lyman Beecher, a leading Congregationalist minister, feared that Catholics would simply outpopulate Protestants through a scheme of “seduction and reproduction.” At the same time, he criticized priests for avoiding the duty (and constraints) of marriage, which formed the basis for the American political order. Beecher’s anti-Catholic sermons contributed to the burning of an Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1834.20

Not all Protestants shared Beecher’s concerns; some women, in particular, found the freedom afforded to nuns alluring. A handful of Protestant women writers even pursued “strategic” identification with both nuns and prostitutes, marking out a gendered discourse in which all women shared the experience of oppression. To be sure, Protestant women’s sympathy for these “captive” women could only go so far; most female writers made sure to distance the free world of Protestantism from oppressive Catholicism.21 But a growing cadre of Protestant women during the antebellum era intuited the incompatibility of messages contained within the ideal of republican motherhood. On the one hand, women were told that they had an essential political role to play in the sustenance of republican democracy. On the other hand, women who attempted to interpret freedom to mean their ability to choose a path other than marriage and motherhood found themselves made into pariahs.

Nineteenth-century ideals of motherhood and female purity discriminated even more strongly against slave women. Harriet Jacobs’s famous autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, detailed the conundrum faced by many slave women. Reared under a “good mistress” in Edenton, North Carolina, Jacobs’s ownership passed to a Dr. Flint when she was 15. A married man, Flint made repeated sexual advances toward Jacobs, who ultimately decided her best option to avoid Flint was to enter a voluntary sexual relationship with an unmarried slaveholder, Mr. Sands, hoping to anger Flint enough that he would sell her. Flint did not sell Jacobs, though she eventually escaped to the North. He did, however, attempt to recruit Jacobs to the church before her escape. She refused on the ground that Flint’s sexual advances did not allow her “to live like a Christian.” This interpretation of Christian virtue enraged Flint, who, like most slaveholders, refused to acknowledge the hypocrisy of his Christian morality. According to Flint, Jacobs’s obedience would make her “as virtuous as my wife.” Jacobs knew better. She struggled for decades with the shame of her extramarital affair with Sands, finally concluding, “I know I did wrong. The painful and humiliating memory will haunt me to my dying day. Still . . . I feel that the slave woman ought not to be judged by the same standard as others.”22

Some smaller religious groups attempted to redefine family standards altogether. John Humphrey Noyes, an intense young man who had lost his ministerial license for teaching perfectionism (the belief that true Christians could eliminate sin from their lives), founded a commune in Oneida, New York, in 1848. Eleven years earlier, Noyes had written a notorious attack on marriage in which he held that “in a holy community there is no more reason why sexual intercourse should be restrained by law than why eating and drinking should be.” Noyes believed that monogamy encouraged envy and selfishness. He weathered a torrent of criticism and managed to attract about 300 followers to his experimental community. When the community gathered in 1848, he outlined the practice of “complex marriage,” in which community members were married to the group and not to any one individual. In fact, they frequently exchanged sexual partners. Selfishness was a particular concern for Noyes, and so he ended any sexual partnerships that exhibited signs of emotional attachment. He also prescribed “male continence” as a form of birth control, in which men resisted the selfish desire to orgasm during sex. (In order to master this skill, young men were often paired with postmenopausal women, as a way of minimizing the effects of their failures.) The community held property in common, and Noyes served as the undisputed leader. After twenty years of relative stability, Noyes introduced a eugenics program in 1868, determining which community members would be permitted to procreate. This caused infighting that weakened the group and eventually contributed to Noyes fleeing to Canada in 1879.23

Mormons reimagined family norms on a larger and more long-lasting scale. The founding prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith, began to practice and teach “plural marriage” sometime in the 1830s. Smith predicated the teaching on his belief that Mormons were “restorationists” who were reintroducing the true church to the world after centuries of its dormancy. Like many other 19th-century Christians, Mormons were millennialists, believing themselves to be living in the end-times millennial kingdom prophesied in the book of Revelation. This belief lent urgency to their reforms. Plural marriage, said Smith, restored the practice of polygamy to the people of God, who followed the ways of Old Testament prophets like Abraham. This teaching demonstrated the ways plural marriage provided theological coherence for the Mormon community: it provided a tangible marker of their difference from other American Christians and connected them to the ancient world they were attempting to restore. Nevertheless, the few church leaders who knew about this teaching kept plural marriage a secret until after Smith’s assassination in 1844. Most Mormons followed the LDS church’s second president, Brigham Young, to Utah, where he announced the doctrine of plural marriage publicly in 1852.

Young’s announcement triggered an unprecedented assault on Mormons. Protestant ministers argued that plural marriage provided (un)holy cover for sexual deviancy. Cartoonists lampooned Mormon polygamy, portraying sister wives as unwilling captives of sex-addled patriarchs. Congress passed the Morrill Act, outlawing bigamy, in 1862, and the Supreme Court upheld the law in Reynolds v. United States (1879). In that decision, Chief Justice Morrison Waite defined polygamy as “almost exclusively a feature of the life of Asiatic and African people,” rendering Mormons as “odious” barbarians.24 Waite connected Mormons to nonwhite groups as a way of delegitimizing them. Waite’s reasoning underscored the limits of American religious freedom in the 19th century. A majority of Americans believed the “religion” protected by the Constitution was (white) Protestantism. Certain minority faiths won some measure of toleration, but challenging Protestant family and sexual norms was a bridge too far. Western territorial governments began rounding up and imprisoning Mormon polygamists with increasing frequency in the 1880s. Wilford Woodruff, the fourth president of the LDS church, announced the end of plural marriage in 1890. Six years later, Utah was admitted to the union as the forty-fifth state.25

Concern for “captive” women also inspired attacks on Indian communities. Native Americans’ gender and familial norms had long seemed foreign to white Protestants, and the 19th-century context provided plenty of ammunition for attacks on indigenous Americans. Historian Jennifer Graber has analyzed the U.S. Army’s use of “imperial domesticity” to wage war on groups who seemed to threaten “innocent women and children.” White Protestants believed themselves justified in “rescuing” women and children from Indian men, whom they imagined as indolent and perhaps abusive. In 1852, a California writer described Native American women as “patient, laboring, and willing slaves” to their husbands, whose willingness to oppress their wives legitimated the U.S. military’s attacks on native peoples.26 Only by “saving” Indian women from their lot as patient slaves could the United States find a place for Native Americans.

By the end of the 19th century, the United States had claimed millions of acres of land from native peoples and demanded they assimilate into Protestant culture. The Pueblo dance controversy of the 1920s provided a telling example of how government leaders enforced assimilation. Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work decried the tendency of Pueblo dances to “exaggerate the sex instinct of man” and thus to dishonor “the laws of nature, or moral laws” that were “ordained by that Supreme Being who created all of us and who has been worshiped by nearly all tribes and races in their own way since the beginning.”27 Work—like most white Protestants of his day—assumed that Victorian ideas about family and sexual purity were universal truths. Because white Protestants abided by these norms, they deserved their position in control of the political order. Other racial and religious groups were welcome in the United States, Work insisted, but only if they could uphold the “moral laws” given by the “Supreme Being.” Groups that violated Protestant norms of domesticity could not participate as moral citizens in American democracy.

While nonwhite groups suffered persecution, increasing numbers of white women chafed under Protestant strictures. Victoria Woodhull, a Spiritualist whose irresponsible parents and womanizing first husband made her work as the family breadwinner, decided early in her life to “wage war against this seething impacted mass of hypocrisy and corruption” called marriage. Woodhull railed against 19th-century marriage laws, in which women became legal nonentities and lost virtually all of their property rights. She called for female suffrage as one way of redressing patriarchy, but she also defended free love. Comparing monogamy to prostitution, Woodhull defamed the “countless wives who nightly yield their unwilling bodies to lecherous husbands.”28 Woodhull believed that defending individual rights mandated a commitment to free love, and she denounced marriage laws as hypocritical patriarchy.

Woodhull thought she had found the perfect case to expose the hypocrisy of the Protestant establishment when she learned about an affair involving Brooklyn preacher Henry Ward Beecher—arguably the most famous minister in the nation—and a parishioner young enough to be his daughter. In 1870, lecturer Theodore Tilton told Elizabeth Cady Stanton that his wife, also named Elizabeth, had confessed to an affair with Beecher. Stanton eventually passed the sensational story to Woodhull, who published it in her Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly newspaper in 1872. The publication landed her in jail for violating obscenity laws (during her unprecedented run for president), though it also set in motion a chain of events culminating in a sensational 1875 adultery trial that captivated the nation. Woodhull thought the case would expose the bankruptcy of moralizing, pro-marriage ministers once and for all. Her wishes went unfulfilled. Elizabeth Tilton’s testimony contradicted itself—she denied the affair in 1875 before confessing to it three years later—and the trial resulted in a hung jury. The Tiltons divorced, Theodore was excommunicated and eventually emigrated to France, and Beecher retained his pulpit while being formally exonerated by his church.29

Beecher’s ability to weather the adultery scandal testified both to his immense popularity and to the power of a Protestant moral establishment. At first blush, such a statement seems counterintuitive: shouldn’t adultery ruin a pro-marriage minister? But Beecher’s survival depended on the way Woodhull pursued her case. She flagellated Beecher for defending a marital culture that—in her eyes—stifled female sexuality and rendered women into slaves. Woodhull’s view of marriage was decidedly unpopular in the late 19th century. Even most women’s rights activists did not defend Woodhull’s advocacy for (and practice of) free love. With Woodhull on the front page of newspapers across the country, Susan B. Anthony lamented that suffragettes were “so demoralized by the letting go the helm of ship to Woodhull.” Prominent ministers and writers, worried that a Woodhull victory would result in the demise of the traditional family, rallied to Beecher’s defense. Beecher’s church closed ranks and ostracized Elizabeth Tilton when she confessed to the affair. The Protestant celebration of the monogamous, male-led family would not fall to a free love activist who scandalized polite society.30

Feminist matriarch Elizabeth Cady Stanton viewed the outcome of the Beecher–Tilton affair as a “holocaust of womanhood” and a hypocritical miscarriage of justice. While Stanton did not agree with all of Woodhull’s tactics, she supported the substance of Woodhull’s critique. In the two decades after the Beecher–Tilton drama, Stanton developed arguments about religion, gender, and marriage that would resonate among 20th-century feminists. In her Woman’s Bible, published to great controversy in 1895, Stanton railed against certain passages of scripture that she thought “some wily writer” added to the Bible in order “to effect woman’s subordination.”31 Stanton came to believe that the “arch enemies” of women were “skulking behind the altar.”32 Her frontal assault on scripture and the clergy made Stanton a pariah in her time. But Stanton’s insistence that women’s liberation required challenging Protestant Christian marital culture set the tone for a second wave of American feminism, six decades after her death.

The 20th Century: Sexuality and Gender

While Stanton’s Bible ostracized her from feminists and mainstream Protestants, it simply confirmed a growing suspicion among the most conservative Protestants in the early 20th century: fundamentalists. Taking their name from a pamphlet series titled The Fundamentals, fundamentalists in the 1920s fretted about the increasing prominence of liberal women in Christianity. Minneapolis fundamentalist William Bell Riley published a book of sermons warning about “Jezebel (‘A Woman of Supreme Wickedness’), Bathsheba (‘The Woman Who Tempted a King’), and Job’s wife (‘The Woman Who Nagged a Noble Husband’).”33 Riley’s sermons betokened a shift in the way fundamentalists thought about women. No longer the pious matrons who sustained faith and kept their husbands in check, fundamentalists in the early 20th century reverted to a view similar to that of the Puritans: women were seductive temptresses in need of men’s leadership and guidance.

This privileging of men’s spiritual leadership placed newfound emphasis on male purity. Groups like the Boy Scouts and the YMCA urged young men to embrace chastity and rigorous bodily discipline. In a pamphlet for the YMCA’s “Social Hygiene” division, British surgeon J. Adam Rawlings wrote, “I would urge upon every man here his sacred duty, for his own sake, for woman's sake, and for Christ's sake, of maintaining personal purity . . . Practice in every way a wise abstemiousness. Take care of your body, for it is the temple of the soul, and it has been redeemed that it may be the home of God.”34 Rawlings denounced prostitution but did not lay the blame entirely at the feet of female prostitutes. Rather, he reflected a growing sense among 20th-century Protestants that men’s purity was essential for social order.

The growth of a Protestant men’s movement responded to a perceived crisis of effeminacy in the churches. Ministers around the country began fretting over the numerical dominance of women in their churches (a fact of American religious demography since the 17th century, but one that acquired new urgency in the 20th). The short-lived but widespread Men and Religion Forward movement (M&RFM) of 1911–1912 advertised in newspapers across the country that “3,000,000 men” were “missing” from America’s churches and called on churches to redress the gender imbalance in their pews. Leaders of the movement worried that an “irrelevant domesticity” had corrupted the church and rendered it impotent in the “man-made” world of public life. The M&RFM upheld the gendered nature of family organization, calling for men to lead and women to tend their homes. But leaders of the movement sensed that the coding of piety as feminine had remade the church in women’s image. They determined to elevate men’s purity as a way of restoring their rightful religious leadership.35

African American religious groups also focused on the importance of male purity and men’s leadership, albeit for slightly different reasons. Both men and women in black churches supported the temperance movement, as they worried about the effects of men’s drinking on familial stability and racial progress. Ministers emphasized the importance of African American men leading their families and the black community by demonstrating industry, sobriety, protectiveness, and purity. The Rev. J. H. Iford, an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister in Louisiana, called on his fellow black men to “rise up in the power of Israel’s God and say out in the voice of manhood: ‘We will protect and defined the virtues and sanctity of our women.’”36 This was easier said than done in a racist society that often allowed white assaults on black bodies to go unpunished. Yet most African American religious groups insisted that their path to equality demanded faithfulness to conservative marital norms and to men’s leadership. The Nation of Islam (NOI), for instance, taught that marriage “is the proper institution in which sex can be used for the good of society and the uplift of the race.” The NOI forbade homosexuality and insisted on strong male leadership in the family.37

Marginalized groups often resisted what they saw as increasingly liberal attitudes toward sex and intermarriage in the early 20th century. Jewish newspapers published a raft of articles during the 1920s and 1930s on the salutary benefits of observing Jewish laws and customs. Dr. Charles (Chaim) Spivak’s weekly column in The Jewish Daily Forward addressed the “health advantages” of observing female ritual purity, such as abstaining from sex during menstruation and after childbirth. Rabbis touted statistics purporting to show lower cancer rates and higher levels of marital satisfaction among religiously observant Jews. Intermarriage with members of other religious groups would weaken the community and imperil Jews’ distinctiveness. Regulating sexuality became a major means by which Jewish leaders resisted assimilation.38

Across the religious landscape, leaders showed greater willingness to discuss sexuality after the turn of the 20th century. The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops made its first public pronouncement opposing contraception in 1919. Nineteenth-century Catholic immigrants hailed from an array of European countries and, by the dawn of the 20th century, occupied a variety of socioeconomic positions. The diversity of American Catholicism led to a diversity of family sizes: increasingly, numbers of middle- and even lower-class Catholics began having fewer children, in keeping with the family practices of the Protestant majority. Catholic priests spoke relatively little about the church’s teaching on sexuality and contraception, perhaps because Catholics upheld priestly celibacy as the highest form of devotion to God. But as Catholic family sizes shrunk in the 1890s, it became apparent that church leadership was not effectively communicating Catholic teaching on contraception and abortion. Early-20th-century Catholic priests began to speak with increasing frequency about the evils of contraception, and avoiding it became an increasingly important marker of Catholic identity.39

Similarly, 20th-century Protestant leaders developed new language for codifying appropriate sexuality. The advent of psychoanalysis—and a concomitant growth of therapeutic understandings of human nature—encouraged liberal Christians to embrace new “scientific” understandings of sexuality. Many joined the American Eugenics Society, which campaigned for forced sterilization of “undesirable” people in order to perfect humanity. The modernist liberals who supported eugenics justified the practice according to its promise of advancing the kingdom of God.40 In another move that later liberals would denounce, modernist Protestants embraced the medicalization of “homosexuality,” a 19th-century neologism that grouped all manner of same-sex attraction and behavior into a single (objectionable) category. Protestants’ embrace of homosexuality as a category led them to introduce the word into an English-language Bible for the first time in 1946 (the Revised Standard Version). This change in translation set the stage for stormy debates in the late 20th century between conservatives and liberals, both of whom had forgotten how recent the term homosexuality had found its way into the Bible.41 It wasn’t just liberals who were talking about sex either. Evangelical Protestants published a raft of advice manuals on dating, marriage, and sex during the 20th century. These manuals insisted that sex take place only within heterosexual marriages, but they also affirmed sexual pleasure as a legitimate—even Godly—pursuit for married couples.42

All this attention to sexual behavior among Catholics and Protestants underscored the changing nature of sexuality in America. When Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake moved in together in 1807 (and, as their diaries reveal, consummated their love), they never considered disclosing the nature of their relationship.43 The sexual and marital standards of their day were clear and seemingly immutable. But just as Protestant views of women softened over time, so too did cultural attitudes toward sexuality. An increasingly visible gay subculture demanded consideration from dominant religious groups by the late 20th century. New methods of birth control (especially the pill, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1960) required religious accommodation. And loosening cultural attitudes about marriage and divorce created a crisis for Christians who had long held the ideal of the family as sacrosanct.44

While a long series of developments pushed Americans into franker and more contentious debates about gender and sexuality, the 1963 publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique marked a significant turning point. Friedan deplored the cultural norms and laws that rendered women second-class citizens and compelled them to vest their identities only in motherhood. She named the drudgery of homemaking as a dead end for millions of well-educated women and called suburban housewifery a kind of “concentration camp.” Friedan tapped into the well of disillusionment among American women. Three years later, she helped to found the National Organization of Women (NOW), the leading organization of women’s rights activists in the second wave of American feminism. Photographs of NOW’s organizers revealed the religious character of the movement: early leaders included a nun, African American churchwomen, Jews, and Protestants. NOW prioritized activism among religious groups to raise the status of women and support their ordination.45

Not all women supported Friedan. Some critics—particularly women of color—called Friedan myopic. Black theorist bell hooks wrote that Friedan’s book ignored “the women who are most victimized by sexist oppression,” women of color.46 Critiques of The Feminine Msytique also littered the pages of conservative periodicals. The most notable conservative critic of Friedan, Catholic activist Phyllis Schlafly, told the press that the saluation “Ms.” meant “misery.” She preferred the more traditional “Mrs.” and so, apparently, did millions of other women. When Congress passed an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution in 1972, Schlafly mobilized a grassroots army of female activists to oppose its ratification by the states. The ERA made a simple statement guaranteeing that Congress could pass no law that discriminated according to sex. But Schlafly told her followers that the ERA would destroy the privileges they enjoyed as wives and mothers.

By the late 20th century, concern for “family values” had become the driving force of conservative evangelical politicization. Baptist minister Jerry Falwell, co-founder of the political action group Moral Majority, declared, “The strength and stability of families determine the vitality and moral life of society.”47 Falwell enumerated a host of threats to family life, including no-fault divorce, pornography, illicit drugs, gay rights, and feminism. The family values celebrated by Falwell had much in common with the images of a breadwinning father, pious, stay-at-home mother, and well-scrubbed children so popular a century earlier. In a development laced with historical irony, Mormons became some of the foremost defenders of traditional family values in the late 20th century.48 The battle over family politics pervaded political discussions throughout the last third of the 20th century and still resonates in 21st-century debates.49

Just as family values crusaders have echoed themes developed during the Victorian era, their critics have picked up on ideas developed by 19th-century radicals like Victoria Woodhull and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In the 1980s, as the AIDS crisis swept the nation, gay activists came together in a series of protests called “Stop the Church.” They argued that the Church exercised unconstitutional power in the United States by privileging citizens who abided by Catholic teachings on sexuality. The Church’s power delegitimized gay people and contributed to the sluggish national response to the AIDS epidemic, costing countless gay and lesbian lives. Protesters from ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and WHAM! (Women’s Health Action and Mobilization) interrupted Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on December 10, 1989, staging a “die-in” by falling into the aisles, shouting down the homily, and desecrating the communion host. The protest scandalized Catholics and brought condemnation from scores of commentators. It also emanated from concerns that Stanton and Woodhull had voiced a century earlier: the Church’s conservatism in the realm of gender and sexuality inhibited personal liberty and encroached on religious freedom.50

The 21st Century: Changes and Continuities

The first two decades of the twenty-first century have witnessed unprecedented social change in cultural attitudes about gender and sexuality, and American religious communities have played an integral role in these debates. Journalists have sometimes depicted clashes over cultural issues as debates between a secular, progressive left and a religious, conservative right, but that framing is misleading. Debates over gay marriage, the ordination of gays and lesbians, and transgender rights have taken place within religious organizations just as much as they have pitted secular liberals against religious conservatives. The Episcopalian Church found itself riven by debates over the appropriateness of ordaining a gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003; Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Methodists had similar experiences during contentious debates in their own denominations. Biblical commentators and social media gadflies have written voluminously on the few scriptural passages concerning same-sex behavior. A similar outpouring has considered the Bible’s teachings about gender. These debates have pushed many American denominations into new territory, publicly sanctioning same-sex relationships and speaking in support of transgender rights. Other church groups have staked their identity on resisting these trends.

The texture of these debates has revealed the pervasive importance of family, for both religious communities and American culture. Protestantism has deeply saturated American soil, embedding norms that shape politics, church life, and personal ambitions. Churches presume the heterosexual marriage, with children, as a norm. Fewer and fewer American Catholics are entering the priesthood, often because it prescribes a life of celibacy.51 Gay rights activists have—much to some radicals’ dismay—focused an inordinate amount of attention on securing the right to marry, rather than working to upend marriage culture wholesale. A variety of liberal social movements, such as the pro-immigration New Sanctuary Movement, have focused on families as a way to make their political aims resonate in a pro-family religious culture.52 Since they first arrived in North America, Protestant Christians have sought to build God’s kingdom through dutiful fathers, loving mothers, and well-trained children. Their efforts continue to mark Americans as deeply concerned about family values.

Review of the Literature

The study of gender, marriage, and sexual purity in American religious history accelerated in the last three decades of the 20th century, as feminist historians demonstrated the paucity of historical attention given to women’s lived experience in American history. Signal contributions by Linda Kerber, Nancy Cott, and Kathryn Kish Sklar examined the construction of womanhood among white Protestants.53 These path-breaking works set the stage for Joan Scott’s 1986 article, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” the most-viewed article ever published in the American Historical Review (according to the online journal database JSTOR). Scott presented arguments that continue to shape the historical analysis of gender. First, she argued that gender organized social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes. Second, Scott contended that the organizing principle of gender primarily functioned to create power differentials. She called on historians to examine the ways gender construction organized power in various cultures.54

Religious historians answered this call with increasing frequency in the 1990s and early 2000s. Most famously, Ann Braude contended that three major tropes in American religious history (declension, feminization, and secularization) were materially incorrect because historians—following the lead of sources produced mainly by male ministers and theologians—had focused on “male absence” rather than on “female presence.” In so doing, historians had replicated gendered analyses of the past that misstated simple demographic realities.55 Focusing on women’s lives led to vital new perspectives on various religious groups, from Italian Catholics56 to black Pentecostals,57 and from American Muslims58 to, yes, the inescapable Puritans.59 Studies of masculinity were slower to appear, but gendered analyses of men’s religious lives have also increased in number.60 Historians of sexuality and the family have produced studies examining the religious cultures that construct sexual and marital norms. Religious historians first embraced critical analyses of sexuality in studies of religious outliers, like the Mormons and Shakers,61 but the history of sexuality is increasingly figuring into the study of mainstream religious groups.62

This profusion of scholarship has enriched the field of American religious history, but old tropes die hard. In the introduction to her 2007 volume The Religious History of American Women, Catherine Brekus lamented the continued marginalization of women in American religious history. Textbooks continued to feature an overabundance of men, and metanarratives embedded in syllabi a generation earlier remained remarkably resilient.63 In the decade since Brekus’s lament, innovative scholarship on the religious construction of gender and sexual norms—as well as the lives of the men and women who have participated in these processes—has proliferated. Historians attempting to make sense of it all have to navigate between useful yet oversimplified metanarratives, fascinating micronarratives, and a genealogical focus on the scholarly construction of categories like “religion” and “gender.” The centrifugal profusion of scholarship on gender, sexuality, and the family in American religion may frustrate the beginning researcher or the professor struggling to construct a syllabus, but it has rewarded researchers with a richly layered history of these perennial concerns for religious believers.

Further Reading

Bendroth, Margaret. Fundamentalism and Gender, 1875 to the Present. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993.Find this resource:

    Braude, Ann. “Women’s History is American Religious History.” In Retelling U.S. Religious History. Edited by Thomas A. Tweed, 87–107. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.Find this resource:

      Brekus, Catherine A. “Introduction: Searching for Women in Narratives of American History.” In The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the Past. Edited by Catherine A. Brekus, 1–50. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.Find this resource:

        Butler, Anthea D. Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making a Sanctified World. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.Find this resource:

          Cleves, Rachel H. Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

            DeRogatis, Amy. Saving Sex: Sexuality and Salvation in American Evangelicalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

              Dowland, Seth. Family Values and the Rise of the Christian Right. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.Find this resource:

                Fessenden, Tracy. “The Other Women’s Sphere: Nuns, Prostitutes, and the Medicalization of Middle-Class Domesticity.” In The Puritan Origins of American Sex: Religion, Sexuality, and National Identity in American Literature. Edited by Tracy Fessenden, Nicholas F. Radel, and Magdalena J. Zaborowska, 169–190. New York: Routledge, 2001.Find this resource:

                  Foster, Lawrence. Religion and Sexuality: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984.Find this resource:

                    Godbeer, Richard. Sexual Revolution in Early America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

                      Griffith, Ruth Marie. Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.Find this resource:

                        Juster, Susan. Disorderly Women: Sexual Politics and Evangelicalism in Revolutionary New England. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.Find this resource:

                          Kern, Kathi. Mrs. Stanton’s Bible. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

                            Kimmel, Michael S. Manhood in America: A Cultural History. New York: Free Press, 1996.Find this resource:

                              Moslener, Sara. Virgin Nation: Sexual Purity and American Adolescence. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

                                Orsi, Robert A. Thank You, St. Jude: Women’s Devotion to the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998.Find this resource:

                                  Petro, Anthony Michael. After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.Find this resource:

                                    Reis, Elizabeth. Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

                                      Scott, Joan Wallach. “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis.” American Historical Review 91.5 (1986): 1053–1075.Find this resource:

                                        White, Heather Rachelle. Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015.Find this resource:


                                          (1.) Catherine A. Brekus, Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013), 38.

                                          (2.) Linford D. Fisher, The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 21.

                                          (3.) Marilyn J. Westerkamp, “Puritan Women, Spiritual Power, and the Question of Sexuality,” in The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the Past, ed. Catherine A. Brekus (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 53.

                                          (4.) The Examination of Mrs Anne Hutchinson (The Court at Newton 1637).

                                          (5.) Eve LaPlante, American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 218.

                                          (6.) Elizabeth Reis, Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997), 5.

                                          (7.) Kathleen M. Brown, Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 29, 145–149.

                                          (8.) John Demos, A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony, 2d ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 82–99.

                                          (9.) Susan Juster, Disorderly Women: Sexual Politics and Evangelicalism in Revolutionary New England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994), 35–36.

                                          (10.) Jon F. Sensbach, Rebecca’s Revival: Creating Black Christianity in the Atlantic World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005).

                                          (11.) Jon F. Sensbach, A Separate Canaan: The Making of an Afro-Moravian World in North Carolina, 1763–1840 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).

                                          (12.) Sylvia R. Frey and Betty Wood, Come Shouting to Zion: African American Protestantism in the American South and British Caribbean to 1830 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 182–208.

                                          (13.) Richard Godbeer, Sexual Revolution in Early America (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 266.

                                          (14.) Linda K. Kerber, Toward an Intellectual History of Women: Essays by Linda K. Kerber (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 43–51.

                                          (15.) Rachel Hope Cleves, Charity and Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), quote from p. 60.

                                          (16.) Zsuzsa Berend, “‘The Best or None!’ Spinsterhood in Nineteenth-Century New England,” Journal of Social History 33.4 (2000): 937.

                                          (17.) Berend, “’The Best or None!,’” 940–945.

                                          (18.) Linda K. Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), 283.

                                          (19.) Michael S. Kimmel, Manhood in America: A Cultural History (New York: Free Press, 1996), 11–31.

                                          (20.) Tracy Fessenden, “The Other Women’s Sphere: Nuns, Prostitutes, and the Medicalization of Middle-Class Domesticity,” in The Puritan Origins of American Sex: Religion, Sexuality, and National Identity in American Literature, ed. Tracy Fessenden, Nicholas F. Radel, and Magdalena J. Zaborowska (New York: Routledge, 2001), 175.

                                          (21.) Fessenden, “The Other Women’s Sphere,” 169–190.

                                          (22.) Ann Taves, “Spiritual Purity and Sexual Shame: Religious Themes in the Writings of Harriet Jacobs,” Church History 56.1 (1987): 67.

                                          (23.) Lawrence Foster, Religion and Sexuality: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community, Illinois paperback (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 72–122, quote from p. 73.

                                          (24.) Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1878).

                                          (25.) J. Spencer Fluhman, “A Peculiar People”: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 103–126.

                                          (26.) Jennifer Graber, “From Drone War to Indian War: Protecting (and Liberating) Innocent Women and Children,” in Faith in the New Millennium: The Future of Religion and American Politics, ed. Matthew Avery Sutton and Darren Dochuk (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 96.

                                          (27.) Tisa Wenger, We Have a Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 173.

                                          (28.) Cathy Gutierrez, “Sex in the City of God: Free Love and the American Millennium,” Religion and American Culture 15.2 (2005): 188, 193.

                                          (29.) Richard Wightman Fox, Trials of Intimacy: Love and Loss in the Beecher-Tilton Scandal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

                                          (30.) David Sehat, The Myth of American Religious Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 136–142.

                                          (31.) Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Woman’s Bible (New York: European Publishing Company, 1898),

                                          (32.) Kathi Kern, Mrs. Stanton’s Bible (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002), 96.

                                          (33.) Margaret Bendroth, Fundamentalism and Gender, 1875 to the Present (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993), 64.

                                          (34.) J. Adams Rawlings, “The Greatest Evil of Our Time: An Address to Men” (pamphlet, London, n.d.), Y.USA.52 Box 6, Social Hygiene Pamphlets, Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota.

                                          (35.) Gail Bederman, “‘The Women Have Had Charge of the Church Work Long Enough’: The Men and Religion Forward Movement of 1911–1912 and the Masculinization of Middle-Class Protestantism,” American Quarterly 41.3 (1989): 432–465.

                                          (36.) Matthew Harper, The End of Days: African American Religion and Politics in the Age of Emancipation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016), 93.

                                          (37.) Edward E. Curtis IV, Black Muslim Religion in the Nation of Islam, 1960–1975 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 124.

                                          (38.) Beth S. Wenger, “Mitzvah and Medicine: Gender, Assimilation, and the Scientific Defense of ‘Family Purity,’” Jewish Social Studies 5.1/2 (1998): 177–202.

                                          (39.) Leslie Woodcock Tentler, “‘The Abominable Crime of Onan’: Catholic Pastoral Practice and Family Limitation in the United States, 1875–1919,” Church History 71.2 (2002): 307–340.

                                          (40.) Christine Rosen, Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

                                          (41.) Heather R. White, Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

                                          (42.) Amy DeRogatis, Saving Sex: Sexuality and Salvation in American Evangelicalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

                                          (43.) Cleves, Charity and Sylvia, 92–100.

                                          (44.) For an innovative history of the shifting attitudes toward sexuality and bodies among American Christians, see R. Marie Griffith, Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).

                                          (45.) Ann Braude, “Faith, Feminism, and History,” in The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the Past, ed. Catherine A. Brekus (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 232–252.

                                          (46.) bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (London: Pluto Press, 2000), 1.

                                          (47.) Jerry Falwell, Listen, America! (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980), 106.

                                          (48.) Neil J. Young, We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

                                          (49.) Robert O. Self, All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s (New York: Hill and Wang, 2012); Seth Dowland, Family Values and the Rise of the Christian Right (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015); and Sara Moslener, Virgin Nation: Sexual Purity and American Adolescence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

                                          (50.) Anthony M. Petro, After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 137–185.

                                          (51.) James D. Davidson, “Fewer and Fewer,” America, December 1, 2003,

                                          (52.) Grace Yukich, One Family under God: Immigration Politics and Progressive Religion in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 92–113.

                                          (53.) Kathryn Kish Sklar, Catharine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity (New York: W. W. Norton, 1973); and Nancy F. Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: “Woman’s Sphere” in New England, 1780–1835 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1977); Kerber, Women of the Republic.

                                          (54.) Joan W. Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” American Historical Review 91.5 (December 1986): 1053–1075.

                                          (55.) Ann Braude, “Women’s History Is American Religious History,” in Retelling U.S. Religious History, ed. Thomas A. Tweed (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 87–107.

                                          (56.) Robert A. Orsi, Thank You, St. Jude: Women’s Devotion to the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998).

                                          (57.) Anthea D. Butler, Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making a Sanctified World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).

                                          (58.) Juliane Hammer, American Muslim Women, Religious Authority, and Activism: More Than a Prayer (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013).

                                          (59.) Reis, Damned Women.

                                          (60.) Seth Dowland, “War, Sports, and the Construction of Masculinity in American Christianity,” Religion Compass 5.7 (2011): 355–364; and Kathryn Lofton, “The Man Stays in the Picture: Recent Works on Religion and Masculinity,” Religious Studies Review 30.1 (2004): 23–28.

                                          (61.) Foster, Religion and Sexuality.

                                          (62.) White, Reforming Sodom; Petro, After the Wrath of God.

                                          (63.) Catherine A. Brekus, ed., “Introduction: Searching for Women in Narratives of American History,” in The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the Past (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 1–50.