Black Club Women, the Production of Religious Thought, and the Making of an Intellectual Movement, 1854-1933

“"The syncretic and pluralistic endeavors of black girls and women--constitutive of psychic interactions, reflections on death and spectral bodies, interfaith organizing, and philosophical discourse--simultaneously compelled black women activists to work within the church and move beyond Protestant parameters for social reform."" ”

Team Members/Contributors

Joseph Williams Rutgers University-New Brunswick Contact Me

About this dissertation fellowship

During the Progressive Era, hundreds of black women in the club movement frequently convened across the country to discuss the divine, human nature, the after-life, and other abstract ideas. Social events, political and cultural affairs, books, and impromptu conversations informed their deliberations. The conventional wisdom among scholars characterizes the club movement as a genteel crusade for communal reform orchestrated and led by middle class black Protestant women. This project reinterprets the movement as a pluralistic campaign fueled by black women’s informal study of religious and philosophical thought. It traces the antecedents for black women’s religious ideas to the diverse encounters they had with the metaphysical as young girls coming of age during the Civil War and Reconstruction, and which continued in their roles as activists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Using periodicals, eulogies, psychic readings, organizational reports, autobiographies, and a host of other sources, my dissertation unveils the syncretic approach club members adopted in their conceptualization of the immaterial. In pursuit of racial and gender justice, black women engaged with mediums, Transcendentalists, churches, atheists, humanists, philosophers, and non-sectarian organizations. What ultimately emerged was an intellectual movement that forged a unique and radical intelligentsia in the black community.