Margaret Chowning, "Catholic Women and Mexican Politics, 1750–1940" (Princeton UP, 2023)
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Historians have long looked to networks of elite liberal and anti-clerical men as the driving forces in Mexican history over the course of the long nineteenth century. This traditional view, writes Margaret Chowning, cannot account for the continued power of the Catholic Church in Mexico, which has withstood extensive and sustained political opposition for over a century. How, then, must the scholarly consensus change to better reflect Mexico's history?
In Catholic Women and Mexican Politics, 1750–1940 (Princeton University, 2023), Chowning shows that the church repeatedly emerged as a political player, even when liberals won elections, primarily because of the overlooked importance of women in politics. Catholic women kept the church alive through the wars of independence and made it into the political force it continues to be in present-day Mexico. Using archival sources from ten Mexican states, the book shows how women, who were denied the vote and expected to stay out of the political sphere, nevertheless forged their own form of citizenship through the church. After Mexico gained its independence in 1821, women self-consciously developed new lay associations and assumed leadership roles within them. These new associations not only kept Catholicism vibrant, they also pushed women into public sphere. Methodologically, this book shows the value of exploring gender in political and religious history and reveals the equal importance of informal political power to more formal activities like voting.
Ethan Besser Fredrick is a graduate student in Modern Latin American history seeking his PhD at the University of Minnesota. His work focuses on the Transatlantic Catholic movements in Mexico and Spain during the early 20th century.
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