The complicated women of mainline Protestantism

Margaret Bendroth tells the stories of mid-20th century women who fought patriarchy from within the church.

With its narrow focus, this book may not reach a large audience. But I suspect it will, in years to come, be referred to as groundbreaking. Margaret Bendroth is clearing a path on which others will follow.

She has been at this work for a long time. Her first book, Fundamentalism and Gender, 1875 to the Present, based on her dissertation at Johns Hopkins, was published by Yale University Press 30 years ago. There she first emphasized the complicated leadership role women have played in American Protestantism. By the first half of the 20th century, her research showed, “fundamentalists had adopted the belief that it was men, not women, who had the true aptitude for religion. . . . In fundamentalist culture, women became the more psychologically vulnerable sex, never to be trusted with matters of doctrine, and men stronger both rationally and spiritually, divinely equipped to defend Christian orthodoxy from its enemies within and without.” Fundamentalism and Gender uncovered many of the ways women were historically unseated from roles of authority in the church—both explicitly and implicitly.

With Good and Mad, Bendroth widens the investigation. She explains in the introduction: