This project considered the history of the more than 350 colleges founded by women’s religious orders throughout the United States. Often neglected in scholarship on higher education, the history of colleges founded by nuns offers a distinct view of American higher education. Under the direction of Cynthia Russett, the project coordinator, a group of scholars produced a collection of essays entitled “Beyond the Seven Sisters: Yale Project on Colleges Founded by Women Religious.” The authors examined the unique characteristics of these institutions and reflected on how they contributed to Catholic education and women’s education in the United States. Several of the authors also investigated how colleges founded by women religious have emphasized and exemplified the need for women’s leadership roles within the Catholic church.
Throughout the essays are embedded certain themes such as what it means to be Catholic and American, the significance of Catholics’ emergence into the mainstream, and how being a woman and Catholic coincide. In addition, undercurrents of identity issues such as class, economic status, ethnicity, and feminism emerge in various chapters. Contributors included Jill Kerr Conway, Kathleen Mahoney, Tom Landy, Monika Hellwig, Karen Kennelly, David Contosta, Mary Oats, Jane Redmont, Dorothy Brown, Carol Hurd Green, Melanie Morey, Tracy Schier, and Jeanne Knoerle.
Russett’s project contributes greatly to our understanding of women’s contributions both within the Catholic church and within the Catholic higher education system. Also, the study is a useful resource for consideration of the dynamics between Catholic religious communities and their related institutions of higher learning, as well as the role of laity in furthering the missions of these colleges. (KH)