“Though the wryly intelligent, institutionally savvy women who chose to work inside Protestant churches were not feminists in the typical sense, their achievements on behalf of the church as a whole provides an instructive and important legacy. ”
In the years between the suffrage amendment and the rise of second-wave feminism, a determined cohort of Protestant laywomen learned how to work within church bureaucracies and, to a degree, how to change them. After decades of "women's work for women" in separate missionary societies, they adopted a new identity as "churchwomen," engaging the full range of institutional concerns. They acquired important new skills: how to hold their own on denominational boars, establish administrative boundaries and procedures, and do it all without appearing unduly pushy, maintaining gender solidarity without invoking gender privileges. A complicated legacy certainly, especially given the impact of historic discrimination against women; yet in this time of deep concern for American civil society and the future of church institutions it is a vital and instructive one.